Are open textbooks gaining momentum in higher ed?

Flat World Knowledge’s lineup of 24 textbooks will grow in the next year, with 50 books “in the pipeline,” Frank said. The company expects to publish open books for the 125 highest-enrollment institutions “in the next few years,” Flat World said in an announcement.

Steven White, a University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, business professor and a proponent of the open-license textbook movement, said the company will build on its momentum when it provides more book options outside of business courses. The company announced this month that it will publish texts for English, algebra, statistics, psychology, and chemistry classes this year.

“Their growth is going to be exponential as they grow their catalog,” said White, who supported federal legislation passed last year that aims to bring down the cost of college books with a series of requirements for publishers and professors.

Support for open-license textbooks, White said, could stem from student demand and instructors’ desire to make tenure. Institutions often consider student evaluations when awarding tenure, and instructors who choose cheap or free open textbooks are more likely to get positive student reviews than educators who choose $250 books for their courses, White said.

“People want to be viewed positively,” he said. “Students vote economically. … The pressure isn’t so much peer to peer than it is from student to professor.”

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