The motivating concept of College American Government on-line is that American Government textbooks cost students more than they are worth, and that the web’s utility for low-cost dissemination of information makes it an ideal medium for a textbook alternative.
The Goals for this website are to:
Reduce the Cost of Education with a Free Textbook Alternative
The average price of a new American Government textbook is around $90, and many students must spend $600 or more per term on textbooks, driving some students to forgo purchasing textbooks, which makes it harder for them to succeed.
Textbook pricing is driven by publisher’s need to update every two to three years to prevent students from buying less-expensive used textbooks (hence the biennial election updates, as the U.S.’S election calendar conveniently meets publishers’ needs), and the distortion of the market as the chooser (the professor) is not the user (the student).
Some of the cost is driven by color ink and photo copyright fees . Often these are purely decorative, with minimal informational value.
Provide More Focused and More Readable Content
Textbooks follow a poorly designed structure in which all the information about each big topic of American Government is presented in a single overly-long chapter (as long as 40-50 pages, whereas trade books regularly have chapters around 18-30 pages). The sheer bulk of chapters can overwhelm students and act as a barrier to learning.
Our readings are not just shorter, but are also more focused. We achieve this without loss of content by offering multiple readings on each topic, each focusing on a specific element of the broader topic. For example, the separate readings for Congress will include, inter alia, a general overview, a reading on how the committee system structures the legislative process, one on representational styles and the electoral connection, one on oversight of the executive branch, and an analysis of how and why Congress has changed from the Framers’ vision.
We will also provide case studies of approximately 2500 words, which is longer than most case studies in textbook, to help students understand how the ideas play out in the real political world.
Emphasize Generally Applicable Political Science Concepts in a Problem-Centered Approach
Readings will emphasize generally applicable political science concepts such as collective action, principal-agent problems, the importance of agenda-setting, the significance of institutional design, etc., because these concepts are transferable to their observations of other governments, as well as to “office politics.” This is not in contrast to what print textbooks can do, but is an important element of our overall approach.
Readings will be problem-centered, structured to identify, discuss and explain particular political problems. E.g., the committee system as a solution to competing demands for government action, why civil rights and political/legal equality remains a perpetual battle, and so on. The problem-solving approach is inherently more interesting than a simple descriptive approach, and consequently more effective in engaging students in the material.
This is a collaborative project. Our goal is to to harness the skills and knowledge of a diverse set of experts to develop, review, and–over time–update content.
While there will be no formal double-blind peer review, all contributions will be reviewed by qualified scholars for accuracy, readability, and advancement of the project goals.
Content will be free and ungated.
Most content will be covered by a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license, which will allow for unlimited redistribution for non-commercial purposes, as long as there are no changes to the content, and the author is attributed. As necessary, more restrictive intellectual property rights claims will be allowed for specific content items, at the request of their authors.