UMass Amherst promotes the adoption of open textbooks through grants


Are grants the spark needed to ditch traditional textbooks? Credit: Kenneth Johnson C. on Flickr.

As reported on the Chronicle of Higher Education Web site, the University of Massachusetts Amherst announced a grant process to lower the cost of textbooks for students.

Eight faculty members were awarded a total of 10 grants, $1,000 per course, to adopt a new curricular resource strategy using easily identified digital resources. Under the program, faculty developed a variety of alternatives, from creating an online open access lab manual to utilizing e-books and streaming media available through the Libraries’ numerous databases.

I think this is a very smart idea, especially considering that it’s not simply a matter of adopting open textbooks, but to promote the use of materials already purchased by the library. Reducing the cost of learning materials is not only about going totally free, it’s about “aiming” for free, but doing it realistically.

This initiative should have an immediate impact for students.

During the 2011-2012 academic year, it is estimated this $10,000 investment will save 700 students more than $72,000 – money that would have been spent on commercial textbooks for these courses.

It seems to me that $1,000 is not a lot of money considering the work involved in exploring, curating, and developing learning materials. It’s probably more symbolic that anything else. But still, it could be a pretty cost effective low-hanging fruit approach that can nudge the institution in the right direction.

Any comment on this? Is money really required, are there other incentives you or colleagues would be interested in, or is “textbook affordability” a topic that stands for itself?


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