Free Textbooks

(No, I’m not giving any away, sorry…)

Again today with an interesting item from Slashdot: Open-Source College Textbooks Gaining Mindshare.

I’ll relist the links from that blurb here:

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-textbook18-2008aug18,0,4712858.story

http://www.mcafee.cc/Introecon/NSSP.html

http://www.calstate.edu/ats/digital_marketplace/

http://www.maketextbooksaffordable.org/statement.asp?id2=37614

I hope to anybody’s god that’s listening that open source and free-use textbooks become one of the norms across college campuses.  I think among the most common, early, jading, gut sinking slightly enough that you can ignore it if you just continue to ignore it, experiences for new full-time faculty happens when his/her mailbox fills up with unsolicited review copies of texts – all the while the poor kids are dropping over $100 for used paperbacks on math that Greeks wrote down 2500 years ago, without any good pictures…

Because I taught a lot of digital media classes in fine art, I ended up getting all kinds of Graphic Design and Programming textbooks, even though I didn’t teach those subjects.  I gave up trying to explain the difference to sales reps about a year and a half ago.  Some poor design student is paying for those things right now.

Recently, I looked up a book I used in 2006 at the request of my supervisor.  In 2006, I thought it was pricey at $60.  Now the exact same edition retails new for $100.  Fuel surcharge?…

Fortunately, because there are so few good books for digital media fine art, and most of the books appropriate for my classes were 100% technical, I rarely used textbooks.  Instead, I opted to distribute photocopies and web links to articles that addressed non-technical concepts, preferring to use reading time to focus on the art content of the class over the software content.  Then, I created my own technical hand outs for students to download from the class web site at will.

When I was “asked” to teach (assigned in between signing my contract and showing up to my new job in a new town), a 3D modeling class (to the horror of this here faculty who didn’t know how to do 3D modeling), I was fortunate to find in Blender a pretty good open source application that had a wiki-based online knowledge bank and a downloadable PDF guide available for $15.  The other option was to use a $600 software package students could only use during class time (no way the college would buy it for the open computer lab) and a $100+ text that would be absolutely necessary to compensate for the teacher’s ignorance.  With the open source option, everyone could practice with the software for free at home while having access to a range of support resources – for a whopping total of 15 bucks.  Fortunately, very fortunately, the class was canceled.  (I did, however, just to make use of weeks of my own frantic 3D modeling study, decide to integrate a day of 3D modeling into my studio art foundations class.)

All know all of you tenured profs probably do need the extra cash from adding your name to the next edition of something before you retire, but…

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