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Trustees hear textbook alternatives

Open educational resources could offset rising costs

By Jon Leckie - Editor-in-Chief
On May 15, 2013

The Peralta Community College Board of Trustees, at its April 9 meeting, heard a report from Dr. Fabian Banga, a Spanish instructor at Berkeley City College, on the potential use of open educational resources as a means of controlling the rising cost of college textbooks.

"In community colleges, 75 percent of total school cost is textbooks," Banga said. "In Spanish 1A and 1B, students spend $100-$200 per class, per semester for books. Many of these students can't afford the BART fare to get to class," and cited the cost of textbooks as a major factor in student dropout rates.

According to Banga, and the Twenty Million Minds Foundation, between 1986 and 2004, there was a 186 percent increase in the price of textbooks, with some students spending as much as $1,600 per year on books alone.

"This kind of corruption is unbearable," he said, but offered hope in new legislation from Sacramento and emerging technology to offer a solution to ballooning textbook prices.

State Bills 1052 and 1053, both approved by Governor Jerry Brown last September, will establish a digital, open source library and a faculty-run board, the California Open Education Resources Council, to select and develop free digital text books.

"Open source in books is no different than in technology. I can create an artifact in a way that no one can own it," Banga said. "Anyone on the planet can use it. We know these artifacts will replace books. The idea of the printed book is dead, and we are paying obscene amounts of money for something that is obsolete."

Currently, Banga says that there are several options for replacing out-dated and anachronistic textbooks, options that some Peralta instructors are already utilizing. "At Berkeley City College we have a website that archives all info students and instructors use for specific classes. The material is completely free, costs nothing and can be downloaded and printed," he said.

But beyond the idea that printed books have become out-dated and anachronistic, Banga also insisted that the process of creating curriculum is also being revolutionized.

"We don't only use material available on the internet, we create the material," he said. "It's not hard, and when it's done its available."

"The whole idea of authorship is changing," Michael Orkin, the college district's interim vice chancellor or student services, said. "The whole open source paradigm means instructors can collaborate on materials and it won't be this huge project. It allows large communities of authors to put a textbook together."

According to Orkin, technology is starting to seep in where students would traditionally have to turn to a textbook, and the introduction of audio and video in open source pedagogy is becoming the norm.

Students in Banga's classes, or anyone interested in learning Spanish, can go online to access recordings of lectures for review or to catch-up on a missed class. Banga is also including video in his open source materials, some of which is found online, but others he has created himself, including an interview entirely in Spanish with District Chancellor José Ortiz on his life in Puerto Rico.

"It's amazing and revolutionary for us to establish a goal as a district to develop curriculum that can be accessed entirely online, and guess what, you won't have to buy a single text book," Trustee Abel Guillen said.

But Banga warned that there is no single solution to the problem of rising textbook costs, and the struggle against that trend will be a constant battle.

"The situation is so severe, and the technology is growing so quickly," he said, "that the presentation I give you today will be obsolete in a month."

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