Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Open Source Textbooks (#opentextbooks)

Everyone has probably heard of open source by now. The most common use of it applies to software. Linux, for example, is an open source product, as is Mozilla Firefox in browsers, Drupal and Joomla in content management systems, and even "non-tech" open source uses exist like open role playing game (RPG) systems, or "open gaming". 

Open source is a free license for users to use a product, and also allows users to develop improvements to the product. The product improves and grows over time by the free contributions to the product from the users.

When you think about the open source development process, (develop, improve, use...repeat), what you see is something perfectly suited for textbook development. How many different ways can textbooks be written for introductory courses like calculus, physics, or chemistry?  Does most content change much?  The answer seems obvious that some collaborative effort from professors in their respective fields could yield highly useful open source products in most mass introductory courses that could be used, improved, and reused, for no cost, just like other open source products.

Textbook prices have risen 1000% in the last 40 years, and open source textbooks can solve this serious price problem.  SPARC argues open textbooks are now providing competition to lower costs.

Open Source Textbooks (or "open textbooks"), and Open Educational Resource (OER) options from Rice University's OpenStax, Kansas State University's New Prarie Press, and Minnesota's Open Textbook Library are becoming increasingly popular as students pass on pricey textbooks. U Mass Amherst has created an "Open Education Initiative" that has cost just $60,000 to develop open source options that has saved their student's over $1M and posted this list of other open textbook libraries.

The great benefits of Open Textbooks is that they can be distributed digitally and then printed by the student using a method of their choice. Most use a Creative Commons 3.0/4.0 License. The instructor can post it in the course management system, and students can choose to print it themselves, or use a service like printMe1.com's, where we can print, bind, and ship to their mailbox probably for less than their own costs, and save the hassle. 

Print is also proving to be better for learning, college students actually prefer printed textbooks, and printMe1.com is focused on providing affordable and simple print options perfectly suited for the classroom.  (Like we say #printisgood.)

The only limitation for widespread open source textbook adoption is that there is little incentive by anyone to promote open source. There isn't a book rep out there getting a commission to sell an opentext, so it's up to the professor and the student to figure it out. The professor makes the textbook choice, but its important for the students to ask if open source options were considered.  (OpenStax provides a PDF flyer as a toolkit to use to discuss with your professors. Use it!)

So students, ask your professors for open source textbooks, and professors, take a look at the options.

Open source and printMe1 is a win-win in the classroom!

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