The Impact of Open Textbooks at OpenStax College

Cable Green, July 8th, 2013

OpenStax College, an initiative of Connexions, the open educational resources (OER) authoring project at Rice University, is creating high-quality, peer-reviewed open textbooks. All of OpenStax College’s books, including the art and illustrations, are available under the Creative Commons Attribution license (CC BY), allowing anyone to reuse, revise, remix and redistribute the books.

The first two OpenStax College books were published in June of 2012, and since then Introduction to Sociology and College Physics have been downloaded over 110,000 times, used by more than 1.5 million unique online learners, and adopted at over 200 schools. These adoptions represent real savings for over 30,000 students in classes around the world. OpenStax College estimates that it has saved these students more than $3 million (USD) so far.

OpenStax isn’t stopping there. Biology and its corresponding book for non-majors, Concepts of Biology, and Anatomy & Physiology have now been released and are ready for use in classes in the fourth quarter of 2013.

OpenStax College recently received grants to complete six more books from several major foundations, including the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, Kanzanjian Foundation and Lowenstein Foundation. The next phase will feature Introduction to Statistics, Pre-Calculus, Principles of Economics, U.S. History, Psychology, and Chemistry. These books are entering production now and are scheduled to be released by the end of 2014.

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IEEE teams up with Connexions to deliver high-quality, peer-reviewed engineering OER

Timothy Vollmer, December 3rd, 2010

Rice University’s Connexions and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Signal Process Society (IEEE-SPS) recently announced the release of a set of open educational resources on signal processing. The materials allow engineering instructors to mix and match to build customized courses, textbooks and study guides, and are useful for practicing engineers for their own education and career growth. The high-quality resources are peer-reviewed and available for free on the Connexions IEEE-SPS portal.

From the press release:

While the open-education movement has grown rapidly in recent years, critics have questioned how open-access publishers can ensure the quality of freely authored and edited materials. An oft-proposed option is adapting peer review — the process academic researchers have used for centuries to vet and certify research papers and books.

“All materials must pass thorough a rigorous quality evaluation before they appear on the IEEE Signal Processing Society’s branded portal in Connexions,” said Roxana Saint-Nom, chair of the society’s Connexions Lens Subcommittee.

This collaboration is one of the first between a major professional society and an open educational resource provider. Connexions is one of the largest repositories of OER in the world, and all its materials are available under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license. IEEE is the world’s largest technical professional organization, with over 395,000 members.


CA Free Digital Textbook Initiative Launches Phase 2

Jane Park, February 2nd, 2010

Many of you have heard about California’s Free Digital Textbook Initiative that launched last spring, which called for submissions of free digital textbooks in math and science for use by the state’s schools. Of the 16 textbooks submitted last year, 15 are openly licensed under one of the Creative Commons licenses—and all 10 that passed 90% of CA’s state standards are CC licensed.

In addition to individuals, the CK-12 Foundation, Curriki, and Connexions submitted open textbooks on subjects like Algebra, Calculus, Biology, Chemistry, Geometry, Trigonometry, and various other -ometries. You can check out the full textbook list and standards reviews at the California Learning Resource Network (CLRN).

Now, the Governor and his constituents are launching Phase 2 of the Initiative, calling this time for “content developers to submit high school history-social science and higher-level math course textbooks for review against California’s academic content standards.” From the press release,

“Resources like digital textbooks play a critical role in our 21st century educational landscape, and expanding my first-in-the-nation initiative will provide local school districts additional high-quality free resources to help prepare California’s students to compete in the global marketplace,” said Governor Schwarzenegger. “I urge content developers to jump on board this second phase and submit social science and advanced math material to help ensure California’s shift to a more advanced and cost-effective education system continues.”

Phase 2 is accepting submissions on a rolling basis, so if you (or your project) have an open textbook completed or in the works, make sure the CC license info is marked up correctly and submit it to the CLRN website. For more on licensing, visit

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WikiEducator, Connexions, and MediaWiki join forces in OER Remix Project

Jane Park, November 20th, 2009

In case you haven’t heard, WikiEducator‘s Wayne Mackintosh announced earlier this week that they were joining forces with Connexions “to provide educators with greater freedom of choice to mix and match the best of two OER worlds, namely “producer-consumer” models with more traditional work flow approaches and commons-based peer production.” WikiEducator and Connexions are two collaborative OER projects that use Creative Commons licenses. While WikiEducator, licensed CC BY-SA, focuses “on building capacity in the use of Mediawiki and related free software technologies for mass-collaboration in the authoring of free content,” Connexions, licensed CC BY, focuses on the collaborative development, sharing, and publishing of modular educational content that can be easily integrated into larger collections or courses. According to the announcement, the two projects will partner “to build import export capability between the Connexions and WikiEducator/Mediawiki platforms.”

It’s definitely exciting to see these two OER projects working together, especially since the collaboration is being generously funded by a grant from one of our own biggest supporters, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. There are various ways you can tune into its progress, including visiting the project planning node, subscribing to the Connexions mailing list, or helping them develop use case scenarios.

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Back to School Conclusion: The Open Trajectory of Learning

Alex Kozak, September 4th, 2009

As students around the world return to school, ccLearn blogs about the evolving education landscape, ongoing projects to improve educational resources, education technology, and the future of education. Browse the “Back to School” tag for more posts in this series.

Today’s predictions about the future of learning might eventually seem as preposterous as early 20th century predictions of flying cars and robot butlers. But what we sometimes forget is that our vision for the future today will ultimately shape the outcomes of tomorrow–not in a causal, deterministic way, but in an enabling way. By sharing our hopes and dreams for an open future for learning, we foster an environment in which it can happen.

At ccLearn, we strongly believe that the future for education and learning is one that includes technical, legal, and social openness.

The spaces in which teaching and learning occur are increasingly moving towards technical openness by running open source software, integrating machine readable metadata, and adopting open formats. Schools, colleges, and universities involved in open courseware, wikis, and other organizations engaged in online knowledge delivery are beginning to embrace RDFa and metadata standards like ccREL, open video codecs, open document formats, and open software solutions. More open technology continues to be developed, and there is no indication that this will stop or slow down.

Members of the global education community have been moving towards legal openness by converging on Creative Commons licenses that allow sustainable redistribution and remixing as the de facto licensing standard. This phenomenon is international- Creative Commons has been ported to 51 countries (7 in progress), with CC licensed educational resources being used all over the world. Although ccLearn found in our recent report “What status for ‘open’?” that some institutions have some homework to do on what it means to be open, we are well on the road towards a robust and scalable legal standard for open educational resources.

Perhaps most powerfully, we are beginning to see a move towards social openness in educational institutions in the prototyping of new models for learning involvement, organization, and assessment that maximizes the availability of learning to all people, everywhere. By leveraging the power of online organization and open content, often times coupled with a willingness to re-conceptualize what it means to be an educator, new possibilities for learning will emerge, leading to a more educated world.

We can’t fully predict today what kinds of practices, pedagogies, and technologies open education will enable tomorrow. But we are in a position to claim that our goal for an open future enables the creation of these new and better practices, technologies, and social structures.

ccLearn would like to thank The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for their continued support of open education, the Creative Commons staff who make our work possible, and all of you for your continued support of a truly global commons. We hope that you all continue to contribute to open source learning software, embrace open formats, license your educational works with Creative Commons licenses, and get engaged in the world movement towards an open future for learning.

En Estados Unidos están de regreso al colegio este mes y con este contexto en ccLearn, han venido publicando una serie de entradas algunas de ellas ya quedaron comentadas en español, creo que justifica comentar y traducir lo pertinente:

De regreso al colegio, conclusiones: El camino abierto para el aprendizaje

La entrada de cierre para el ciclo de ccLearn sobre el regreso al colegio esta nuevamente a cargo de Alex Kozak quien indica como desde ccLearn, se cree firmemente en un futuro del proceso de educación y aprendizaje atravesado por la idea de apertura en lo técnico, lo legal y lo social.

Los espacios en los que la docencia y el aprendizaje se dan para Kozak están migrando a estándares abiertos en con el uso de software open source, integrando metadatos que pueden ser leídos por las máquinas y adoptando formatos abiertos. Escuelas, Universidades y en general instituciones de educación superior que desarrollan courseware abiertos, wikis y otras organizaciones involucradas en los procesos de disponer del conocimiento a través de la red están empezando a adoptar RDFa y estandares de metadatos como ccREL, codecs para video abierto, formatos abiertos de editores de textos, y soluciones de software abierto o libre.

De otro lado la comunidad global del sector educativo se esta moviendo hacia la apertura legal, sus decisiones de adopción de licencias Creative Commons como un estándar converge para permitir la redistribución y mezcla de los recursos . Este es un fenómeno internacional- Creative Commons se ha adaptado al sistema legal de 51 países (7 mas lo están haciendo), los recursos educativos licenciados con CC se usan por todo el mundo. En todo caso se debe considerar que ccLearn encontró en su informe “What status for ‘open’?” que algunas instituciones todavía tienen que revisar lo que significa abierto, pero que el camino hacia estándares de apertura en los recursos educativos esta en marcha.

Para Kozak incluso lo llamativo es que se esta empezando a ver una mayor apertura en lo social en relación con los pilotos educativos en los nuevos modelos que las instituciones ensayan. A la hora de abordar el proceso de aprendizaje, la organizacion, y valoracion de estos pilotos están maximizando la idea de hacerlo accesible a cualquiera en cualquier lugar. Kozak cree que apalancando la capacidad de las organizaciones en linea y del contenido abierto, junto con el cada vez mas frecuente deseo de re-conceptualizar lo que significa ser docente, nuevas posibilidades para el aprendizaje surgirán para llevarnos a un mundo mas educado.

Para Kozak aunque no podamos predecir las practicas, pedagogías y tecnologías que favorecerá una educación abierta mañana si podemos decir que la meta de un futuro abierto permitirá la creación de esas nuevas practicas, tecnologías y estructuras sociales.

Breve comentario desde mi propia óptica

Aunque en regiones como América Latina nos hacen falta datos para asumir como ciertas muchas de las afirmaciones de Kozak para el mundo anglosajón lo cierto es que la sensación que hay en el ambiente es que muchas de sus conclusiones pueden ser extensibles a nuestra realidad,

De hecho algunos otras de las entradas de este ciclo de regreso al colegio que hizo ccLearn se referían a proyectos concretos que mostraban proyectos y practicas abiertas (Vital signs y el caso de los libros de texto). Creo que deberíamos visibilizar algunas de las muchas iniciativas que están ocurriendo en nuestra región para conocerlas y aprender de ellas… espero poder hacerlo muy pronto! (si tienen ideas dejen su comentario y hagamos seguimiento de ellas juntos)


CC Talks With: Collaborative Statistics — An Open Textbook Model

Jane Park, December 3rd, 2008

CC BY (Barbara Illowsky and Susan Dean)

CC BY (Barbara Illowsky and Susan Dean)

One of the most exciting sub-movements within open education is the current revolution regarding the evolution of textbooks. Old-fashioned publishers would often (and still do) rack up prices to hundreds of dollars per textbook, but this business model is rapidly changing to favor vastly cheaper educational resources based on more open licensing policies. One driver is that the information in textbooks becomes outdated the minute it comes out in print, to the point that what is being taught in schools is often inaccurate. Open textbooks better represent the dynamic nature of information because they are themselves dynamic. They can be manufactured collaboratively over the internet, are digital and thereby easily editable, and are openly licensed so that anyone can update the information in the future. The premise is that you should never have to throw out old content — only improve upon it. 

At the COSL Open Education Conference this year, Susan Dean, along with others, presented on Sustainability Models for Community College Open Textbooks. Her presentation was based on her own path towards open textbook publishing. She and Dr. Barbara Illowsky developed, over a number of years, the textbook Collaborative Statistics. Today, it is freely available for access and derivation via CC BY on the Connexions platform, but for Susan and Barbara, obtaining the rights to the book and cementing a publisher and platform were far from easy. 

Below are Susan’s and Barbara’s take on the path they chose. I was lucky enough to catch up to them via email and ask a few questions — about themselves, Collaborative Statistics, and open textbooks in general.

Can you say a few words about yourselves and your background in education?  What drew you to academia in the first place?  As an academic, how have your conceptions of education evolved?

I earned a secondary teaching credential to teach high school math and art and taught high school for the next four years.  I went back to school in computer science and worked for Honeywell and Hewlett-Packard and then was hired by De Anza College to teach math at the same time as I was working on a master’s degree in applied math at Santa Clara University.

I grew up poor but always did well in school and received a lot of attention from teachers, several of whom were outstanding.  I have always found math along with marine biology highly interesting and would tutor other students in both subjects in high school and found it fun.  I also tutored students, including blind and deaf students, in college. These factors combined to make me want to teach.

I have become a “hands-on” teacher in math.  Students, especially developmental students, learn best by “doing” and by working in groups.  I believe in having students use technology to help them learn.


I tutored in college and really enjoyed it. I did not plan on becoming an instructor, though. In graduate school, I had a teaching scholarship and found that I loved teaching. I loved helping students; I loved when they were successful, especially after a hard struggle to learn.

About 15 years ago, I became interested in the scholarship of teaching and learning. I researched pedagogy and andragogy (the theory of adult learning).  Since completing my PhD, I have continued to study the learning process.

I now understand education to be much more of a life time process, than I had previously thought, as well as effective instruction to be much more constructivist than how most educators teach.

In your opinion, what are the important ways in which community and four year colleges differ — in terms of degrees granted, student populations, educational needs and challenges…?

Community colleges are for students who want a particular certificate (usually for a job), who want an AA or AS, who want to transfer to a four year school or who are interested in particular subjects.  Four year colleges, for the most part, are for students who want a four year degree.  Four year colleges typically have “academic” majors.   Many students would not go to college if there were no community colleges. Among a myriad of services, community colleges provide developmental help in English and math if students need it (and about 80% who come to the community colleges do), provide transfer programs, offer counseling that not only gives students advisory help for classes and programs but provides personal guidance as well, offer excellent financial advice for those students who need financial help and are cheaper than four year colleges.

Community colleges enroll almost half of all undergraduate students in the U.S.  As a result, a good many community colleges are extremely diverse in student populations (De Anza College is a very good example) and the preparedness of the students is wider than at a UC or CSU or private college or university.

How do you envision Collaborative Statistics being used in the classroom?

Collaborative Statistics has been used in the classroom for about 15 years.  The book is intended to complement an elementary course in statistics that is collaborative and practical.  Students work in groups to apply what they have learned to complete data driven labs and projects. The book was written to accommodate this mode of classroom activity.  It was also written with English as a second language (ESL) students in mind and has been used successfully over the years with many ESL students.

From what I understood from your presentation (Susan) at  COSL OpenEd ’08, writing Collaborative Statistics was far from the hardest part. The book was originally published with a commercial publisher under all rights reserved copyright.  What triggered the need to open up these rights?

We acquired the rights back from the publisher so that we could lower the cost of the book.  We had found that too many of our students struggled to pay for their books especially as the price of books went up (the cost increase has been dramatic over the years).  So, when we had the chance to open up the rights to the book and make it free online, we were ready to do it.

Can you tell us a bit about the process you had to go through to convert to an open license? What were the steps you took? What were the roughest bumps in the road?

Martha Kanter, Chancellor of the Foofthill-De Anza Community College District, is very interested in open educational resources.  She is acquainted with Bob Maxfield of the non-profit Maxfield Foundation (associated with Rice University).  She recommended our book to Bob Maxfield who in turn made the book available to the Connexions Project of Rice University.   Since we had control of the book (we published it), it was our decision to acquire an open license.  The roughest bumps involved the amount of time it took to find the right organization for our book.

If you could give a piece of advice to other textbook authors and/or teachers who wish to publish their work openly, what would it be?

Do it!  Think of the many students and faculty who could benefit from your work.

Why did you choose CC BY, as opposed to one of the more restrictive licenses?

We chose the license that Connexions requested for the least restrictions.  Plus, the least restrictive license allows for the most freedom of improvement of a product.

What would you say to someone who was worried about commercial uses of their work?

Choose an organization like Connexions to publish on the Web.   Connexions allows and encourages users to collaboratively develop, freely share and quickly publish content on the Web.  Anyone who uses any part of someone else’s content can modify the content but must give attribution to the authors of the content.

Open textbooks are certainly taking off in a big way these days, what with Connexions, Flatworld Knowledge, CK12 Foundation’s Flexbooks, and the recent bill signed into law enabling California Community Colleges to establish OER pilot programs. What do you think specifically about this bill — AB 2261?  Will you be involved with the execution of this bill, considering your ties with De Anza Community College?  If not, how do you see the program working?

We are highly in favor of AB 2261.  We are not involved with the execution of the bill.  Article 2 of AB 2261 lays out a plan for the program including a possible lead community college to coordinate the planning and development of the pilot program.  Especially important is Article 2 part (c) (3) which deals with developing “a community college professional development course that introduces faculty, staff, and college course developers to the concept, creation, content, and production methodologies that enable OER to be offered to students in community college classes.”

Lastly, what is the future of open textbooks? What would you say we have to change in order for open education to be maximally effective?

Open textbooks are here to stay!  Connexions has much improved our book with what they have done on the site.  They have broken down the content into modules that can be linked together and arranged in different ways.  We are sure that the other organizations that are involved in open educational resources have done something similar.  There has to be some kind of massive ad campaign (similar to what California did with the big propositions in the recent November 2008 election but keep it honest) that shows the great benefits of open educational resources.  The ad must target everyone but especially faculty to show them the great educational possibilities that exist, the fact that the resources are easy to use and the fact that the resources are free.


Back to School: Open Textbooks Gaining in Popularity

Jane Park, September 16th, 2008

There’s been a whole lot of press on open textbooks lately, in addition to my own posts on the Flexbook and the Student PIRGs’ recent report encouraging open source textbooks as the right model for digital textbooks (versus the limited e-books that commercial publishers currently offer). The difference in open source and commercial e-books is wide and deep. Open textbooks are freely editable, downloadable and repurposable by others, keeping with the notion that the search for truth in any academic field is continually being revised, especially in the science and technology fields. The perpetual beta status of knowledge is not just an oxymoron; the old fashioned textbook is simply outdated in this age of lightning fast communications. Furthermore, students and many professors are just not having it anymore.

The New York Times article, “Don’t Buy That Textbook, Download It Free,” features an interview with Cal Tech professor, R. Preston McAfee, who offers his “Introduction to Economic Analysis” online for free. Another article by the LA Times reports best-selling co-author Steven D. Levitt of Freakonomics calling McAfee brilliant. If brilliant minds putting out open textbooks and students buying in (for free and for low-cost print versions on places like and Flatworld Knowledge) are not an indication of a revolution in textbook making, I don’t know what is.

The numbers don’t lie either. Quotes the NY Times on McAfee:

If I had finished my own book, I would have finished a couple years ago,” [McAfee] said. “It would have taken five years. It would have spent five years in print and sold 2,000 copies.” Instead, he said, he posted it on the Web site and there have been 2.8 million page views of his textbook, “Signals and Systems,” including a translation into Spanish.

Wired also quotes a long-timer in the traditional textbook industry, Eric Frank, who is getting with the changing times: “The nice thing about open content is it gives faculty full control, creative control over the content of the book, full control over timing, and it give students a lot more control over how they want to consume it and how much they want to pay”…“On the surface they’re (traditional publishers) doing OK, but underneath the surface there are lots of problems.”

A long-existing and solid promoter of the open textbook is Connexions, an online platform “for collaboratively developing, freely sharing, and rapidly publishing scholarly content on the Web.” Connexions, created by Rice University’s Richard Baraniuk, initiated a new way of thinking about textbooks: 

“Most textbooks are a mass of information in linear format: one topic follows after another. However, our brains are not linear – we learn by making connections between new concepts and things we already know. Connexions mimics this by breaking down content into smaller chunks, called modules, that can be linked together and arranged in different ways. This lets students see the relationships both within and between topics and helps demonstrate that knowledge is naturally interconnected, not isolated into separate classes or books.”

According to the NY Times, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, a staunch supporter of the open educational resources (OER) movement, has granted $6 million to Connexions alone. Connexions licenses all of its content CC BY, the license that allows the greatest sharing capabilities and creativity for education, while still retaining authorship and thereby greater quality in collaborative output.

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