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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Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    Ninja (profile), Feb 14th, 2012 @ 2:31am

    Well, epic win. I posted a comment these days about how the academic community is moving away from the gatekeepers (on the DRM/Apple iTunes article).

    Well, suck it.

    They should add flattr to the book pages and a notation button in the front page (I did a brief check and it's not visible, will do a deeper check later).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Ninja (profile), Feb 14th, 2012 @ 2:33am


    Oh duh, there's a help us menu... I should have figured it wasn't only with new publications lmao

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    Just John (profile), Feb 14th, 2012 @ 3:14am

    private study

    So, are these available for private study, or only for students?
    Like if I wanted to study up on business, is it available to me, or would I need to enroll in a business course?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2012 @ 3:16am


    but think of the childr... oh maybe they actually were

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2012 @ 4:51am

    Re: private study

    The electronic versions will be available for free to everyone, no enrolment required. But none of them are published yet. The first two titles are due in "Spring 2012", according to the website.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Ninja (profile), Feb 14th, 2012 @ 5:05am


    Reminds me of some of the usual shills joking around on how everything is free on Freetardia.

    Well, what can I say, welcome to Freetardia... I mean, Earth.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Watchit (profile), Feb 14th, 2012 @ 7:23am

    This was pretty exciting when I saw it, considering I'm a college student. But after looking at the selection of textbooks I knew I would find nothing for me when the highest math course available on Flatworld was "introduction to Statistics"... sometimes being an engineer sucks D:

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2012 @ 8:17am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    ltlw0lf (profile), Feb 14th, 2012 @ 8:21am


    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    Ramesh Chakrapani (profile), Feb 14th, 2012 @ 8:34am


    Why can't the government or non-profits subsidize the cost of creating textbooks by paying the experts and making the content free for students? Now, that would be money well spent.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Johnny5k, Feb 14th, 2012 @ 9:40am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Andrew D. Todd, Feb 14th, 2012 @ 5:33pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    what is yacon, Feb 8th, 2014 @ 8:55am

    what is yacon

    So are you alluding to that they should not give away their content for free, in order for their "print readership _not_ to erode", in the era of iPad and tablets?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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