Open textbooks gain momentum

Virginia State officials agreed to pay a per-student fee to Flat World so students in eight business classes could have access to online textbooks at no charge. Mirta Martin, the dean of the university’s business school, said in a statement that about half of students don’t buy traditional textbooks “because they can’t afford them, and this causes students to fall behind.”

Institutions covering the costs of low-cost online textbooks—and softcover versions for about $30—could provide an example
for colleges hoping to save their students money every semester.

Wholesale textbook prices increased at four times the rate of inflation from 1999 to 2009, according to a study released Aug. 26 by the Student Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). The group’s statistics came from Bureau of Labor Statistics Producer Price Index data.

Frank said open-license textbooks will be more widely accepted when college faculty members are convinced that open textbook companies don’t print every book submission they receive, but instead apply a rigorous editing process that weeds out
unreliable texts.

“I think there is still, in some ways, a big challenge for us to overcome that perception,” Frank said. “When you say open textbook,
faculty members … greet that with skepticism, and I think that’s grounded in reality. By nature, the quality of [open textbook]
work is going to vary greatly. There are gems in there, but there’s also a lot of subpar material.”

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

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.

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