During the next year I will be making the switch in my astronomy course from the standard textbook (Explorations/Arny) I have been using for ten years to an open source text. Not an easy decision to make. The text I have been using always got great feedback from my students and in a pedagogical sense, was quite excellent in relating astronomy to phenomena we see in our daily lives. When I designed the course back in 2005, the text, smartly sequenced, served as the backbone to organizing the course.
When I started teaching, the text ran from $75-$110 (used/new) and included the Starry Night planetarium software. Starry Night runs about $50 if buying separately so the students got an excellent value here. Around 2010, the publisher discontinued including Starry Night but I was able to replace that in the course with the freeware Stellarium. Still, the cost of the text (along with all other texts) continued to skyrocket. Currently, the new edition goes for $240 placing a financial hardship on the students. Too many students were delaying or avoiding all together buying the text and the change simply had to be made. For all the great attributes of that text, none of it is any good if the students are unable to purchase it.
Switching to the OpenStax Astronomy text has some definite advantages. The online versions has links for each section that can be embedded in the course web platform. The big plus is its free, meaning the students will have access to it as soon as the course opens up for the semester. The text was designed for a two semester sequence and as my course is one semester, it does require some significant planning to pull out which sections to use and which ones not to. Obviously, I can’t expect my students to read 1,100 pages for a three credit hour course.
Given the current inability of traditional publishers to provide affordable textbooks, this does appear to be the future. When it comes to change, it’s better to be ahead of the curve rather than behind.
That being said, the original text book has become almost like an old friend. Even though it will cease to be used in the course, it will always have a prominent place on my bookshelf as a reminder of the over 1,000 students I have taught with it.