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.
photo © 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).