Using Rice’s Connexions platform, OpenStax will offer free course materials for five common introductory classes. The textbooks are open to classes anywhere and organizers believe the programs could save students $90 million in the next five years if the books capture 10 percent of the national market. OpenStax is funded by grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the 20 Million Minds Foundation and the Maxfield Foundation.
While open-source materials are nothing new, a series of free self-contained textbooks designed to compete head-to-head with major publishers is. Instructors building a class with open-source materials now must assemble modules from several different places and verify each lesson’s usefulness and accuracy.
The new textbooks eliminate much of that work, which Baraniuk thinks will be make the free materials more palatable to professors who have been reluctant to adopt open-source lessons. In the next five years, OpenStax hopes to have free books for 20 of the most common college courses.
OpenStax used its grant money to hire experts to develop each textbook and then had their work peer reviewed. The process has taken more than 18 months and will go live next month with sociology and physics books. The only cost to users comes if an instructor decides to use supplementary material from a for-profit company OpenStax partners with, such as Sapling Learning.
Two introductory biology texts, one for majors and another for nonmajors, are slated to go online in the fall along with an anatomy and physiology book. Students and professors will be able to download PDF versions on their computers or access the information on a mobile device. Paper editions will be sold for the cost of printing. The 600-page, full-color sociology book is expected to sell for $30 for those who want a print version -- those content with digital will pay nothing. Leading introductory sociology texts routinely cost between $60 and $120 new.
For students struggling to buy books that sometimes cost more than their tuition, OpenStax editor-in-chief David Harris said it’s hard to overstate those savings. Community colleges catering to lower-income students have been among those most enthusiastic about the new materials, suggesting to Harris that the open-source books could help increase access to higher education.