A Washington State program to bring low-cost, college material online is facing some challenges. The Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges began the Open Course Library as a way to help the state's half a million students in two-year colleges save the estimated $1,000 for books each year.
The project received a $750,000 matching grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation so Web designers from around the state could create ready-to-use digital course modules for the 81 highest-enrolled courses. The cost for the course materials is capped at $30.
According to the Open Course Library directive, material must be available to online and accessible to anyone. Other stipulations include, "Faculty designers, hired for their teaching experience and expertise in the subject, can use material from anywhere and anyone, as long as they abide by licensing agreements. Instructors can then use and revise the material as they see fit, dropping and adding components to customize the course for their own students."
The Chronicle of Higher Education reports the $30 cap is proving to be daunting. A lot of things that are open are old," said Melonie D. Rasmussen, who teaches at Pierce College Fort Steilacoom, in Lakewood, Wash. "Or they are open and strange. She remembers a 1980s math book posted online that refers to VCR's. It would take more time to explain what a VCR was than the math itself, she joked.
The Chronicle spoke to a North Seattle Community College philosophy professor who is frustrated because the five books he wants his students to use would break the $30 bank. The professor reports he is "flummoxed."
A Bellevue College chemistry professor says she and her colleagues are concerned that the $30 cap may mean their students won't be able to get the needed supplemental materials to explain basic science concepts.
Cable Green, of the state community-college board, is quoted in the Chronicle of Higher Education as saying, "The Open Course Library is very much a work in progress, and may always be. Indeed, its success depends upon the academic community to continually review, revise, and improve the courses, and then post them back online for others." (The idea of freely sharing information, he concedes, might just be the more challenging cultural shift.)
But "getting there" is not in question, Green told The Chronicle. He says he's been blunt with textbook publishers and has encouraged them to get on board if they can.
"You saw what happened with Craigslist and newspapers," he told The Chronicle, referring to the free classified advertising that has helped force some newspapers out of business and required others to reinvent themselves. "We are going to get there with or without you."