Free textbooks for popular courses


WEB-textbook-flickr-cassidy curtis copy

VANCOUVER [CAPILANO COURIER] – BCcampus and the provincial government are collaborating on an initiative that will give students free access to online textbooks for some high demand classes.

Textbooks are one of the most pricey, but essential, elements of post-secondary schooling, and BC’s Open Textbook Project is welcome news to both students and professors alike. Nearly 300 students have already reaped the benefits of the open textbook initiative, each saving about $146 compared to their regular textbook fees.

The BC Open Textbook Project is an initiative that was launched by the Ministry of Advanced Education and BCcampus. Their goal is to provide free open textbooks for the 40 highest enrolled first- and second-year courses in BC.

There are three phases to the processing of the project. Phase one involves the reviewing of existing open textbooks, phase two is the adaptation of existing open textbooks and finally, phase three creates new open textbooks.

Some of the notable early results of the Open Textbook Project include a collective savings of $11,220 for physics students at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, where each of the 60 students saved $187. A database management class at Douglas College consists of 35 students who saved a total of $5,600 through Open Textbook, each of the 40 students in a statistics class at the Justice Institute of British Columbia saved $100, and $2,060 was saved by 20 management students at Northwest Community College.

Capilano University professor Rajiv Jhangiani didn’t notice any particular drawbacks to open textbooks; students who aren’t accustomed to using online texts are always able to print PDF copies of the book, which only cost a small fraction of the softcover hard copy.

“The good news, I suppose, is since then, around December of last year, BCcampus uploaded my revision into their online repository and they have an agreement with SFU that means that SFU will provide a print, bound softcover version,” Jhangiani said.


“It’s certainly possible for an open textbook to have higher quality.”

– Rajiv Jhangiani, Capilano University professor

He added that this printed version will not just be a simple coiled, spiro-bound text, but a proper bound version: “To any student who wants it at-cost, the 300-page textbook that I co-authored currently costs students about $13.”

Faculty members are still more inclined to use textbooks released by major educational publishers; according to Jhangiani, the extra resources provided by publishers make traditional textbooks attractive to teachers.

“I think there are some very good reasons why faculty choose to adopt traditional textbooks from the large educational publishers like Pearson or McGraw-Hill,” he explained. “Part of the reason is the quality of the product, part of it [is] the test banks and research manuals that comes with that.”

Despite this, Jhangiani believes that open textbooks will soon be capable of providing further resources. “It’s certainly possible for an open textbook to have higher quality, or even give it higher quality because you are able to revise it much quicker than a traditional textbook’s five-year review cycle; you’re able to keep up to beat in terms of cutting edge research,” Jhangiani said.

He continued, “I think the ministry is now funding programs that allow for development of ancillaries and so on, so I think eventually we’re going to get to a point where I don’t see a good reason why faculty members would stick to traditional textbooks — if the only difference is the cost to the students.”

BC Open Textbook aims to finish the original 40-subject area this year. Many of the textbooks under revision are US-centric and faculties are working to revise them into Canadian editions.