Open Source College Textbooks

On Wednesday afternoon, 21 July, Nicole Allen, director of The Student PIRGs’ Make Textbooks Affordable campaign, hosted a press conference to discuss H.R. 4137, The Higher Education Opportunity Act, which went into effect on 1 July 2010. Participating in the press conference were Nicole, U.S. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL; Assistant Senate Majority Leader), Rashi Mangalick (a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison) and yours truly. The discussion highlighted Sen. Durbin’s contributions to the textbook language contained in the legislation. In summary, the three main points are: 1) Publishers must disclose textbook price and revision information to faculty during the marketing process, 2) Publishers must offer unbundled versions of textbooks, and 3) colleges must include the list of assigned textbooks during course registration. More information regarding the law and the textbook affordability provisions may be found on the Student PIRGs website, as well as a list of some of the available open textbooks.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge supporter of the open textbook movement and for all that Nicole is advocating. On 20 June 2010, I blogged about Open Source in Higher Education and discussed my favorite publisher of open source textbooks, Flat World Knowledge. The reason that I prefer to use open source textbooks from Flat World is the level of support that they provide to instructors who adopt their products including chapter manuals, chapter power point presentations, exam databases for Blackboard, WebCT Vista, Moodle and other learning platforms. Students can read the book for free on-line, including the capability to highlight sections of the text and to save their highlights. In addition, they have a variety of book purchase options including per chapter and the opportunity to purchase support materials/study aids and chapter audio/mp3 files. Flat World is the first open source book publisher to provide professors with the full support that they receive from traditional publishers – hence my endorsement of their products and business model.

Other links to open source materials are provided below. The list is compiled by and compliments of the University of the People, the world’s first tuition-free online university. There is a degree of redundancy in the links as some link back to the same resources. Other than Flat World, the two that I use for my classes are MERLOT and BookBoon (who offers free textbooks supported by an advertising model). Neither match the level of support provided by Flat World, but do offer a wider variety of selection for now.

Open Source Textbook Resources:

Flat World Knowledge

BookBoon

Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching (MERLOT)

Audio Books

CK12 Flexbooks

Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources

Community College Open Textbook Collaborative

Connexions

Educause

Expert Knowledge Network

Global Text Project

MIT Open Course Ware

Open Course Ware Consortium

Open Educational Resources (OER) Commons

Public Diplomacy

Public Literature

Questia Online Library

Sofia

Textbooks Free

Textbook Revolution

The Assayer

The Open University OpenLearn

The Orange Grove

USG Share (click on “click here to login as guest”)

Utah State University Open CourseWare

Wiki Books

The list isn’t exhaustive and is only meant to offer a starting point to assist in your adoption of open source textbooks. Detailed instruction about how to adopt an open source textbook is provided on the Connexions Open Textbook Adoption Quick Start website. If your course is one for which Flat World has a textbook, you’re in luck. If not, perhaps you may want to consider developing an open source textbook under the Creative Commons license for your subject area. If no book exists and you’re interested in writing one, contact Flat World and pitch your book idea.

A special thanks to Nicole Allen, The Student PIRGs, Senator Dick Durbin, Rashi Mangalick, Flat World Knowledge and the University of the People for your work in bringing open source textbooks to the forefront of the academic debate. Likewise, an extra debt of gratitude goes to the University of the People for compiling this list of open source textbook resources. Open your mind to the educational possibilities that open source textbooks offer the world – join the call for open source textbooks.

Share

11 thoughts on “Open Source College Textbooks”

  1. Steven, I find it ironic that in the same article you list so many open source textbook projects and yet highlight the need for government to get involved in textbooks through legislation. It is a slippery slope to get the government involved in textbooks. How long before they have to approve the content?

  2. Hi Jay – I wouldn’t characterize the post as highlighting the need for the government to get involved in textbooks as much as I would characterize it as they have determined that a need exists to get involved in the textbook market. I agree with you that the textbook industry is not something that needs or warrants government intervention/management.

    The bulk of H.R. 4137 is to reaffirm the Higher Education Act of 1965. The overall goal of both is to make college affordable and accessible for every U.S. citizen who wants to attend college through loan and scholarship programs.

    The intent of the textbook section in H.R. 4137 is to foster an open market in textbooks where information provides choice that benefits consumers. If students have full price information prior to starting the semester, they can shop around for the best deal. If professors have full price information when selecting textbooks, they can make educated choices.

    Thank you for your comments! Appreciatively, Steve

  3. Actually, since HR 4137 calls for grants to open source book publishers, you ARE asking for legislative intervention in the book publishing process. I’m wondering why people who don’t attend college should subsidize the cost of books for people who do.

    But what I’d really like to know is why is a law needed to “disclose” textbook prices. Are instructors not able to go to Amazon or the publisher website to see the prices? As for telling students the book at the time of registration, almost every college has an online bookstore where this is already done. When the book title isn’t yet available, it’s simply because the instructor hasn’t chosen it yet. So what is the real use of this law? To make instructors choose their books faster?

  4. Hi Rosemarie – thank you for your comments. As silly as it sounds, a majority of instructors have no idea how much the textbooks selected for their courses cost the students. We find out when students complain during the first week of class. Who is at fault? We (instructors) are not the end purchasers and don’t think to ask about cost. Typically, publishers don’t provide us with this information during the adoption decision process. Some of my colleagues are great at asking for this information, some are not. So both parties share the blame.

    The intent of the law is to provide professors with cost information during the decision process, students with the option to purchase unbundled products and students with full information regarding textbook costs during the registration period for the following semester. In my opinion, the latter has the most significant impact in protecting consumers. If students have the option to shop for textbooks by ISBN before the semester begins, or to find a rental source, they can make informed decisions rather than face sticker shock during the first week of classes.

    On the contention that H.R. 4137 calls for grants for open source textbook publishers, I respectfully disagree. I performed a search on the terms “open” and “textbook” in H.R. 4137 and found no such language in any of the 431 pages.

    In my opinion, both the spirit and intent of the textbook section of H.R. 4137 is to provide consumers with choice and to foster an open market.

    Appreciatively, Steve

  5. Steven, I may not be an objectively neutral party because I write college textbook supplements and ancillaries for a living.

    I am a strong supporter of students and professors being as fully informed as possible so they can make the best choices regarding which textbooks to use and at what cost.

    I think the three provisions of this regulation overall make sense, although I see some modest potential problems. For example, a prof may be creating a new course and may not have decided yet on what texts to use by the time students register.

  6. Sorry, I confused the grant with what Durbin plans to do.

    <>

    http://www.ecampusnews.com/policy/legislation/lawmaker-to-push-for-open-online-textbook/

    About prices again. Most instructors don’t know what a text cost because most don’t care. You can’t legislate them to care. The ones that do care find their way to Amazon and incorporate that info in their decision. You also make the adoption process sound like publishers are involved with it. Beyond sending out a desk copy, their involvement, IME, is non-existent.

    One more thing. I don’t understand why textbook prices are even an issue when the people complaining about them are often working/teaching at schools that charge $20K/year +. Maybe that ought to be the real issue. Among other things.

  7. Looks like the quote got left off.

    “Durbin said he would push for passage of another bill that would award competitive one-year grants to colleges, professors, and publishers to create open textbooks available for free on the internet.”

  8. “The intent of the law is to provide professors with cost information during the decision process,”

    They already have easy access to it if they want it. They don’t want it (don’t care).

    “students with the option to purchase unbundled products”

    Ok. I’ve been told that some states already disallow this, which is why texts that once came with a CD now come with a website URL instead. Also, isn’t it the instructor that asked for that bundled product, and chose what to use/not use in it?

    “and students with full information regarding textbook costs during the registration period for the following semester. In my opinion, the latter has the most significant impact in protecting consumers. If students have the option to shop for textbooks by ISBN before the semester begins, or to find a rental source, they can make informed decisions rather than face sticker shock during the first week of classes.”

    Students already have this. Most college bookstores post required materials at least a month before the semester starts. The students who are on the ball get that info and shop. The rest (most) wait until the first day of class and buy what’s on the syllabus. Hence those long bookstore lines. This may actually even be the safest method, since instructors or publishers often change their selection or edition before class starts, and students who bought used are then stuck with nonreturnable books.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I see this as basically a worthless piece of legislation, one more intrusion that will ultimately lead to government intervention in textbook content or process, as an earlier commenter noted.

  9. Hi John – At the end of May, I finished a 4 1/2 year term as the chairperson of the management & marketing department. From the perspective of the chairperson, I agree 100 percent with your assessment of modest potential problems. The initial schedule for Fall 2010 was submitted in October 2009. Our textbook orders for Fall 2010 had to be submitted to the campus bookstore by 15 March 2010. Registration for Fall 2010 began in April.

    In the past, getting faculty to turn in their book orders by mid-summer for Fall 2010 was a difficult task. Moving the deadline to March was painful. In addition, the schedule is fluid until classes begin (some sections get canceled due to low enrollment, some part-time instructor changes occur each semester at the last minute). Nothing is easy.

    So I understand where you’re coming from and agree that implementation is going to be difficult. Change is rarely easy!

    Thank you for your comments! Appreciatively, Steve

  10. Hi Rosemarie – like you, and Jay, I’m not keen on the idea of government intervention in the textbook market.

    The easiest solution that I’ve found to keep everyone happy is to use an open source textbook. No worries about price, no worries about access.

    So my response is that if instructors adopt open source textbooks, like the ones that I use from Flat World Knowledge, they benefit, the students benefit and all of these concerns/issues become moot.

    Thank you for your postings today! Appreciatively, Steve

  11. “So my response is that if instructors adopt open source textbooks, like the ones that I use from Flat World Knowledge, they benefit, the students benefit and all of these concerns/issues become moot.”

    Ok, but what about the lost textbook revenue to the campus bookstore? Ours cycles its profits back to fund scholarships, subsidize activities, fees, etc. Schools that don’t have well-endowed foundations depend on this revenue. Is that taken into account with the open source model at all?

Leave a Reply