The cliche is that we live in a time of rapid technological change; in fact, technological inertia is just as important. Textbooks are a prime example. A writing class, for example, can be effectively taught using only the Purdue Online Writing Lab and the Internet. That’s been true for at least five years or more, if not a decade. Yet the textbook industry plods along, almost unchanged.
There are also open source online writing textbooks available, such as “Writing Spaces.” There is no shortage of open source tools of every kind, from word processing to websites. Given the rise in college costs over the last decade, and the (perhaps overstated) death of the printed book, you would think that there would be a tidal wave of schools dropping textbooks. Not so.
It’s not surprising either, given the complex web of self-interest and money that is woven so deeply into the university textbook system. Still, Washington State University seems to have scored a victory for common sense– and the cost of college– by dropping textbooks altogether in favor of what they are calling The Open Course Library. The future is coming along, slowly but surely.