Open Textbooks

Yesterday I “attended” a SPARC briefing on open textbooks. The briefing was led by Eric Frank of FlatWorld Knowledge, a provider of open textbooks. This is a new publishing model attempting to alleviate the rising and sometimes crushing costs of textbooks for students. (He cited a Gates Foundation report that listed the cost of books as the #2 reason for students dropping out of community colleges.)

He stressed that within the FWK products there are several levels of choice – read free online, pay a small fee for print on demand, buy a black and white copy, buy a color copy, buy for e-reader, buy an audio file, and more. But all the products they carry are free online, licensed with Creative Commons licenses. They currently have approximately 150,000 student users, 44% using the free online version, 30% buying a paper copy and small percentages using audio books and e-reader versions.

There is also a licensing model for libraries – a license for a bundle of texts for eight core classes, for instance. Students would have access to all formats.

Frank stressed that the publishing end is old-fashioned in that they attempt to attract and compensate high- quality academic authors. Their list of titles is still small – it began with business/management titles and is deepest there, but they are now attempting to add titles for gen-ed required classes – Psychology, Sociology, Chemistry, etc.

Libraries are not usually the decision makers about texts for classes, so there was discussion of the library role in this new model. It was pointed out that libraries play an increasing role in curriculum support and that they are a trusted resource. Libraries are often the most active advocates for OA solutions and most familiar with licensing options.

Librarians in the group expressed some frustration with frequent offers to buy the product in various formats when using the free online versions. It is clear that this is a new model searching for sustainability.

Boston College CSOM faculty member John Gallaugher has published Information Systems: a manager’s guide to harnessing technology, through FWK.

To read more about open textbooks – see Stephen Bell’s recent post.

And, of course, lots of background info in the Wikipedia entry.