Are open-source textbooks becoming a viable alternative to traditional texts?

12 Aug

Moi discussed textbooks in The changing world of textbooks:

As the cost of a college education rises, everyone is looking at ways to reduce cost so that more students are not priced out of a college education. Allen Grove has a good article at About.Com which gives some reasons for Why College Books Cost So Much?There are ways to cut down the cost associated with college text books. If possible, one can buy used texts. Another way to cut costs is to rent texts. Rhiana Jones’ article Top Three Online Sites to Rent College Texts At a Discount compares three text rental sites. Paul Michael has some tips for going online to find discounted texts at How to Find the Cheapest College Textbooks

In Could ‘open source’ textbooks be cheaper than traditional textbooks? Moi said:

Open-source textbooks are another option in the calculation of the most cost effective option for obtaining needed textbooks. Information Age Education has a lot of information about the “open source” movement:

Of course, we have to think more carefully about the meaning of “free.” You know, of course, that someone has to pay to have free public libraries. Similarly, the Internet is not free. However, the Internet is paid for by a very large number of organizations and institutions, so the cost is widely distributed.

In addition, it costs to access the Internet. However, there are many places (such as public libraries, schools, many restaurants, and so on) where this cost is not directly charged to the people using the service. We are seeing a trend toward entire cities providing free WiFi access.

Finally, there is the cost of the devices people use to access the Internet. These have declined in price so that it is now feasible to provide them free to every student. How rapidly this is occurring or will occur varies considerably from country to country. In the United States, the cost of public education (in 2011) is approximately $10,000 per student per year. It does not take a very large stretch of the imagination to believe that two or three percent of this amount might be used to put a mobile computing device in the hands of every student.

The question is whether “free” is really “free.”

Education News is reporting in the article, Teacher-Written Digital Textbooks: A Cheaper Alternative?

Tired of constantly replacing their outdated — and expensive — statistics textbooks, officials in the Anoka Hennepin School District have let their teachers write their own digital textbooks instead, writes Abigail Wood at the Heartlander.

The teachers thought we could do a better job writing our own book that fit our state standards and the needs of our students,” said high school math teacher Michael Engelhaupt, who helped write the digital textbook.

Three teachers were asked to create the book and were paid $10,000 each. The whole project saved a total of about $175,000….

Digital textbooks are becoming more refined, incorporating better note-taking, application, and interactive tools, yet 75 percent of students, according to a 2010 survey, would rather use print than digital. Maybe believe that’s because digital textbooks can be perceived as boring, but that’s about to change….

The push for “open source” textbooks has been around for a couple of years.

Victor Lukerson has written the informative Time article, Free Textbooks Shaking Up Higher Education:

There’s a crisis of access in this country,” says Richard Baraniuk, a computer and electrical engineering professor at Rice University. He’s talking about the rapidly increasing cost of college education, which includes not only tuition, but also room and board, class fees and, yes, textbooks. Estimates of how much students spend on textbooks in a given year vary widely, but most colleges’ financial aid websites peg the cost at about $1,000.

Baraniuk thinks that cost should be reduced to zero. He’s been part of the open-source educational movement since 1999, when he grew frustrated with the book he was using in his electrical engineering class. He considered writing a book himself but had an epiphany as he learned more about the open-source operating system Linux. “I realized that we could take the same ideas–namely, modularity…and open-sourcedness, making it free and remixable–and apply that not just to software but to textbooks.”

Now he’s the director of OpenStax College, a nonprofit organization that is working to develop 25 college textbooks for introductory-level courses. With the backing of Rice University, OpenStax is bringing a big-name pedigree to the textbook market.  “There are a lot of open, free textbook projects out there, but the quality has been uneven,” Baraniuk says. “What college instructors need is the whole package. They need the textbook, the homework system, the PowerPoint slides, the test bank.”

OpenStax promises to offer this “whole package” in every subject from Spanish to microbiology. Two of its books, College Physics and Introduction to Sociology, have already been published and will be used by a few thousand students this semester. Anyone can access an online version of the texts, or download them in PDF and ebook formats for mobile devices. Students can also order a color print edition, with prices ranging from $30 to $50.

OpenStax is not alone in this emerging textbook market. Flat World Knowledge has been publishing open textbooks since 2007, and will be serving around 200,000 students this fall with dozens of textbook offerings. Both companies have all their books peer reviewed, as is standard with traditionally published textbooks.

Unlike with traditional textbooks, however, professors have the ability to remove chapters and insert new materials as they please. Those educators that have jumped into the open-source waters say there are great benefits for the students and for themselves.

Whether the “open source” movement will evolve into the way that textbooks are sourced remains to be seen.


California Open Source Textbook Project                           

Open-Source Textbooks a Mixed Bag in California

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

4 Responses to “Are open-source textbooks becoming a viable alternative to traditional texts?”


  1. Are open-source textbooks becoming a viable alternative to traditional | What Moves Us @ Curry Library | - August 18, 2012

    […] Moi discussed textbooks in The changing world of textbooks: As the cost of a college education rises, everyone is looking at ways to reduce cost so that more students are not priced out of a college education.  […]

  2. A textbook ain’t what it used to be « drwilda - February 4, 2013

    […] Are open-source textbooks becoming a viable alternative to traditional texts?                                                         … […]

  3. Ryerson University Study: Some students are resisting to switch to e-texts | drwilda - February 25, 2013

    […] Are open-source textbooks becoming a viable alternative to traditional texts?                                                           … […]

  4. Why textbooks cost so much | drwilda - August 19, 2014

    […]… […]

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