Open College Textbook Act (S. 1714) promises seed money for the open education cause


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While the Learning Opportunities With Creation of Open Source Textbooks (LOW COST) Act of 2009 Bill that got a fair amount of attention in March (H.R. 1464-The "OER Bill") is still in committee in the House, the general idea behind the bill has already resurfaced in a new Senate Bill. On Thursday, Sept. 24, the Open College Textbook Act (S. 1714) was introduced in the Senate, and if enacted could be both a more dramatic and sustainable step in the direction of open education than even the March OER Bill.

The Open College Textbook Act proposes "to authorize grants for the creation, update, or adaption of open textbooks."

Specifically, it would authorize the Secretary of Education to award 1-year grants on a competitive basis to higher education institutions, professors, non-profit, or for profit-organizations that produce textbooks. The textbooks would be open licensed and available to be downloaded, redistributed, changed, revised, or altered by any member of the public.

The particularly exciting portion of the Bill is the detailed competitive process that almost ensures the creation of quality open materials. Entities desiring grant funding would have to include in their applications: a plan for review of the quality and accuracy of the content; a plan for access; a plan for distribution and adoption in courses, including a marketing plan (if applicable); and a plan for tracking and reporting formal adoptions of the open textbook. The funding would then be granted to those entities that create high quality, marketable books that correspond to high enrollment classes, and can be easily utilized by faculty members.

As projects like Wikipedia have made clear, properly structuring an openly licensed project to allow different intensities of participation and transparency are key to success. Any project funded as a result of this legislation must meet the basic standards necessary to allow an open content project to succeed.

Availability of open textbooks would arguably be a huge step towards lowering the cost of a college education, and would also be a positive resource for anyone seeking knowledge in general. This particular bill does contain a controversial section that adds that any educational materials created with Federal Agency grants ("with a federal connection"), not just those authorized by the grants created by the Act, must be licensed under an open license.

On one hand, authorization of competitive grants to create open textbooks would be a great accomplishment on its own, and this section of the bill may be taking the idea of open licensing too far too fast to receive mass support. On the other hand, people who are concerned about the possibility of open course materials competing with the textbook industry should consider the fact that they, or someone they know, are currently paying for these materials and the work that goes into them at least twice, as a taxpayer and a as a student.

Sign a petition to support the Open College Textbooks Act of 2009

Learn more about Open Education here at New Media Rights and from projects like CCLearn.

"College Books " by Flickr user Wohnai used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license

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