The textbook industry is in significant flux that is fueled by evolving technologies, increased availability of online open content and curricula, active used textbook markets, and, most recently, a rash of textbook rental start-ups, just to name a few of the factors at play. At the same time, Open Educational Resources (OERs)—learning materials distributed openly for either no or minimal cost—may have become commonplace enough that a credible, viable infrastructure for open textbooks, one that mainstream faculty would accept, could be imagined.
Our research, which employed an online survey and focus groups, explored faculty perceptions about affordability and open textbooks. Our results indicate that faculty want a diversity of choices when they choose a textbook. They are independent thinkers, exceptionally busy, suffer from extreme information overload, are generally dedicated to ensuring their students’ success, and do not take well to “one size fits all” solutions. Our data indicated that any discussion about textbook affordability solutions must also take into account that most faculty are active and independent decision makers when it comes to choosing a textbook or other curricular materials for their courses; the top-down high-school model of textbook adoption is anathema to many professors and instructors. Complicating the picture are the natural, heterogeneous needs among the institutions, disciplines, and courses encompassed by higher education; the type of institution and the level and content of the course will ultimately determine which curricular forms offer the best solutions. Faculty made clear that their students represent a plethora of learning backgrounds and goals, and also desire flexibility and choice in textbook options. What is notable and cannot be ignored is that purely electronic solutions will not be universally embraced in the near term. Reasons for resistance included students’ need for the safety net of a printed textbook and the positive pedagogical practice of engaging with the text by “writing in the margins” (which is not a practical reality in current electronic platforms).
Regarding the demand for open textbooks, there simply are not enough currently available in enough disciplines to satisfy the multitude of faculty and student needs in lower and upper division courses; a much wider array of high-quality, easy-to-use, and reliable open textbooks will have to be produced for more widespread faculty adoption to be realized. Even then, open textbooks will likely be only one of many players in the curricular materials market.
This work, directed by Diane Harley, was conducted under the aegis of the Higher Education in the Digital Age Project at the Center for Studies in Higher Education: http://cshe.berkeley.edu/people/dharley