Students to gain more than money from free textbooks

Buying college textbooks may soon be a thing of the past.

The “Affordable College Textbook Act,” a bill introduced in November 2013, will reduce, and, in many cases, eliminate the cost of college textbooks by expanding the use of online text. These texts will be available to the public for both adapting and sharing.

With the U.S. Government Accountability Office reporting that textbook prices have skyrocketed 82 percent between 2002 and 2012, a shot at a free textbook seems reason enough to advocate the bill. This bill is offering us something far greater than monetary gain.

Too often, we find ourselves scurrying about in bookstores or shuffling through looking for the required edition for our course. We’ve been forewarned by our professors that any other edition will be as useful to us as a blank book. While this task is quite inconvenient for us (and for some, pointless), it is necessary.

When a book is published, it often generates more research on the topic. Scholars pose questions, dismembering the text only to assemble the text again with greater support. These revised texts are then shelved for the purposes of not only enriching the text, but also our knowledge of the content.

This process of revision is a never-ending process, and for good reason. Take your basic biology textbook for example. Researchers are continuously breaking ground within the field of biology. To omit this information in our text would be destructive to the student and, subsequently, the future of biology itself (since we are the future).

This process, although necessary, has been quite costly for students: so much so that a recent survey by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group found that seven out of 10 undergrads admitted to not purchasing at least one textbook because they couldn’t afford the latest edition.

I’ve experienced this as well and purchased the “outdated” copy in hopes of extracting the necessary information for the course through “context clues.” This proved unsuccessful for the most part and my grades were a reflection of that.

With the absence of new information on the subject of the text, many of us are becoming just as outdated as the outdated paperback. And in a world where innovative advances in research can be shared through a single twitter update, we can’t afford to miss a beat. If the ACTA is passed, we won’t have to.

Through the use of OER’s or Open Educational Resources, the ACTA will enable the real-time revision of text by appointed authors. These “open books” will create a sort of open document for scholars across the world, allowing them to share knowledge and contribute updates at no extra cost to the student.

We can liken this to the postal service and its transition from horse, to wheel, to cursor. A mere change in delivery altered our communication forever, expanding its channels and opening doors to endless possibilities. The ACTA and its proposed change in how we access textbooks may allow our generation to witness such an innovative transition. Through this, we stand to gain something more valuable than money: knowledge.