Textbooks free but a thing of the past

Free online learning has been here for years; it's time to take the blinders off and look ahead.

The BC Ministry of Advanced Education has announced the formation of a sub-committee to advise on Canada’s first publicly funded open textbook project. It has  been formed with representatives from post-secondary institutions all over the province.

“The project will ultimately prepare and offer free, online, open textbooks for 40 high-enrolment and high-impact first and second year post-secondary courses,” it said.

Sounds great on paper, but I think the project will have plenty of hurdles ahead of it, such as copyright issues and whether the texts will be used for classes once they’re ade available.

However, the idea is long overdue. So long overdue, that it’s time may have come and gone already.

For those of you reading this who don’t use a computer, you are rapidly becoming a minority. Just as television has invaded 96.7 per cent of North American homes (and 20 per cent of the world’s), so computers will become a standard piece of the furniture.

Considering that most students already  carry a smartphone or portable computer with them to class, it seems like a no-brainer that they should be able to store and access their textbooks on them. Add audio so students can choose to listen or read.

The black and white TV was the height of technology when I was in school – hooked up to a reel-to-reel tape player. And the Gestetner machine. Photocopiers? Who knew? We were all too impaired by the alcohol fumes on the paper.

A while back I was chatting with a trustee during a break at a school board meeting and we were talking about online learning. I mentioned that I had pretty much taught myself how to quilt through information I found on the web and tutorials on YouTube. The trustee was flabbergasted.

As a tool for learning, the internet is unparalleled – but so were libraries not so long ago. I wonder what the next generation of library will look like.

Free text books are a great idea, but why are we still bound to learn from textboks when the knowledge is already out there?

Wendy Coomber is editor of the Ashcroft-Cache Creek Journal

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