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Can We Afford Free Textbooks?

UMass Amherst professor Robert S. Feldman, from Inside Higher Ed, March 27, 2017

When it comes to student success, “new” open resources ultimately do little more than further entrench an ineffective status quo, argues Robert S. Feldman, Deputy Chancellor, UMass Amherst.

As college instructors begin to think about what materials to assign in their fall classes, we can expect to see renewed interest in the debate over the cost of college textbooks. For example, not too long ago the Financial Times published a piece proclaiming that open educational resources — or OERs — would set textbooks “free.” Soon after, student public interest research groups published a report that similarly painted OERs as education’s savior in the face of rising costs.

As a professor of psychological and brain sciences who has spent much of his career creating material designed to maximize learning and student success, I want nothing more than to see my students succeed. Yet I can’t help but feel that conversations about open educational resources severely miss the mark. At best, proponents of OERs overstate their potential; at worst, they draw our attention — and valuable resources — away from far more pressing challenges facing higher education today.

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