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.