Thoughts about the Open Textbook Cost Savings Calculator

In our Utah Open Textbooks Project we’ve been closely monitoring the costs of deploying open textbooks to see if / how / when they can be less expensive than traditional textbooks. It turns out there are many, many ways to use open textbooks that are actually more expensive than traditional textbooks. We’ve learned several lessons this past year about what contributes to costs, where and how to print, etc.

Today we’ve released the first version of a calculator that provides an interactive way to explore the best case scenario under a very specific assumption – that you want to provide a printed book to every student. (Arguments about how much money schools would save using online textbooks almost always omit the cost of the hardware and internet connectivity these models presume.) Even in the best case scenario, there are several ways to waste money. However, when done correctly, it is absolutely possible to provide a printed textbook to every student that they can keep forever, highlight, and take notes in – while still saving over 50% off the cost of buying a traditional textbook.

Check out the Open Textbook Calculator – we’d love your feedback, suggestions, etc.!

I strongly, strongly hope to help the state of Utah move this direction. In the context of current budget cuts, it’s absolutely silly to be overpaying by a factor of 2x for textbooks…

The second half of this research, which will compare the standardized test scores of students using open textbooks with those of students using traditional textbooks, will be published late summer / early fall (after the test scores come in). Guess what we will find? This will give us the opportunity to make some statements about OER effectiveness in terms of the OER Golden Ratio:

change in performance (as standard deviation) : change in money spent on curriculum (as percentage)

We already know the second half can come in as low as -55%. Where will the first half of the ratio land? And at what point does it become interesting? Is 0 : -55% interesting? Is +0.15 : -55% interesting? Is +0.3 : -55% interesting? Most importantly, at what point is the evidence too persuasive to ignore (even for a legislator)?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Robin Donaldson April 1, 2011, 4:52 am

    The calculator looks great and I am certainly going to pass information on about your project to our Twitter and Facebook followers. We are looking forward to reading about the findings from the second half of your project.

  • Rebecca Hedreen April 1, 2011, 5:11 am

    I’d say that 0 : -55% ratio is very interesting; that the open textbooks are at least as good as their commercial counterparts. Legislators are always interested in cost savings: “We can save money with no detriment to student learning.” “Then what are you waiting for?”

    If it’s better than that, that’s fantastic. As an educator, I’m more interested in student achievement, but not going to ignore that cost issues profoundly affect that achievement, whether it means that the students can afford their textbooks or that the school saves enough to spend the money on something else.