Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Internet Materials for Community Colleges: Less Expensive Than Textbooks

Does the Internet have all the information community college professors need to teach their courses?

The state of Washington is implementing a new system called the Open Course Library, made up of materials drawn from the Internet. Teams of community college instructors, librarians, and Web designers from around the state—backed by a $750,000 matching grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—are researching materials online and will create ready-to-use course modules, accessible to students online. The digital modules will replace textbooks and be used by all 34 community colleges in the state in the 81 classes with highest enrollment.

The purpose of replacing textbooks with online learning materials found on the Internet is, of course, to save money. According to the state of Washington, students are paying up to $1,000 a year for textbooks, and the state foots much of that bill through student financial aid. The Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges insisted on finding a less expensive solution. Since 81 classes are taught at all community colleges in Washington, it seemed like a no-brainer to find inexpensive materials that can be used by all instructors of those classes. In fact, the maximum cost the state will allow for each course module is $30.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that, as educators search the Internet for high-quality materials, some are finding what they need and others are not. Math professors, for example, have found that while excellent sources exist for teaching higher math, they are lacking for teaching basic math skills.

Those of you who teach at community colleges—in Washington state or in other states—do you think it’s a good idea to replace textbooks with online material? What Internet sources would you go to first for your IT classes?

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