Open textbook "authors" put their books online for public use. Since they are also open license, instructors can modify the text by deleting and adding content. Of course, you can still print them and some campuses even offer printed copies, color versions etc. at minimal cost.
But there aren't many available at this point.
What makes it a bit more interesting for me here at Passaic County Community College is that yesterday I read that the Community College Open Textbook Project begins this week. Professors from colleges will be meeting with representatives from nonprofit groups and for-profit companies that are in the digital textbook market to talk about ways of developing and promoting online content.
Not all reviews of open textbooks are glowing. Some students find them too short and lacking the depth of traditional books. For example, some professors typically cover a portion of the text in class/lectures, but would assign or expect students to read the additional textbook material. In a course like statistics, students might welcome extra practice problems from a full textbook. The quality of available OER materials is inconsistent at this point. These books may not meet Section 508 ADA accessibility requirements. Faculty will need to check for accuracy of content of open content more than commercial textbooks. (The Wikipedia versus Britannica battle again.)
Still, as with other Open Everything efforts, customization of content will ultimately be more flexible in open content than it currently is in commercially available content. And after a few classes where you pay $100+ for a book that gets used twice in the semester, student attitudes to open textbooks will change.
The first phase of the Community College Open Textbook Project is being funded by a one-year, $500,000-plus grant to the Foothill-De Anza Community College District from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
As part of the project, community college professors will receive training on how to find and customize material. Another goal is for participants to create online textbooks using existing resources. The meeting in California will have them reviewing open-textbook models for equality, usability, accessibility, and sustainability.
Here are the first four providers of free online educational resources that will be considered, and plenty of additional resources if you want to explore more deeply.
- Connexions run by Rice University
- Flat World Knowledge, a commercial digital-textbook publisher (FWK should be offering free textbooks online in 2009)
- University of California's College Prep Online (Advanced Placement and other courses online)
- Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources which was founded by the Foothill-De Anza Community College District and the League for Innovation in the Community College
- an article from Inside Higher Ed
- Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources (CCOER)
- CCCOER Open Content
- Wikibooks, Wikiversity and Wikijunior
- No More Textbooks. What Would Gutenberg Say?
- Open Text Book is a registry of textbooks and text book material that is open in accordance with
- the Open Knowledge Definition (OKD) and is run by the Open Knowledge Foundation
I'm adding this comment to the main post because I know that readers don't always bother to click the comments link. Here's a take on this topic from a commercial publisher (mentioned above) who is working with the open textbook community.
Thanks for the thoughtful post.
I am the co-founder of Flat World Knowledge, the commercial open textbook publisher mentioned in the Wired Campus article. I agree with you that historically, the quality of open textbooks has been inconsistent. We are focused on changing that. My business partner and I come out of 30 years of publishing experience with McGraw-Hill, Thomson, and Prentice Hall. We have personally worked on some of the top selling textbooks in the market. It is our belief that there is no inherent reason why an open textbook should be of any lower quality that a traditional book.
I can't speak for open textbooks in general. I can only speak to our approach. We are building our textbooks just like we did at our former companies . We are being highly selective about which authors we sign (top academics, recognized in their fields). Our books are undergoing extensive peer review. They are professionally illustrated, and fully accuracy checked. They include everything a traditional book does, including problem sets. They even include more, like integrated audio and videos. We produce teaching supplements for instructors.
You get the point. These are complete, high quality books.
The difference is that we make them free online, and available forinstructors to modify to better fit the syllabus before assigning it to students.
We have a viable financial model behind this. Students can purchase inexpensive alternatives to the online book, including a print version, an audio version, a Kindle version, and .pdf printable versions.
We also work with our authors to create and sell high quality study aids tightly integrated with the book - audio study guides,mobile flash cards, web quizzes, animated problem walkthroughs, etc. Students can purchase these DRM free downloads as they need them, or in one digital package. Our authors receive a percentage of all revenue generated. The bottom line is that financial models demonstrate that our revenue, and the income generated by authors, will be more than competitive with what the traditional houses make, so we can continuously reinvest in our products. Sorry about the long post. I just wanted to be clear that it can be dangerous to lump all open textbooks together in the category of "a book somebody just put online". At Flatworld, we are a professional publisher. We just have a new and better business model, and we think that it can produce a win for students, faculty, authors, and us, the publisher. Thanks for the opportunity to clarify!
Eric Frank eric[at]flatworldknowledge.com flatworldknowledge.com