Open Course Library offers Cheap Textbooks Alternative

This past Monday the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges announced the launch of the Open Course Library to help college students combat the rising cost of education by providing a new alternative for cheap textbooks. The state of Washington has put up $750,000 which was matched by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to make the library possible.  Open Course Library is hoping to provide cheap textbooks that will cost college students $30 or less.

The project has been broken into phases, with Monday’s launch of phase 1 featuring materials for 42 common courses including Introduction to Chemistry and Calculus I. Phase 2 will launch in the Spring of 2013 and will add another 39 courses to the library. A team of instructors, instructional designers and librarians developed and peer reviewed the current 42 available courses, using available open source materials to put together course materials that stay within the $30 limit.

The Student Public Interest Research Group (PIRGs) conducted an informal study which estimates that the Open Course Library could save students as much as $41.6 million on textbooks annually if adopted at all of Washington’s community and technical colleges. However, the 42 faculty course developers and their departments are estimated to save students $1.26 million by using these materials during the current school year, a full $80,000 more than the cost of creating the program. “These savings will not only help Washington’s students afford college, but clearly provide a tremendous return on the original investment,” said Nicole Allen, Textbook Advocate for the Student PIRGs.

This is one of several small steps being taken across the nation to make education more affordable for students with cheap textbooks and for such legislation to get funding in a time of staggering budget cuts is truly inspiring. Washington’s Open Course Library is leading a charge that I sincerely hope gains a lot more steam, and with the planned addition of 39 more courses in  2013, it seems the Library may continue to grow. The question now is whether or not this project can be repeated and gain state funding across other parts of the country.

Some common questions about the Open Course Library:

  1. What is it? The Open Course Library is a collection of shareable course materials, including syllabi, course activities, readings, assessments.
  2. Who is it created for? OCL materials are created for faculty to use in their instruction.
  3. So what? Students in our colleges spend about 25% of their total education costs on textbooks (about $1200 per year for a full-time student). The Open Course Library eliminates expensive textbooks and presents faculty with high quality, adaptable course materials.
  4. Is that all? Nope. There’s more. The Open Course Library may also increase completion rates by providing students with high quality, affordable educational materials. A study of student completion rates is in progress.
  5. Is it designed to replace faculty or face-to-face instruction? The Open Course Library does not replace faculty or force them to teach online.
  6. Who owns the courses? These course materials were created through an optional SBCTC grant, and the SBCTC Open Licensing Policy requires that all materials created through optional grants carry an open license. Unless otherwise noted, the Open Course Library materials are owned by SBCTC and freely shared to the world with a Creative Commons Attribution-only license (CC-BY).
  7. How was it created? Faculty course designers were selected through a competitive bid process. They worked with instructional designers, librarians, and other support staff to create the courses. Before creating new content, faculty searched for exiting, high quality open educational resources, or OER. They then filled in the gaps with their own course materials.
  8. How do faculty adopt a course? All curriculum developed for the Open Course Library is free, digital, and shareable. We invite faculty everywhere to explore, copy, customize, translate and adopt any and all course materials. We only ask that you give us credit somewhere in your course. Here’s an example: “[Portions of] or [This] course adapted from the Open Course Library of the Washington State Colleges. More information at” We also encourage you to use Creative Commons to openly license your course materials and share it with others.
  9. Are there any costs? Some courses currently require the purchase of a low-cost textbook. If an OCL course requires the purchase of a textbook or other resource, the cost may not exceed $30 per student. All other materials are free and there is no cost to adopt the course.
  10. How can I contribute to the Open Course Library? Adopt the materials, spread the word, and to share your own course materials online with a Creative Commons license.

Open Course Library is one of many alternatives for cheap textbooks for college students.