LibreText traces its roots to Delmar Larsen’s frustration that his students had each shelled out $200 for a chemistry textbook that he discovered was riddled with errors. Larsen, an associate professor at the University of California, Davis, didn’t have the funds to assemble a textbook of his own, but what he did have was a valuable creative resource in those students.
Ten years later, the project that began in that class has grown into an extensive library of open course resources, accessible through a Creative Commons license, with much of the content created via crowdsourcing by students, instructors, and topic experts. A dozen subjects are covered, including math, statistics, biology, physics, medicine, and the humanities. Students participate via class assignments to address a specific question or mirror a chapter’s worth of content from an existing resource. Afterward, some continue to contribute as volunteers or paid content developers.
Like a wiki, there is no formal peer-review process for LibreText resources, although certain account-holders can correct errors instantly and anyone else can highlight mistakes through feedback. Larsen noted to EdSurge that even with peer review, traditional textbooks can be full of errors. In print, those persist until the next edition, while most mistakes in the LibreText library can be corrected within a half-hour of being pointed out.
“No textbook or resource is going to be 100% accurate, ever,” an executive of OpenStax, the open course materials provider based at Rice University, told EdSurge. The closest to perfect is content that can be fixed immediately.
In 2014, Larsen conducted an experiment by teaching two chemistry classes, one with a conventional textbook and one with LibreText. At the end of term, the open resource was judged in no way inferior to the traditional content.