The recent BC Government announcement on funding the creation of open access textbooks for the 40 most popular courses in post-secondary education has caused a great deal of excitement, both on the side of those advocating that commercial access to resources is an unnecessary and cost-prohibitive barrier to education, and those who believe that the current free market publishing system can meet student and faculty needs better through their extensive experience offering enriched learning materials.
Prof Pettigrew from Cape Breton U has argued that open education textbooks are a waste of government resources, and an imposition on how and what faculty teach. He makes the claim that it is “not at all clear who will be writing these books,” and that government bureaucrats will be assigning (i.e., controlling and possibly even “cobbling together”) curriculum text books.
In response to these claims, Rory McGreal UNESCO/Commonweath of Learning Chair in Open Educational Resources, has countered that Prof Pettigrew’s position is uninformed, and even misinformed on the issues of text creation and resource access. He makes the point that it is “unmistakably” faculty who write these books, and that Prof. Pettigrew is guilty of an “all or nothing fallacy.” He states that “quite reasonably there is room for open texts where possible and proprietary works when needed.” He further states that some proprietary texts are “cobbled together” and the most important consideration individual professors will make in assigning texts will not be cost for the student, but curriculum needs. Cost is but one factor.
Open Textbooks are customizable by faculty who wish to tailor content, either omitting or adding sections, without expensive copyright infringements. Textbooks can be updated, meaning that students will not need to buy new textbooks each year simply because the earlier version is slightly different. I cannot help thinking of the backlash over Wikipedia in its early days, and how our view of knowledge creation has shifted since this online phenomenon. We now know that experts and interested people will devote countless hours of scholarship and research to develop and share knowledge without profit as an incentive.