Monday I sat down to write this article, I just could not finish it. As you are going to read, as some thoughts in my head that I have, this one has very good arguments on both sides. So let’s just get into it.
One of the issues that arise with major changes to the world in revolution is the disruption of the old. When the Industrial Revolution happened, machinery started to replace human and as is human history things always come around again. I am sure before I die I will see something comparable to what is happening. Moreover, as with that revolution, this one is causing great panic and fear in those that have control now. It also causes fear with those that have “made” it, that is those who have jobs and a life they don’t want to change. As the fear of change causes uncertainty, the grasping of straws has begun.
One of the areas I had hoped to see technology have a bigger impact on was education. As a College graduate, I went through the experience of buying textbooks. As those that go through College discover versus those who do not , the cost of textbooks is one of the most expensive parts of education wise, as far as dollars go. Over the past few years, it has become one of the most controversial issues in higher education. I personally discovered the lowest cost options were to buy the textbooks overseas and wait the extra week in shipping to get a paperback version of a hardbound book. To my amazement I found that, a PDF (electronic) version of hardbound books was even more expensive. Moreover, to add to the monetary costs these versions of the books turned out to be semester rentals. One of the sites I purchased a PDF from, only granted me access to the PDF until a week before my finals. Not only was the PDF more expensive then the physical version but now I would lose access at a time when I most needed the book.
This is not the future I was promised growing up…
As many who have been in my shoes know most of the material available in textbooks for the basic classes (Math, English, etc.) does not drastically change from year to year. In fact, most of these basic classes the information has not changed in decades. So one would think the cost of material would come down over time. I rather not spend this post explaining the reasons why this is happening, but as some can guess ($) you probably know the reasons why. What I rather spend my writing time on is the excitement of a future where all can enjoy a great education that we in society find so dearly.
It amazes me that with so much talk of the cost of education, that there is not a real push towards using technology to solve some of those issues. Now let me stop and state that I understand the costs of implementing such technology. Nevertheless, what we would be cutting in future costs would be immense. In addition, one cost cutting measure would be the ability to go with electronic versions of textbooks, which would only require digital updates from time to time. The benefit would be the same textbook for all children with the same material.
However, visions of a better future come with the smell of reality. The other day I read of a lawsuit against a new start-up.
A group of three large academic publishers has sued the start-up Boundless Learning in federal court, alleging that the young company, which produces open-education alternatives to printed textbooks, has stolen the creative expression of their authors and editors, violating their intellectual-property rights. The publishers Pearson, Cengage Learning, and Macmillan Higher Education filed their joint complaint last month in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Boundless Learning was doing something that is typical of this period in time. They were disrupting the old guard and gatekeepers. Boundless Learning offers users open-source textbooks for their courses. Simply pick a course and they will put together a textbook tailored to your course, and a textbook that is much cheaper than other player’s in the game. I have not read into all the nuances of the lawsuit yet, but my first knee-jerk reaction was that of no surprise. Nevertheless, it was also one of a normality I am seeing that is troubling.
In my short time on this earth I have seen causes come and go. Some issues are trivial, some are important; they vary between these two realities. One thing I think we all agree with is that education is one of those issues that is important. In addition, as said before the cost of education has been a controversial issue for a long time, and intensified with the recession. What I do not understand, and not with this issue alone, is that when an issue like education is considered of high importance to society we do not implement the solutions that will solve the problems surrounding it.
Now let me step back again and say I understand the costs involved. Not only will there be infrastructure costs, re-training costs, but that of the loss of jobs for publishers. However, I have to ask if the issue is so important to the future of society why we are not pushing forward with things that can solve some of the root issues in education. Issues like needing to carry backpacks would be solved.
Here is the bigger issue that goes beyond technology. So many times we see causes that are considered of grave concern, those issues we are told must be solved now to avert future problems. The problem comes down to cost, to implement those solutions someone has to pay the cost. If we as a human race are to grow, we have to overcome the monetary value incentive. That is the value of doing for us alone but for the betterment of all. Online I have seen this with the open source software movement in software. Open Source is people coming together to make software for the benefit of all without the push towards the monetary end first.
This is not a blanket no one should be paid statement; people should be paid for what they do. However, where do we draw the line? I don’t have the issue with someone becoming rich as much as money becoming the stumbling block for entry to something we consider so essential to life. As I find with most things in life when you put monetary gain over important things in life such as education and safety, you ultimately lose sight of the real purpose. That is if the purpose of education is education and the heart of the matter becomes who is getting paid the most then is the heart of the matter education? As the old adage goes “You get what you pay for…”
This is also a question of leadership and the best possible use of our resources. Do we have the right leaders in place who are putting value to the issues that truly matter to the goals we want as a society? On the other hand, are they playing lip service because they really are not the leaders we need?
Now as I said in the beginning this is not an easy topic because when it boils down is putting people of work. Going to, a sort of, Open Source textbooks will cause the loss of jobs. And that is the question that truly is hard to answer.