California To Commission 50 Open Textbooks For 2013; Finnish Teachers Write One In A Weekend

from the just-can't-wait dept

Techdirt has been following open textbooks for some time now, and 2012 looks to be a bumper year for them. Here, for example, is a major initiative in the US:

California college students hit with tuition increases in recent years will get a little financial help after Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Thursday to create a website on which popular textbooks can be downloaded for free.

Twin bills by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) will give students free digital access to 50 core textbooks for lower-division courses offered by the University of California, California State University and California Community College systems. Hard copies of the texts would cost $20.

The bill establishes a new California Open Education Resources Council, which will be required to choose the 50 core textbooks and then:

to establish a competitive request-for-proposal process in which faculty members, publishers, and other interested parties would apply for funds to produce, in 2013, 50 high-quality, affordable, digital open source textbooks

which would be released under a cc-by license. The move is likely to be significant nationally, as an article in The Textbook Guru points out:

The ripple effect of this legislation should spread way past California and throughout the whole country. With quality publisher-grade peer-reviewed options becoming newly available in open format and competing against the high-priced publishers’ textbooks, faculty will need to pause to review these and see how they can be used in their classroom.

After all, if high-quality textbooks are freely available in digital form — or hence for low prices as printed copies — hard-pressed universities elsewhere in the US (and internationally) would be crazy not to consider them. The cc-by license means that the text can be freely modified for local needs as necessary, or translated.

As the above indicates, those 50 titles won’t be ready until next year. Meanwhile, in Finland, some teachers decided to produce something a little sooner:

A group of Finnish mathematics researchers, teachers and students write an upper secondary mathematics textbook in a booksprint. The event started on Friday 28th September at 9:00 (GMT+3) and the book will be (hopefully) ready on Sunday evening.

You can find the book’s LaTeX source code in a repository on Github: it’s under the same cc-by license as the California books, so you can adapt it freely — if you can read Finnish….

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Comments on “California To Commission 50 Open Textbooks For 2013; Finnish Teachers Write One In A Weekend”

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12 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

I feel a great disturbance in the force...

As if a dozen college textbook publishing houses suddenly cried out ‘Someone release the lawyers and get this stopped, or else our extortion racket will be ruined!’

Seriously though, I really hope this works out, and spreads everywhere, more affordable education for more people would be an amazing improvement over the current system.

Anonymous Coward says:

The California Free Digital Textbook Initiative currently has fifteen etexts available in their collection for high school level. (Enough to pass a GED test just about anywhere). They are available in torrents from ClearBits: http://www.clearbits.net/torrents/680-california-learning-resource-network-textbooks and http://www.clearbits.net/torrents/158-physics-textbooks.

Having freely available college level texts available under CC licensing is going to be fantastic!

Anonymous Coward says:

The California Free Digital Textbook Initiative currently has fifteen etexts available in their collection for high school level. (Enough to pass a GED test just about anywhere). They are available in torrents from ClearBits: http://www.clearbits.net/torrents/680-california-learning-resource-network-textbooks and http://www.clearbits.net/torrents/158-physics-textbooks.

Having freely available college level texts available under CC licensing is going to be fantastic!

H Klang (profile) says:

Hooray for the Finnish weekend achievement!

The world of publishing is cracking and falling about us, great porches and cornices of Atlantean masonry crashing into the sea. “Let… the wide arch / Of the ranged empire fall…” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8WhOOmVOpY

Exciting!

I don’t think universities are interested in prolonging the life of expensive textbooks. The faculty are too creative and independent, and very few — maybe 1 in 1000 — make enough money from royalties to care about that. The majority are motivated to produce their output not by money but prestige — the Thorvalds-type energizer of status within a community because of what you contribute. The academic world has already for many years lived and embodied certain Techdirt ideals concerning the form that remuneration might take when the intellectual products themselves are given away for free.

Has Techdirt ever covered the long-standing campaign — starting with Rob Kirby in Berkeley in the 1990s or even 1980s — against the high prices and monopoly character of academic journal publishers? When he published a comparison price chart in the AMS Notices, it attracted a lawsuit from the named publishers for price fixing or something like that — totally bogus and simply a violation of his freedom of speech.

The war continued over the years with various initiatives such as walking away from expensive publishers (Springer, Elsevier …) to start much cheaper journals with no middleman. It has heated up recently with Gowers’ campaign. http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/apr/09/frustrated-blogpost-boycott-scientific-journals

The idea has been around for a long time, but the practical value of classic publishers is large and it only really cracks and crumples when there is new technology. Direct distribution is simply much easier than it was in 1995. Things are really ready to pop.

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