[UConn] USG votes to form open-source textbook committee

University of Connecticut Undergraduate Student Government voted unanimously to form a committee to explore the use of open source textbooks in classes.

The bill, authored by Hilltop Dorms Senator Daniel Byrd, urged the formation of the committee to implement pilot programs to test the open source model’s effectiveness and demands student representation on the committee.

“I wanted USG to show that this is something the student body wants,” Byrd said. “I’m glad we voted unanimously on this. It shows that the student body really is behind this.”

Open source textbooks are written by experts and professionals in their field and peer reviewed like standard textbooks, but are published under an open license allowing them to be accessed online free of charge.

Costs of textbooks for college students have been rising exponentially. According to a study by US PIRG, textbook prices have risen 812 percent in the last 36 years. A study by CollegeBoard showed that an average student spends about $1,200 on textbooks per year.

UConnPIRG Treasurer Samuel Hollister, 7th-semester economics major, said textbook prices rose because they are part of a rare class of commodity where the purchaser has no control over what product to buy.

“It’s a broken market because there’s no competition,” UConnPIRG Campus Organizer Donna Farvard said. The use of open source textbooks will increase the market and introduce more competition to the system.

Hollister said that open source material allows professors to customize the textbooks to better suit the class. He said they have the ability to edit end of chapter quizzes and rearrange chapters to fit their teaching style, not the other way around. 

Byrd said that most lower level courses at UConn would have relevant open source material, but upper level classes and classes requiring non-textbook reading, such as novels or historical text, may have a harder time finding them.

If an exploratory committee is formed, UConn will join a growing number of institutions across the country starting programs to use open source materials. University of Minnesota, University of Washington and University of Maryland have generated libraries of open source content, and are finding them so successful that they have begun to implement them in introductory level classes.

Open source textbook programs have also been gaining support in national politics from senators and state representatives from many different states. 

UConnPIRG will be hosting a round table discussion with Senator Richard Blumenthal Oct. 17 to discuss open source textbooks, among other possibilities for reducing the cost of tuition for students.

“If you really want to learn about something, I don’t think price should limit your ability,” Byrd said.