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New open-source strategy would drop textbook costs to $0

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These open-source textbooks have different features that electronic versions sold by traditional publishers

textbooks-open-sourceHolding a whiteboard, the University of Maryland-College Park students scrawled their complaints and posed for a picture.

“My name is Justin and I spent $114 on ONE textbook,” a student wrote. “My name is Jeff and I spent $736 on textbooks,” wrote another.

The images, posted online by the Student Government Association in recent months, are designed to highlight the rapid rise in the price of college textbooks over the past decade. This semester, the University System of Maryland is exploring ways to bring that cost to zero with “open-source” electronic textbooks — the latest experiment in changing the way students in Maryland and across the nation are taught.

Unlike electronic versions of textbooks sold by publishers, open-source textbooks are made up of materials gathered from various sources and are not protected by copyright. They are often designed to be interactive, with links to source material and multimedia elements. The materials are licensed openly, so anyone with an internet connection can access them.

A pilot program, which the university system estimates is saving 1,100 students a combined $130,000, is the latest in a shift on the nation’s campuses toward digital learning. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the California State University system and the Washington State college system are among those that have built libraries of free online course materials in recent years.

(Next page: Challenges of open-source textbooks)

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