Posts Tagged ‘ebooks’

Open-textbooks from FlatWorld Knowledge

March 17th, 2011

Eric Frank, President of FlatWorld Knowledge, spoke today in the BCC English Department meeting and showcased the work they are doing around open textbooks. This is something that is gaining ground at BCC, as our very own Susan Amper described in a recent post.
Flat World Knowledge: Open College Textbooksphoto © 2010 opensource.com | more info (via: Wylio)

He explained how they have attempted to take the best of the publishing world and the best of open-source ideas to create “sustainable open textbooks” — texts that are peer-reviewed, come with supplemental materials and instructor guides but at little to no cost to students. I found myself puzzled as to how this is at all possible. In a nutshell, they have set up a system where all content is available for free via the web, but students can pay for different formats if they choose. While 44% of the 115,000 students who have used the service so far have read the content free online, 56% have purchased one of the other options (ereader version, pdf printout, etc.). The purchases of these 56% balance the whole endeavor out to about $20 per student. So, for Introduction to Psychology, the purchase options include a print-it-yourself .pdf version for $24.95 (individual chapters are $1.99), a soft-cover bound version shipped to the student for $35-70 (depending on B/W or color), an eBook version for $24.95 (Sony, nook, iPad), and extra study aids for $14.95. Faculty adopters can either adopt a text themselves and leave it up to the students to select and pay for the options they want or the institution can purchase a “site” agreement that would cover any material the student wanted for $20 per student. 

There are currently 37 titles, many of them are in business and math, but they have 107 authors signed who, Frank said, represent approximately 80 textbook projects. So more titles are constantly being developed. 

What appealed to me most about the presentation was the editing aspect. You can edit any part of any book. And the editing isn’t limited to picking and choosing which chapters appear. It is line-by-line editing capability. You can also engage digital media by easily by embedding YouTube clips and other links into the “text.” After you make changes they are formatted to appear seamlessly integrated to the text. While the original author retains copyright and receives royalties based on their text, your additions, if they were to become adopted, would also allow you a slice of the royalty pie, so to speak. As I understood it, if I were to write an additional chapter for the Introduction to Psychology textbook, something about critical psychology or social justice, for example, that could eventually be adopted and I would retain the rights to that information. I would imagine this is something that will have to be constantly negotiated, but it seemed promising. Potential royalties aside, the chance to manipulate content so that it meets the specific needs of your course/students/school is invaluable, especially for busy grad students and adjuncts who may not know where to begin when they are assigned a new class. An arrangement like this would give us the chance to select a text, work with it, add to it and provide it to our students for extremely little cost. 

There are, of course, other open textbook alternatives. The Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources provides a valuable starting point, if you’re interested in learning more. As well as the College Open Textbooks site. Additionally, Baruch College has just partnered with Flatworld, so we’ll get to see how that relationship develops in real-CUNY-time! 

What do you think? Revolutionary way to deliver customized content and save students mountains of money or too good to be true? I’m optimistic (for once).

Weekly Roundup: 12/6

December 6th, 2010

What a busy week! Today’s flurries of snow follow a flurry of interesting activity on the educational technology front. Read on to see what caught my eye.

Free Technology for Teachers, which is an unbelievable wealth of constant ed tech information, has a post about free ebooks for teachers and parents. Two that you might find useful are 20 Webtools Applied to Teaching, which provides summaries and sample ideas for webtools such as Voicethread (which we love here at BCC). Microsoft has a free pdf guide for Developing Critical Thinking Through Web Research Skills. Of course it is Bing-centric but it is filled with resources for you to use to help your students evaluate information online.

It’s also time for ProfHacker’s monthly Teaching Carnival. These carnivals are basically a roundup of the top news of the month on “teaching in college and university classrooms.” There’s a ton of content in this one so I recommend sending the ones that intrigue you the most to Instapaper or bookmarking the page for those Sunday mornings when your neighbor swipes your Times, you know, if you still get paper delivery.

Oh, reflexivity. In every syllabus I make sure to include the requisite “Your paper must be in APA style, 12 point Times New Roman, double-spaced with 1 inch margins and page numbers in the header” blurb. But why is it requisite? A post by Evan Snider at ProfHacker sort of blew my mind a little when he argues “such draconian formatting requirements stifle students’ creativity and cut off any critical thinking about what should be a crucial part of any writing-intensive classroom, namely visual design.” I’m all about visual research methods when I’m wearing my researcher hat, so why have I kept the visual out assignments? Snider engages the skeptics and followers with a lengthy discussion about the how and why of document design and how to encourage your students to break the mold. There’s quite a healthy follow-up discussion in the comments as well.

And, finally, there’s an interesting article from Edudemic documenting How the Harvard Law Library is Embracing the 21st Century. They chronicle the changes the library is making to move into the digital era and how these changes in information management have influenced other areas of the university. The guiding principle behind the library’s organization is “to define it before it is decided for us” which is a sentiment that I think is often echoed throughout our own engagement with technology and our own institutions.

Honorable Mentions

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