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Response to Prof. Pettigrew McLeans' article on BC Campus Open Texts announcement

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By Rory McGreal October 29, 2012 - 4:55pm

Prof Todd Pettigrew of Cape Breton U. has written a critique of OER. It is available here:

http://oncampus.macleans.ca/education/2012/10/22/b-c-s-free-textbooks-plan-needs-a-closer-look/

BC Campus wrote a response available here:

http://oncampus.macleans.ca/education/2012/10/23/a-closer-look-at-b-c-s-open-textbook-plan/comment-page-1/#comment-53704

My response:

Professor Pettigrew is a well respected researcher and as such, should have done a little more research on open educational resources before expounding on the subject. His first error is that he claims that it “not at all clear who will be writing these books. “ It only isn’t clear to someone who has read the short news release and conducted only a cursory search of the Internet. To Open Educational Resource proponents, it is very clear (and unmistakably so). Faculty write open textbooks, and like many proprietary published texts, they receive input from faculty, course designers and editors.

Secondly, there are NO government open textbooks. Open texts are controlled by the faculty unlike proprietary published texts, which are controlled by private interests.

Thirdly, not only are faculty consulted, but there are no open textbooks without faculty.

Fourthly, many proprietary published texts are “cobbled together”.  So, such a text may or may not be the best available. And, most OER texts are NOT cobbled together in any case.

Fifth, I believe that conscientious profs will assign the best texts for their students whether proprietary or open. The price of the text should not be the most important consideration, but it should be an important consideration. 

Sixth, Prof  Pettigrew is guilty of the “all or nothing” fallacy. Quite reasonably there is room for open texts where possible and proprietary works when needed. 

Seventh, Open texts are an incentive for students to study and this has been shown where they are adopted. Many students simply cannot afford proprietary texts and so do not buy them. When the texts are free or low cost, more students can more actively participate.

Eighth, there are less open textbooks in the humanities, but there are some. So, if there are no open textbooks then there are none to be used. Maybe in the humanities it will take more time for textbooks to appear. That is up to the humanities community of professors. Some will participate others will want to hang on to the proprietary model.

Ninth, the bureaucrats in Victoria have no say in what textbooks will be assigned. That is a faculty decision. Faculty will decide themselves with or without their students’ input, which books to assign. Yes, textbooks vary widely, and slapped together works are usually not the best  -- but that includes many proprietary  textbooks.

Tenth, open texts are free online but students pay for the print version – not the +$150 charged by publishers but less than $30.

In addition, with open texts, faculty can revise and update them whenever they want without waiting years for a new edition. So, open texts are invariably up-to-date. Some school texts can be more than 10 years old. 

And, finally I agree with Prof. Pettigrew that cutting tuition would be “sweet”. But I would add that using open textbooks will help us achieve that goal. With open text books you get what you pay for but with proprietary etexts, you pay, but you DON’T get .  You pay but it expires after 180 days, you can’t highlight, can’t use text to speech, you can’t legally use it in another country; you can’t even show it to your spouse without breaking the law. Plus, when you use proprietary etexts you must allow open access to your computer by the publisher. 

All the best.

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