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Open Textbooks  

Information about open textbooks, one type of open educational resource.
Last Updated: Sep 4, 2015 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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What are open textbooks?

Open textbooks are online texts released for greater levels of public use and reuse than conventional commercial textbooks. Most are either completely free and available to reuse and adaptation or for a minimal cost. They are a way to make higher education more affordable and support student achievement and student success.

Not all free or accessible material is open, though all may be part of a useful classroom instructional environment.  Open texts (and other open educational resources) conform to the Five Rs:

  • Retain:  authors make, own and manage copies of content
  • Reuse:  materials can be reused in many different ways
  • Revise:  ability to edit, adapt, modify the content
  • Remix:  combine material with other content
  • Redistribute:  ability to share and copy the original and revised content

Open textbooks are part of a larger movement called "open educational resources" (OER). OERs are "digital learning objects 'offered freely and openly for educators, students and self-learners to use and re-use for teaching, learning and research.'" (Goldberg 334)

Many use licenses as an alternative to copyright developed by Creative Commons, "... a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools."

Model programs exist at the University of Masschusetts at Amherst and the University of California at Los Angeles, each with competitive awards for faculty to replace their textbooks.  Others exist at Emory University, North Carolina State University and several California State University locations.  

See also the guide and overview of the larger Open Educational Resources (OER) from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. 


What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of open textbooks?

Advantages include: low cost, adaptability, availability in print or online, online use on many devices and platforms, availability of supplementary material like video and study material like flashcards.

Disadvantages include: selection process to locate appropriate material, need to provide authors with credit towards promotion and tenure, and lack of traditional publishing infrastructure.


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