February 24, 2020

The Benefits of Open Source Textbooks for Students

In the first in our series on the benefits of open source textbooks, we examine the benefits for students. To my mind, there are two obvious benefits for students, and they are eminently practical.

First, students pay very little (often $0) for the textbook. Modern print-on-demand services allow for authors to make low-cost print editions available (usually less than $20). Electronic editions, created with LaTeX, PreTeXt, or LibreTexts, are generally completely free to the students, who only need an internet connection in order to access them. My RWI students who don't want a print edition will pay nothing for the book.

The use of open source textbooks additionally ensures that all students have access to the text on the first day of class. Students don't have to wait for orders to come in, financial aid to clear, or anything else. They can be full participants from the first day. This also helps the instructor promote an equitable and inclusive classroom environment by lowering the financial barrier to entry.

Relatedly, since one of the goals of open source projects is to be widely shared, and available in as many different formats as possible, open source textbooks can usually be accessed flexibly in many different formats as convenient for the student.

As described above, the benefits of open source textbooks to students are largely practical. They have access to course material on Day 1 without having to wait for financial aid or book orders to be delivered, and thus will feel welcomed into the class without having to clear any unneeded financial hurdle. The flexibility and power of most modern open source publishing avenues allow for students to access the materials in formats that are convenient, including low-cost print editions when desired.

Next time, we'll start looking at the benefits of open source textbooks for instructors.