Late last year, we blogged about California State Senator Darrell Steinberg’s ambitious plans to introduce digital textbooks into the California State higher education system, with a proposal to give students free access to texts for 50 core undergraduate classes in California’s three-tier public higher education system: University of California, California State University, and California Community College. That ambitious plan is now one step closer to fruition.

Last week, Steinberg’s two bills – SB1052 and SB1053 – passed through the California Senate with a vote of 32-2 and 33-2, respectively. SB1052 would allow for competitive bids for educators and academics to produce texts for the 50 most common courses in the California higher educational systems. It would also establish the California Open Education Resources Council – comprised of faculty members from each of the California public college systems – to oversee the bidding process and approve materials that meet high standards set forth by these school systems. SB1053, a companion bill, would create the California Open Sources Digital Library, a repository for these materials. Students would be able to access these textbooks for free or opt for a $20 print edition – a far cry from the $1,000 that college students are paying each year for traditional textbooks.

In his May 30 press release, Steinberg stated: “As college students and their families struggle with college costs in this difficult time, let’s do what we can with the tools that we have. Through open educational resources, we can use technology to provide high quality college textbooks at a fraction of today’s costs. Faculty, publishers and others can unleash their entrepreneurial spirit through the competitive bidding process in creating these materials. Our students and California’s economy will reap the benefits.”

For a state who college systems have seen their fair share of budget cuts, resulting in even higher tuition costs for students, this news is certainly a breath of fresh air. While these bills do not mandate that faculty use these texts in their classrooms, they provide educators with a major benefit over traditional textbooks: because the textbooks would be created under a Creative Commons license, professors could quickly remix and adapt the texts for their own courses.  An easily adaptable textbook that can be provided free to students? It sounds like a great deal for all parties involved!

These bills now advance to the California State Assembly. We’ll continue to keep a close eye on these bills, so please check back at the Saylor Journals and on our Twitter account for updates.


The image “Brain Food”  came from Flickr user billue_the_bear and is licensed under a Creative Commons CC BY-ND license.