Open fire 
At the Creative Commons blog, there's discussion of a recent report by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund about the the impact of expensive textbooks. It documents something I had observed anecdotally in my own classes, that lots of students decide not to buy textbooks because of the cost and that their performance in classes suffers for it.

I agree with the core of the findings and with the sentiment that open textbooks are a good thing, but there is one aspect that's worrisome.

The study includes this factoid: "82% of students felt they would do significantly better in a course if the textbook was available free online and buying a hard copy was optional. This is exactly how open textbooks are designed."

It does not surprise me to learn that this is what many students feel. However, we know that students do not relate to text on screen in the same way they relate to text on paper. It is harder to read actively and mark up a text on screen; in some contexts, it is simply impossible. Although a free online version is an improvement on an expensive hard copy that they refuse to buy, an affordable hard copy which they buy or print would be even better.

As tablets and e-readers proliferate, this may change, but it would be premature to pretend we are already in that brave digital future.

My own book, forall x, is not designed for online consumption. It is intended to be used as a hard copy, and on line distribution is a way for people to freely get the print-ready files. I use electronic resources similarly in other courses. In history of philosophy, for example, it's a way of cutting out the margin that book publishers and the bookstore would add to public domain material. So the report conflates open access versus commercial books (whether there are license fees or not) with online versus hardcopy (how the student interacts with the content).

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