The B.C. government has announced a plan to offer free, online textbooks to university students across the province beginning as early as next year. The province will be the first in Canada to introduce this measure. The program, detailed in a provincial government media release, will offer texts for the “40 most popular post-secondary courses,” which will most likely include introductory courses in the sciences, social sciences and humanities.
The textbooks will not be online versions of already-existing textbooks; rather, they will be new textbooks created with input from university faculty, institutions and publishers. These online textbooks, known as “open textbooks,” will be available for download and online viewing, as well as for printing at a cost significantly less than the cost of traditional textbooks. The open textbook program will be facilitated by BCcampus, a publicly funded organization that provides online student services to post-secondary students in B.C.
B.C. Minister of Environment Terry Lake pointed out in the release that, in addition to saving students money, “Open textbooks are an innovative way to support B.C.’s green initiatives while lowering our carbon footprint.”
The B.C. government estimated in its media release that students currently spend between $900–$1 500 per year on textbooks and that the open textbook program could reduce this to approximately $300 (in the case of students opting for printed open textbooks). These open textbooks will also be easier for instructors or publishers to update and modify than traditional textbooks. The open textbook program is expected to provide textbook access to a larger number of students.
Penny Draper, textbook manager of the UVic Bookstore says ensuring “authors are in some way compensated for the work that goes into creating this material,” as well as “quality in the materials” are some of her main considerations when looking at the new program.
“The current textbook system we have with printed books has quite an established peer review system,” says Draper, “so we need to make sure that’s filtered to this new program.” When asked whether the UVic Bookstore had sufficient facilities and resources to allow a large number of students to print their textbooks, Draper says, “It may be an issue.”
The program is modelled after a similar initiative in California, where the state passed two bills earlier in September of this year allowing for the creation of free digital textbooks for around 50 of the most popular post-secondary courses in the state. Open textbook initiatives are a part of a wider movement known as Open Education Resources (OER), which seeks to utilize the internet in innovative ways to improve and enhance education.