The World Of Open Textbooks Just Became A Little More Crowded — And A Little More Open

from the sharing-the-knowledge dept

Open e-textbooks are hardly new: Techdirt has been reporting on the pioneer in this market, Flat World Knowledge, for several years now. But a new entrant called OpenStax College is noteworthy for a number of reasons:

OpenStax College is a nonprofit organization committed to improving student access to quality learning materials. Our free textbooks are developed and peer-reviewed by educators to ensure they are readable, accurate, and meet the scope and sequence requirements of your course. Through our partnerships with companies and foundations committed to reducing costs for students, OpenStax College is working to improve access to higher education for all. OpenStax College is an initiative of Rice University and is made possible through the generous support of several philanthropic foundations.

Those foundations include the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, probably the leading philanthropic organization in the field of open education, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. But the Rice connection is just as important as the funding.

Although MIT is known as a pioneer of sharing its courses freely online through its OpenCourseWare project, arguably Rice University went even further with its highly-modular Connexions program, which offers what it calls “frictionless remixing“. The use of small learning modules, together with a permissive cc-by license for everything, allows educators and publishers to create their own courses by drawing on Connexions’ material.

Given that the founder of Connexions, Richard Baraniuk, is also the Director of OpenStax College, it’s hardly a surprise that the same cc-by licensing applies to the latter’s textbooks. Still, that’s a step beyond Flat World Knowledge, which allows textbooks to be modified, but under the more restrictive cc by-nc-sa license. Even though OpenStax College is a non-profit, and Flat World Knowledge a company, both adopt the same business model: the e-textbooks are given away, while printed copies and supplementary materials require payment — a classic example of using abundance to make money from associated scarcities.

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Comments on “The World Of Open Textbooks Just Became A Little More Crowded — And A Little More Open”

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ltlw0lf (profile) says:


Now if they could just get experts in their respective fields to write the text books for free instead of selling out to “da man” for a paycheck.

Who said the experts need to do this for free. Linux is free — yet a vast majority of those working on Linux are paid. Once you guys get it through your mind that the product being free doesn’t mean those who work on the product must do so for free, the world will be a better place.

There are plenty of business models that can work in the world of free product, unfree labor.

Johnny5k (profile) says:

Are iBooks versions a possibility?

Apple’s iBooks Author license specifically allows publication for free on the iTunes Textbook store with no royalties; doesn’t that mean these kinds of groups could actually find a good home for their eTextBooks in iTunes along side the ‘big publishers’ books? And there’s nothing prohibiting that same content to be published in other ‘open’ formats as well. I don’t think this initiative is against Apple, and I don’t think Apple is against these kinds of programs. Yes, you have to author an Apple-specific version of your book in addition to an open-format version, but if it increases the audience and the experience of learning, I think that’s a good thing.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Math Books, and Textbooks Per Se

To: Watchit, #7

For math books, you want to look at The Assayer, Benjamin Crowell’s bibliography. Crowell is a physicist, and he has lots of stuff in mathematics and computer science.

He also has a small business section, even though his main interest is in science and mathematics.

A version of Alexandre Stefanov’s book list, previously hosted on GeoCities, is available at.

If you are just reading for your own education, you pick a book, and start reading it, skimming over the parts you already know. Then pick another book, and repeat the cycle. That’s the way intelligent people learn things. If you prefer a paper book, you go to Edward R. Hamilton. They always have a wide range of deeply discounted textbooks which failed to secure widespread adoption. Say, five or ten dollars each. For a book you really have to study, I don’t know that e-readers make sense.

Elementary textbooks are something entirely different– they are an exercise in making students work when they don’t want to work. Remixing is about taking all the material the students are required to learn, and putting it all in one place so that the students cannot possibly lose it. If you fail to understand the boot-camp-drill-sergeant elements, you won’t understand what elementary textbooks are all about.

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