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Thursday, September 23, 2021

California embraces open-source digital textbooks

With the digital textbook initiative students may worry less about the cost of textbooks every quarter.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently signed the digital textbook initiative to increase the availability, quantity and practicality of free, open-source digital textbooks in California. Anyone will be able to access these texts online free of cost.

“With smart legislation such as this, California can lead the nation toward a more technologically advanced education system that meets the needs of today’s students while freeing up resources for schools to invest in other vital priorities in this difficult economic time,” Schwarzenegger said in a press release.

The legislation is an intertwinement of three measures.

Senate Bill 48 by Senator Elaine Alquist (D-San Jose) requires any company that sells textbooks to the University of California, Cal State University, community colleges or private postsecondary schools to have open-source digital textbooks available by 2020.

This will give professors in higher education more options in choosing a textbook for their class.

SB 247 gives K-12 school districts the option to use open-source digital textbooks. For grades K-8 the digital textbooks must be approved by the state; local school districts have discretion in choosing suitable open textbooks for grades 9-12.

Access to an open-source system may give students an advantage in science, technology, engineering and mathematics because of creative software that illustrates difficult concepts.

The final bill, AB 1398 by Representative Bob Blumenfield (D-San Fernando), defines “technology-based materials” to include electronic equipment required to use digital textbooks.

K-12 schools will not be mandated to use free open-source textbooks, but will have it as an option.

This legislation was enacted to ensure that K-12 students continue to have access to high quality education despite the budget crisis in California.

The open-source digital textbooks must meet California’s content standards.

In August, Schwarzenegger announced that 16 math and science open-source digital textbooks met about 90 percent of California’s education state standards, while four met 100 percent.

Currently, CalPIRG at UC Davis has the most support from faculty for open-source textbooks.

According to Andrea Abergel, CalPIRG’s textbooks campaign coordinator, 126 professors agreed to look into open source textbooks last year.

Open-source digital textbooks can save students money, especially now when university fees are rising. To make the switch from hardbound textbooks to open-source digital textbooks, publishers must stop producing hardbound books and make new digital editions instead, which are cheaper, Abergel said

CalPIRG future plans include raising awareness about open textbooks and informing the professors who signed the open textbook statement about those books currently available.

UC Davis Professor of plant biology Terence Murphy is one of the professors who signed the open textbook statement. Murphy said open textbooks must meet certain criteria for him to consider using them in his Biology 2A class.

“They have to be easily accessible, fit the course and have good illustrations with diagrams,” Murphy said.

Murphy found a possible open textbook he could use in his BIS 2A class on maketextbooksaffordable.org.

Although free open-source textbooks are currently limited in number, California has verified its importance by passing the Digital Textbook Initiative.

Schwarzenegger said in a press release, “California was built on innovation and I’m proud of our state’s continued leadership in developing education technology. This first-in-the-nation initiative will reduce education costs, help encourage collaboration among school districts and help ensure every California student has access to a world-class education.”

HELEN TREJO can be reached at city@theaggie.org.

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