The Affordable College Textbook Act, Bill H.R. 3840, was introduced into Congress last month by Jared Polis, a Democrat from Colorado. Although its chances of being passed are slim, it’s worth familiarizing yourself with the bill because it is a genuine attempt at legislating OER policy—a digital solution to pricey print textbooks. Here’s a primer on what the bill is all about:

What is the purpose of the Affordable College Textbook Act?

To reduce the cost of textbooks for students in higher education. According to the bill, textbook prices increased by 82 percent between 2002 and 2012. Given these costs, the public concern is one of access to knowledge, especially for non-traditional groups. The bill seeks to stimulate the development and use of Open Educational Resources (OER) to reduce textbook purchase costs.

How does the bill define OER?

Broadly, as “freely accessible” resources used for educational purposes. Freely accessible means in the public domain, or released under an intellectual property license that permits its free use, reuse, modification and sharing. The bill doesn’t restrict the media that OER is created in—it encompasses multimedia and audiovisual content, as well as text.

What incentives would the bill provide?

The bill would create a competitive grant program that funds institutions for “expanding the use” of open textbooks. The money can go to projects in which faculty and staff members create, develop or adapt OER. If an institution needs better tech tools or informational resources to be able to use OER, that can be covered too. To compete for funding, schools must also commit to monitoring results: namely, the quality of the text and the savings for students.

Who benefits from expanding the use of OER?

Research by Student Public Interest Research Groups claims that OER would save students more than $1 billion every year. Authors and universities would also benefit, since open publication grants research the widest possible audience, increasing visibility for the institution and maximizing impact for the funding agency.

As the coalition group Sparc argues, there is a fundamental mismatch between what’s possible with digital technology and the outdated publishing system higher education relies on. If passed, the bill will offer priority to solutions that save the most money for students, cover the most popular courses and are the easiest for institutions to adopt.

The bill is in its first stages. It will be considered by committee, then must be passed by the House and Senate and signed by the President to become law. Skopos Labs, a New York-based strategic forecasting firm, calculates there is only a 7 percent chance of it passing in its current form.

Download Top Hat’s Ultimate Guide to OER and learn how you can integrate and use cheap, effective open educational content in your classroom.

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