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The Internet is Beautiful

Using online resources in a curriculum as an alternative to eliminate the high cost of textbooks

Photo of Blake

Written by

Who is the target audience for your idea and how does it reimagine the cost of college?

The target audience for this idea would ideally be professors, to understand the vast amount of online resources available that they could use in place of textbooks. While textbooks may still be utilized for those who are willing to buy them, online resources would be much more cost effective for less affluent students.

When I can't fully understand a concept from class, or need additional resources, I usually never turn to my textbooks for answers, thinking that these authors will give me a long, drawn out explanation that may never fully clarify my confusion.


In fact, in taking Calculus II (Integral Calculus), the website khanacademy.org saved my GPA and allowed me to continue my collegiate career. In some instances, the instructor there taught me much more easily and effectively than my professor during class.


In my opinion, the efficacy of textbooks in a college course seems to be drastically low for the price paid - hundreds or thousands of dollars per semester. Why not pull all of your resources from credible, online sources and remove the costly pasted pages altogether - or, at the very least, provide online sources as an alternative to the traditional approach?


The idea is simple. Work with professors and faculty on college campuses to construct a curriculum and syllabus with textbook cost savings in mind. The structure of classes essentially remains the same, except with required readings and articles pulled from online sources like credible news journals or websites devoted to that particular subject.


Students may search through the approved online content at their disposal, in order to pick and choose the understanding they are lacking. Need some sort of financial information? Head over to Investopedia.com. Looking for another way to learn a specific Calculus lesson? Check out Khanacademy.org. 


Not only are there a vast number of online resources for essentially every topic, there are forums available online too. For example, Reddit is a community in which people seek help for a wide array of problems, and most are solved quickly and with easy explanations by people across the world.


In conclusion, the Internet's resources are sorely misused and under-utilized by the current method of teaching at universities, and tapping into these resources could be an extremely cost-effective way to save possibly a couple thousand dollars a year per student.

What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

I, or a group of students, will not buy a textbook in a particular class, and will only use available, free online resources; we will then see how we fare in our various classes chosen next semester. This is only a possibility.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

I would like to understand the drawbacks to this idea - any potential flaws or red tape from universities that could inhibit the effectiveness of it - do most universities have contracts with textbook companies? Also, it would be interesting to create an actual curriculum to see what it looked like with only online resources utilized.

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11 comments

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Photo of Srihari Sridharan
Team

This certainly is a great idea in using online resources, instead of expensive text books, especially for population like in India. However, there would be a need for a standardized content among some faculty, to ensure a certain quality and reliability in data. If you could address that particular problem, it would certainly help a lot of student from middle class backgrounds. 

Photo of Blake
Team

Good insight, thanks for this response. Yes, there definitely would be a great need for communication among faculty to have some sort of standardized (and reliable/unbiased) resources for identical classes taught by different professors and teachers, but it would definitely be well worth it. Once the system is in place, it can be built upon and improved over time, just like with anything else! A big issue could indeed be the unreliability of information online, but if sources can be verified in some way as credible, then that would eliminate this issue.

Photo of Shane Zhao
Team

Blake, interesting thought-starter on the potential of hybrid education programs! Check out this like-minded idea from Sanam: https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/higher-ed/ideas/hybrid-programs-between-online-and-classroom-education Perhaps there might be a chance to collaborate?

Photo of Blake
Team

Interesting, I will definitely give it a look, thank you!

Photo of Darrick Hildman
Team

Hi Blake, I am a college instructor and I have often thought the same thing. Not only are textbooks over-priced but I think they make both the instructor and the students lazy. Why not use outside resources to inform the class, just like students already do for a research paper. I even thought it would be interesting to have the students create their own textbook over the semester. In grad school you don't use textbooks. So as an instructor I asked some chairs if we "had" to use a textbook. Some said no and that it was up to the leads of the departments. Most of the leads say that we have to for consistency. Other chairs said that we had to use textbooks for accreditation. I just created a class, and nowhere did it require a textbook. 
I think this would be the easiest way to bring the cost down a little for college. At least if we could use an older version of a book that is much cheaper, it would be better than the newest. 

Photo of Blake
Team

Thanks for this insightful response! I am currently attending a university and have a very similar opinion. Most of the time, whenever I am struggling to understand a concept, I turn to the Internet first because

 1) it's hard to find exactly what I need to read in a textbook (A quick google search can find me exactly what I need instantly), and 

2) the Internet has a variety of ways of explaining concepts, rather than perhaps one or two ways confined in a textbook, which allows for more dynamic learning. People who are visual learners can learn through charts and graphs, or other images, etc.

Generally, I feel like the stigma around textbooks are "boring" and "out of touch." I don't have many textbooks which I have genuinely enjoyed reading in the first place. Having online resources allows students to be in charge of their own learning!

Photo of Curtis Leister
Team

Blake, this is a great use of technology to promote cheaper, more efficient alternatives to higher education. However, some "red tape" I could envision would be the credibility of internet learning against four year undergrad and graduate schools with large endowments and accreditations. Like it or not, these institutions have a lot of pull tied to their cost, which could inhibit the mainstream internet learning in the future, beyond just learning a few hobbies or skills. 

Photo of Blake
Team

Definitely - I thought of this issue as well, especially if Universities have contracts with textbook companies. But why not simply provide online resources as an alternative to the traditional textbook? I feel like this would not completely bash the credibility of universities, as students are still attending classes from acclaimed professors, and finishing the required workload. 

In my opinion, utilizing online resources is very similar to utilizing a textbook. Both allow you to understand the material better, but one is on your own terms, and free.

Photo of Mustafa Akkoc
Team

I had french teacher when I was studying , He was giving computer architecture course. I never understood from him really , I stop going his classess . Then the Youtube give me helping hands , I search for computer architecture course on Youtube , I found one with 38 videos , and i watched all of them and passed the course. See my virtual indian teacher , I passed the course because of him https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TzMyXmzL8M&list=PL59E5B57A04EAE09C

Photo of Blake
Team

This is exactly my line of thinking as well, Mustafa. Online resources like those from Youtube are extremely beneficial, and free, to learn difficult concepts from people who understand them really well. It seems almost as if it's too good to be true.

Photo of Mustafa Akkoc
Team

My story was like this , then I realized that I am just paying for school to get the diploma only. All the courses nowadays they are just on youtube , If I want to be professional graphic designer , I just go to youtube and be one , physical school age is over , internet is new school , only thing people keep going to college is that get the official certificate the diploma , believe me I don't remember anything about those courses I took at university , I am sure nobody does much , practical life is totally different than academy life , universities aren't not preparing students to work for company , academy is different thing , university is research environment that is it. If you graduate from computer engineering , you are not and engineer believe me. You just passed the courses , you are not gonna remember them anymore when you start working