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California Inches Closer to Open Content in Higher Education

California is moving closer to the realm of open education resources (OER) with passage of two bills in its state senate that would fund development of digital textbooks and courseware for free or low-cost use in higher education. Senate Bill 1052, promoted by Senate President Darrell Steinberg, creates guidelines for the development of digital materials. Companion Bill 1053 sets up a digital library as a state repository for maintaining and distributing digital resources.

The state would apply $25 million in funding for creation of digital materials for the 50 most commonly taken lower division courses in public universities and community colleges. The work would be allocated through a competitive bidding process managed by an "open education resources council" made up of faculty members from the public institutions.

"As college students and their families struggle with college costs in this difficult time, let's do what we can with the tools that we have. Through open educational resources, we can use technology to provide high quality college textbooks at a fraction of today's costs," said Steinberg. "Faculty, publishers, and others can unleash their entrepreneurial spirit through the competitive bidding process in creating these materials. Our students and California's economy will reap the benefits."

Under the bill, college faculty wouldn't be forced to use the materials. However, there would be strong motivation to adopt the new digital content by virtue of the savings students would enjoy. The plan would be for textbooks to be made available for free in a digital format or in a print version for about $20.

The content would come under a Creative Commons licensing structure to enable instructors to adapt it to fit their specific needs.

Before the bills become part of the California code, they must first proceed unscathed through the state's Assembly and then scrutiny by Governor Jerry Brown. Even then, however, they'll only be implemented when funding is available either from the state, federal government, or a private source. The wait may be long. Currently, the state faces a $16 billion deficit.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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