University created free e-texts would benefit students, put MSU ahead of competition

Feb 5th, 2010 | By | Category: Editorials, Opinions

The hidden cost of higher education reared it’s ugly head once more at the start of the semester as students opened up their pocketbooks (or drained their financial aid) buying expensive textbooks.

Depending on a students course load, the costs can range from a few hundred dollars to well over a thousand.

But what if it did not have to be that way?

The technology exists now to do away with costly textbooks altogether.

Some textbook publishers already provide online e-text versions of their books for interested students, but even these only offer a marginal reduction on the price of a printed text when accounting for the fact that a student cannot sell the e-text back to the bookstore at the end of the semester.

No, current pricey e-texts are not the answer to this problem.

Instead, we advocate Missouri State to spearhead the creation of free, peer-reviewed professional e-textbooks on a multitude of academic subjects.

The software behind the popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia can make this happen. The free, open-source software allows multiple-users to work collaboratively on a project, writing and editing each other’s work.

It saves the changes made by each person in the editing process, allowing writes, rewrites, revisions, and reverts.

Unlike Wikipedia, though, these projects could only be edited by authorized users, which would include professors and select student assistants.

Working under the guidance of professors, these graduate students could write basic content or edit copy in exchange for class credit.

Why would professors work to create a free e-text, you ask?

Well, they have no reason to do so right now, but that can change with the stroke of a pen.

Professors need incentives to work on this project. Contributing to a print textbook provides both financial royalties to the professor and also is factored into tenure and advancement decisions.

Since the e-texts would be free, providing royalties would be impossible; however, the university could easily create job-related rewards for professors who contribute to free e-textbooks.

Better yet, the university could require professors to work on this project as part of their jobs and utilize the books in their classes.

With the professors on board with this project, creation of these e-texts could begin.

The initial technical setup for the project involving the Wiki online software would be minimal.

Writing, editing, and organizing these free e-texts would take a great deal of time.

Professors and graduate students could work from the ground up to create textbooks for hopefully all university classes eventually.

The great thing is that once the ground work has been set, revising and updating these e-texts would be simple, easy and instant.

Each year, professors can take the latest updates they have made and create a new edition for students. Perhaps even an at-cost print edition could be made for students who dislike e-reading.

Most of all, these e-texts would eliminate a college cost barrier, allowing more people to seek a higher education at Missouri State.

– Zach Becker

For the Editorial Board

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