Low-cost textbook alternative becomes a reality

Low-cost textbook alternative becomes a reality

With textbooks often costing more than rent, many students will be relieved to know the Texas Language Technology Center (TLTC) is working on an alternative to the bulky old textbook that's easier on the wallet and offers interactive features and compelling content.

Thanks to a $263,000 award from the U.S. Department of Education -- who has developed a publishing model for foreign language instructional materials to combat the rising costs of textbooks -- the collaboratively published textbook will allow students and instructors to customize materials by editing existing content or adding their own.

Carl Blyth

"Improving foreign languages curriculum for students is our first goal," said Carl Blyth, TLTC director. "But at the same time, we want to produce scholarship and pedagogical products that we can give away to the world. This is something the university is doing for the greater good that's central to the open education movement."

The award brings the TLTC's grant funding total to more than $1 million since its inception three years ago. In fall 2007, TLTC in collaboration with Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services (LAITS) was awarded a three-year, $540,000 grant, and in spring 2008 it was awarded a two-year, $250,000 grant from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

In its latest endeavor, TLTC will form a publishing consortium with Rice University, Texas Christian University and Lone Star Community College in Houston.

The goal is to create an online French textbook that will be free of charge and free of copyright and licensing restrictions, as well as a print-on-demand version that 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, such as audio tapes, video tapes and workbooks). By comparison, Français interactif, a TLTC online curriculum aimed at first-year French students, offers a range of prices and options: free downloadable PDFs or print-on-demand textbooks delivered to your doorstep for just $16.95 for black and white, or $50.95 for color.

"In the old days you'd go to a language lab and hear the input, but the input was very inauthentic: 'Repeat after me,'" mimics Blyth. "You need to see people talking. We're trying to get students to communicate and that requires a context, it requires another person. It's not simply language as an abstraction and learning the rules. It's language as an interaction."

Continue reading about the flexibility and cost-effectiveness of Web-based textbooks.