How Canada will benefit from U.S. open textbook legislation

Al Franken

United States Senators Dick Durban and Al Franken (above) have introduced legislation into the US Senate called The Affordable College Textbook Act.  SPARC has a good post on the proposed legislation, stating that the legislation will “help expand the use of open educational resources to more colleges in more states, and provide a framework for sharing educational materials and best practices” through:

  • Grants for colleges. The bill directs the Department of Education to create a competitive grant program for higher education institutions (or groups of higher education institutions) to establish pilot programs that use open educational resources to reduce textbook costs for students. Grant amounts are not specified, but appropriations in such sums as are necessary are authorized for five fiscal years.
  • Pilot programs. Pilot program activities can include any combination of the following: professional development for faculty and staff, development or improvement of educational materials, creation of informational resources, or efficacy research. Grant funds can also go toward partnerships with other entities to fulfill these activities.
  • Open educational resources. Any educational materials developed or improved through the grants will be posted online and licensed to allow everyone – including other colleges, students and faculty – to use the materials freely. The bill specifies that the license will be the Creative Commons Attribution License, or an equivalent, which grants full use rights with author attribution as the only condition.
  • Sharing outcomes. Grantees are required to submit a report evaluating the impact their respective pilot programs and to submit a plan for disseminating this information to other institutions. The bill also commissions a GAO report on textbook costs and the impact of open educational resources in 2017.

Reading these bullet points, I can see two obvious ways that this proposed legislation can benefit BC, Canada and, indeed, the rest of the world.

First, the legislation is clear that all materials created be licensed with a Creative Commons Attribution license, meaning that anyone will be able to use and modify the textbooks. So, if this legislation becomes law, we can expect that the number of textbooks that are available in the worldwide commons of open textbooks to substantially increase. Any textbook created with funding from the grants associated with this legislation become textbooks we can use and modify.

Second, the provision around sharing outcomes will provide much needed data that can be used to support the continued development and adoption of open textbooks. I see many case studies coming out of the projects associated with this legislation. With luck, this will also mean academic researchers will be able to tap into funding to conduct empirical research on the effectiveness of Open Educational Resources. This type of research knows no borders. Indeed, much of the empirical research that we currently have on the effectiveness of OER and open textbooks comes from the US & the UK. We need more, and while I would advocate for the importance of Canadian-based research, all research is incredibly useful and important.

I don’t know how the US system of government works in enough detail to know if this legislation has a chance of passing or not. But if it does become law, it has the potential to greatly increase the awareness of open textbooks, the available pool of open textbooks, and the body of knowledge about the effectiveness of open textbooks not only in the U.S., but everywhere, including us in British Columbia working on open textbooks.

Okay, and because it’s a blog post mentioning Al Franken (which I might never get to do again) I have an excuse to link to some classic SNL – Stuart Smalley with Michael Jordan

Photo: Al Franken by Aaron Landry used under CC-BY-NC-SA license


Clint Lalonde

Just a guy writing some stuff, mostly for me these days on this particular blog. For my EdTech/OpenEd stuff, check out