The Chronicle of Higher Education recently released an article about three professors who have taken it upon themselves to author textbooks and provide them to their students online for free. Each of them acknowledges that traditional textbooks are becoming too expensive and students need a cheaper alternative.

Last year, at Heritage College in Gatineau, Quebec, students started to come to Brenden Myers’ philosophy class without the required textbook. He tried to explain the importance of the textbook to his students, but they responded saying that they couldn’t afford it. Soon after, Myers decided to help his students by writing a textbook and providing it to them for free.

Myers wrote a textbook titled “Clear and Present Thinking” and emailed his students PDF copies for them to use for class. After being inspired by a friend’s success with Kickstarter, a crowd-sourcing fundraising website, he started his own campaign to produce a professional-grade version of his textbook. The money raised would pay for additional contributors, designers, editors, and add-ons, such as a French version and an audiobook.

The Kickstarter campaign asked for $5000, but Myers was able raise around $15,000, greatly exceeding the funding he had requested. He plans to complete the textbook upgrade by December and would like to have peer-review boards from philosophy journals, such as Ethics or Mind, critique his work.

Gregory Carey, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, was originally told by a traditional publisher that his textbook about quantitative methods in neuroscience could be priced around $200. However, he decided not to pursue the publishing deal. Instead, he proposed an idea to the University of Colorado Faculty Council: they could provide his textbook and other textbooks online, making them free to students.

In Carey’s system, students would be allowed either free access to the textbook or the ability to download relevant chapters. The idea was well received, and according to Carey, “the university president has expressed interest in the idea of exploring mechanisms for professors to publish textbooks online, and to receive appropriate academic credit for it.” The education policy committee of the Faculty Council has plans to discuss the idea further in the fall.

Herbert Hovenkamp, a professor at the University of Iowa College of Law, recognized that his students were becoming overwhelmed due to increased tuition and expensive textbooks, and decided to do something about it. Normally, casebooks for law school are expensive and tend to cover a large range of material, making it difficult to find a reasonably priced casebook for small, specific classes. Hovenkamp’s course was based on the niche topic of antitrust and intellectual-property, so he decided to write his own casebook and post it online for free.

Hovenkamp’s casebook went online this spring and it was received positively by his students. The students praised the textbook’s portability and appreciated having current information. According to Hovenkamp, the casebook’s electronic format makes it easy to revise. He is currently updating it for his January 2013 course.

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