Texas Language Technology Center Wins Funding from Department of Education to Develop Low-cost Alternative to Textbooks

Carl Blyth, director of the Texas Language Technology Center (TLTC) at The University of Texas at Austin, has won a two-year award of $263,0000 from the U.S. Department of Education's Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE) to develop a sustainable publishing model for foreign language instructional materials to combat the rising costs of textbooks.

TLTC will form a publishing consortium with three other Texas institutions: Rice University, Texas Christian University and Lone Star Community College in Houston. The FIPSE grant will allow TLTC to join open source technology with print-on-demand publishing to radically lower textbook prices. Besides price reductions, print on demand publishing holds many benefits, such as inventory tracking and little or no waste from unsold products.

The goal is to create an online French textbook that will be free of charge and free of copyright and licensing restrictions. A print-on-demand version will be available for a fraction of the cost of most commercially published textbooks. A beginning foreign language textbook typically costs $125 (and $200 with all the ancillaries, for example, audio tapes, video tapes, workbook, etc.). Français interactif, a first-year French online curriculum designed by TLTC, allows students to choose from a range of prices and options: free downloadable PDFs or print-on-demand textbooks ($16.95 for black and white or $50.95 for color). Both print-on-demand versions include delivery costs. In addition, the collaboratively published textbook will allow students and instructors to customize materials by editing existing content or by adding their own content.

Thanks in large part to a previous FIPSE grant, TLTC has developed open access Web sites in six different foreign languages (Arabic, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish). Usage statistics and external evaluation indicate these open access Web sites have achieved widespread acceptance in American higher education and constitute a significant improvement over commercial materials in several areas: user-friendliness, learner-centeredness, authenticity and price.

The TLTC, part of the College of Liberal Arts, works to improve foreign language instruction by exploring the potential of emerging technologies--especially multimedia course materials--to be used in language instruction on campus and shared with other institutions and the public.