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Monday, May 13, 2013

OpenStax Set to Double Free Offerings

Rice University professor Richard Baraniuk started OpenStax College to improve student access to quality online learning materials. A new grant has the nonprofit organization ready to up the ante.

OpenStax College will use funds from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to double the number of titles in its free online textbook catalog by 2015. In addition, the publisher wants to capture 10% of the college textbook market by offering free online textbooks for 25 of the most popular college courses, which it estimates could save students around $750 million over the next five years.

“With student debt at an all-time high, it has never been more important to make education more affordable,” Baraniuk said in a release. “Our textbooks do that—not just because they are free, but also because they are every bit as good as books that cost $100 or more.”

OpenStax already has introductory textbooks in physics and sociology that have been downloaded more than 70,000 times. It is set to release two new biology books and an introductory anatomy book in the fall.

The publisher will use the grant money to add textbooks in precalculus, chemistry, economics, U.S. history, psychology, and statistics. OpenStax said it spends more than $500,000 to develop a textbook, using content developers the major publishers use and hundreds of faculty reviewers to vet each title.

“Quality is the key,” Baraniuk said. “We believe the reason instructors have been slow to adopt open-source textbooks in the past has been that the free options weren’t all that attractive. The rapid success of our books over the past year bears that out. If you offer a quality book for free, people will jump at it.”

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