Universities add open eBooks to iTunes U

The open eBooks on iTunes U use the EPUB format, so they are readable on a wide variety of mobile devices.

Rice University has joined Oxford University and The Open University in contributing free, open eBooks to the iTunes U web site, using the burgeoning EPUB format that lets students read eBooks on a variety of eReader devices becoming more prevalent in higher education.

Rice’s contribution of 18 of its most popular titles came from the Houston-based university’s open education program, Connexions, which logs about 2 million visits every month, according to an Oct. 29 university announcement.

The open eBook additions from Oxford, Rice, and The Open University—an online school based in the United Kingdom with more than 250,000 students—will be accessible not only on eReaders like Apple’s iPad and the Barnes & Noble Nook, but also mobile devices like the iPhone and Android-based smart phones because they are printed using the EPUB format.

The Open University has become an iTunes U staple in recent years. The school claims to be the first to reach 20 million downloads on iTunes U, tallying more than 27 million iTunes downloads to date. Data show more than 312,000 downloads of content from The Open University on the iTunes U site every week.

Adding electronic books and articles that are accessible not only on a laptop or desktop, Rice officials said, has become a priority for purveyors of web-based educational resources.

“The demand for free, high-quality educational texts and teaching materials is greater than ever, and people increasingly want to access that material on mobile devices,” said Joel Thierstein, executive director of Connexions at Rice.

Rice’s open eBook offerings on iTunes U include a variety of subjects, from books on programming fundamentals to basic music theory to collaborative statistics. The university has been a leader in the EPUB format since August, when the entire Connexions eBook collection—more than 17,000 works—was made available via the EPUB format, according to the school.

The Open University’s iTunes U contribution will be in two parts: 100 open eBooks were placed on iTunes in October, and another 200 will be included by the end of the year, according to a university release.

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