Open Source & Open Access Textbooks

In “Professors Gone Paperless” in the April 16, 2008, issue of Inside Higher Ed, Elia Powers writes of a growing campaign in the U.S., by Student Public Interest Research Groups and to promote the use of free, open source e-textbooks. Professors and organizations are also invited to sign a statement in support of the campaign, on the same link provided here. I will reproduce an extract of the article below:

Colleges and individual faculty members continue to experiment with putting course information and material online, and “open textbooks” typically are licensed to allow users to download, share and alter the content as they see fit, so long as their purposes aren’t commercial and they credit the author for the original material. This allows instructors to customize e-textbooks and offer them to students for free online or as low-cost printed versions.

By signing the statement, professors promise to include open textbooks in their search for course materials. “As faculty members,” the statement says, “we affirm that it is our prerogative and responsibility to select course materials that are pedagogically most appropriate for our classes. We also affirm that it is consistent with this principle to seek affordable and accessible course materials for our classes whenever possible.”


2 thoughts on “Open Source & Open Access Textbooks

  1. Nicole Allen

    As director of the project above, I have worked with a number of anthropology faculty (in the US) to identify open resources in their fields. While there are quite a number of open textbooks, they seem to be concentrated in the maths and sciences. Any thoughts on why that is?

  2. Maximilian Forte

    Hello Nicole,

    I have noticed the same lack, which is a great pity. I suspect we may be years away from an open source text, for example in Introductory Anthropology, unless a good team of writers collaborates to create the chapters. The main problems will be that the text will mostly not be recognized as a valid publication by tenure and promotion committees, in a discipline where the writing of texts for teaching is already lowly valued (ironic, because we depend on these texts very much), and if the authors of the open source materials are not well known in the discipline there may be a further impediment to adoption of the text.

    Personally, I would love to get this started and I have been dreaming of doing this for some time. Given my own current work schedule I doubt that I could do this any time within the next three or four years. Even now there is amazing free software that will allow us to create all sorts of supplemental material to go with each chapter–each chapter could come alive with a specialized blog of its own, photos, slideshows with audio narration, and self-grading multiple choice tests. I could do that much on my own already, with more specialized services requiring additional expertise.

    Some might argue that Wikipedia entries in anthropology might be virtually an open source text already in formation, though I know of very few professors who would recommend Wikipedia as a source.

    As for the maths and sciences, they have been on the cutting edge of open source and open access for some time now, and why that is I don’t know.

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