Rice University announced it will partner with OpenStax College to deliver a free online book for its students. The textbook is peer-reviewed and designed to compete with major publishers’ offerings. Using Rice’s Connexions platform, OpenStax will make available free course materials for five common introductory classes. According to the article, the materials are open to classes anywhere and it 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.
According to the post, 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 and as an example, a 600-page, full-color sociology book is expected to sell for $30 for those who want a print version -- those wanting digital will pay nothing. Leading introductory sociology texts routinely cost between $60 and $120 new.
The free textbooks can also be altered by faculty allowing the flexibility to add local content or modify content so it aligns with a faculty member's syllabus. Another benefit is that the books can be updated constantly, and don’t require a new edition to expand a chapter or correct a typo.
Again, as most of us already know, free is not free. Here’s a great piece that captures this point by looking at different OER initiatives and the cost associated with it. Below are some examples. Would it be more cost effective if the money spent on OER was used to just subsidize books for students, or something more sustainable such as improving supply chain efficiency?
- Carnegie Mellon OLI: More than $6.5 million
- MIT Open Courseware: More than $7 million with an annual operating expense of $3.5 million. MIT requests donations on its website.
- Yale University’s Open Yale Courses are recorded lectures as taught, and are available in video and audio formats from the Open Yale Courses website. For each course the university Yale has spent $30,000 to $40,000 for each course it puts online. Yale has approximately 36 courses and has plans to add more. Yale requests donations on its website.
- Kahn Academy: $16.5 million with a $3 million annual operating budget