Lawmaker to push for open online textbooks

“A lot of students never use the supplemental material,” Mangalick said. “This law was a huge victory for students … but we still have a long way to go before textbooks are affordable.”

Another key piece of the federal textbook legislation would require publishing companies to tell professors and faculty members how expensive their books are before the professor assigns the text to his or her students.

“Professors tell me they don’t even know the retail prices” of books they choose for their courses, Durbin said.

White said failing to ask publishers about textbook prices is commonplace in higher education.

“I have been guilty of not asking price,” he said. “We rarely ask the price of the textbook, and we are shocked that texts cost” between $100 and $200 apiece.

White said web-based service such as Flat World Knowledge have some open-content textbooks that can be used in lieu of pricey hardcover books assigned every semester. The Flat World Knowledge web site allows students to search for free, open textbooks by course name, professor, or college.

More than 40,000 students at 400 colleges used Flat World textbooks in the fall 2009 semester, according to the company. That’s up significantly from about 1,000 students on 30 campuses who used Flat World material the previous spring. Students can order traditional bound textbooks from the web site for a minimal cost, usually around $25, according to the company.

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