by Geoff Brown, Digital Scholarship Librarian
Why open textbooks?
Traditional textbooks are prohibitively expensive and lack flexibility
Open textbooks are quickly becoming a major focus for many in higher education as the financial burden of students continues to grow and the limitations of traditional commercially published textbooks become more problematic. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported in August 2011 that 70 per cent of students have not purchased a required textbook because of the price.
Similarly, a 2012 survey by open online book supplier Bookboon.com showed that 76.6 per cent of post-secondary students do not always purchase the required text for their classes and most students (96.9 per cent) find textbooks too expensive. This isn’t surprising considering that textbook prices increase at a rate of more than double that of inflation.
There are other shortcomings as well. Traditional textbooks and their digital surrogates often fail to take advantage of advances in technology that could enhance teaching and learning. Multimedia from external sources and local customizations are difficult, if not impossible to integrate into commercially published textbooks. This is normally the result of restrictive digital rights management (DRM) placed on textbooks by their publishers and the lack of local control over content updating and customization.
What are open textbooks and how do they address the shortcomings of commercially published textbooks?
- They are free for anyone to view and download in an online format and can be made available in a print format at a nominal cost.
- An open textbook is a textbook with an open copyright license that allows the material to be freely accessed, shared and adapted with minimal restrictions.
- Open licenses allow instructors to adapt, remix, and customize existing open textbooks so that the content meets their own learning objectives.
- Many open textbooks are developed through traditional peer review, others are vetted by experts. As with any textbook, the instructor is the final judge of whether an open textbook meets the needs of the course.
Where do I find open textbooks?
Some sites below focus exclusively on textbooks while others include scholarly books that may serve specific curricular needs. All provide free and open access to scholarly works.
- AU Press – Athabasca University Press provides access to free PDFs and low-cost print versions of mainly Canadian books.
- BC Campus OER – BC Campus open movement including textbooks.
- College Open Textbooks – Lists open textbooks by subject, many of which are peer reviewed.
- Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB) – Scholarly peer reviewed books from 161 publishers.
- Open Stax – Free educational material in small modules that can be organized as courses, books, reports or other academic assignments.
- Knowledge Unlatched – Includes over 100 front list humanities and social science titles, supported by 380 libraries and consortia around the world.
For more see the Dalhousie University Libraries open textbook libguide