Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

8 Exemplary Open Textbooks and The Meaning Beyond Bringing Cost Down

For decades, college students have been exploited by publishers of introductory textbooks. But thing are changing, now there are several organizations bringing open textbooks to students. Saylor.orgOpenStax CollegeFree High School Science Textbooks BioQUESTThe Math Open ReferenceUtah Open Textbook ProjectOpen Math, and Open Source Physics are only to name a few. More open textbooks information can be found in this page.

“In the early days of TV, the first things you saw on TV were radio shows, and only over time did the next format evolve for that medium,” says Don Kilburn, chief executive of Pearson Learning Solutions. “I think we’re at that stage right now” with textbooks, he says. Of course textbook publishers are trying to secure their realm in digital and online education. According to this article by Jeffrey R. Young:

So far publishers produce only a limited number of titles in these born-digital formats, and the number of professors assigning them is relatively small. Only about 2 percent of textbooks sold at college bookstores are fully digital titles, according to a survey of 940 bookstores run by Follett Higher Education Group.

Will digital versions of textbooks become less affordable for students ?(at least they can rent used textbooks with an affordable price now) Can we re-imagine textbooks? We should not be asking faster horses like people did in the old age before the invention of cars stunned them. This post is trying to collect exemplary projects demonstrate how open textbooks could make a difference in learning practice beyond bringing cost down.

The ChemWiki project

The ChemWiki project is a collaborative approach toward chemistry education where an Open Access textbook environment is constantly being written and re-written partly by students and partly by faculty members resulting in a free Chemistry textbook to supplement conventional paper-based books. Contributors include more than 30 chemistry professors and students as well as web technologists and publicist Richard Osibanjo. Success of the project will be gauged by the number of students who consult the ChemWiki and the number of Chemistry courses that eventually adopt the ChemWiki as the sole textbook for class needs. Anyone can view, although a freely available account is required to edit the site modules. The ChemWiki was created, and the development team is currently directed by Prof. Delmar Larsen in the Chemistry department at UC Davis.

open textbook

The ChemWiki is the pilot STEMWiki developed to demonstrate efficacy of the Dynamic Textbook Project, which is a multi-institutional collaborative venture to develop the next generation of open-access textbooks to improve STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) at all levels of higher learning. The central aim of the Dynamic Textbook Project is to develop and disseminate free, virtual, customizable textbooks that will substitute for current, commercial paper texts in multiple courses at post-secondary institutions. Other STEMWikis in the Dynamic Textbook Project include  BioWiki, GeoWiki, MathWiki, PhysWiki, SolarWiki, and StatWiki.

Here are other colleges and universities are starting to incorporate the UC Davis ChemWiki into their courses: Columbia University, Contra Costa College, Diablo Valley College, Hope College, J. Sargent Reynolds Community College, New Mexico State University Alamogodro, University of Minnesota at Morris, Truman State University.

A special feature of the UC Davis wiki texts is the Student Ability Rating and Inquiry System (SARIS) , a tool for tracking student progress based on PracticeZone.

The Student Ability Rating and Inquiry System (SARIS) is a separate application from the ChemWiki that addresses the need for homework with an extensive question database. When fully implemented, SARIS will generate valuable statistics tracking individual student performance. The SARIS shares similar to other homework applications, but is augmented by links between the SARIS and ChemWiki databases, which direct students toward relevant module content. Using the “leveling up” concepts in video games, it lets students tackling smaller variants of difficult problems that are manageable to gain experience piecewise. (In games, the safest way to gain experience is to start off with the enemies that are weaker and to keep fighting them over and over.)


Biofundamentals™ is developed at the University of Colorado, Boulder, it’s designed to be used with an interactive teaching style, with students working with various tutorial assignments out of class, and then in class discussion. The materials are designed to replace expensive, pedagogically weak textbooks. By integrating Highlighter, students are able to engage fully with all the materials — the syllabus as well as the readings. They can leave comments, ask questions, and save and share key passages.

Biofundamentals™ is part of a larger course and curricular redesign effort that includes Chemistry, life, the universe & everything (for which we have data for improved student learning!)

We use an interactive teaching style and web tools to “get Socratic.”  You will need to read and engage with the text and embedded assignments before class. [videos on using the text & constructing arguments]. We use novel testing strategies that include “I know it now!” tests designed to allow students to demonstrate their understanding of key ideas.

The Best OER Revise / Remix Ever?

by David Wiley

We started with Project Management from Simple to Complex, originally written by Russell Darnall and John Preston and originally published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license by Flat World Knowledge. For the last two years now we’ve been revising and remixing away on Project Management for Instructional Designers (PM4ID). Here’s what we’ve done:

Aligned each chapter with the relevant portions of the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certification exam and the Project Manager Professional (PMP) certification exam, so that you can now use PM4ID to study for these exams,

Removed generic examples like ‘You have to get 13,000 tons of concrete to Singapore by December 1′ and replaced these with examples from the instructional design field,

Shot comprehensive video interviews with three experienced instructional design project managers that include stories and bits of wisdom on each of the book’s chapter topics and compiled text transcripts of each of the videos,

Completed a word-for-word re-editing that improved the readability of the book,

Created text-to-speech audio recordings of each chapter section,

Replaced (c) photos throughout the book with CC licensed photos,

Added a Glossary of key terms,

Updated and modernized the ‘Technology Tools for Project Management’ portion of the book, and

Created an automated process for scraping content from the live PM4ID site and converting the entire book into ePub, Kindle, PDF, and downloadable HTML formats nightly.

In the same way that faculty around the world give students assignments to contribute to Wikipedia, I think it would be awesome if more faculty assigned students to localize /revise / remix CC licensed materials from Flat World Knowledge,CK12OpenStax, and other OER authors and publishers. Each time I give this kind of assignment, I find that my students invest in their work at a completely different level and go far above and beyond what I ever imagined they could do.

KSU Professor Creates Flexbook

The flexbook, created by KSU professor Brian Lindshield, is an “open, collaborative platform for open course materials,” according to a statement released today by the institution. Designed to be used online, the flexbook includes more visuals and figures than text, as well as links to videos, animations, news, and other relevant Web materials. Students may use “Kansas State University Human Nutrition (HN 400) Flexbook,” at no charge.

Students can access the flexbook through Google Docs, a URL, by downloading the PDF file posted on K-State Online, or by printing a copy. Many students use a combination of these methods to access the textbook, according to Lindshield. The hard copy version, he said, is the least used method.

Lindshield’s flexbook has become a canvas for collaboration for his students. The students add comments—called “flexnotes”—from the class to the flexbook. The nutritional sciences professor uses these notes to update the text and clarify theories for his students.

Crowdsourcing a Textbook via a Wiki

Edward Gehringer,  a professor in Computer Science from NC State, has been using the Expertiza system and a wiki to have his students collaboratively write their textbook. He made a good point – for profit textbooks are sold based on reviewer testimonials instead of scientific data on the effectiveness of a certain textbook on student learning. He pointed to a study that said that in a certain course, students who bought the textbook did no better than those who didn’t. On the other hand, there is a growing body of research stating that students who use a wiki to create their own textbook learn more because of their engagement in the writing process.

Wiki Textbook Teaches Students More than Physiology

When Kevin Young, lecturer at Utah State University’s Brigham City campus, couldn’t find a book he liked for the physiology class he taught during summer 2006, he decided to work with his students to create their own wiki textbook using Wikibooks, a companion site to Wikipedia that allows users to create a free library of textbooks anyone can edit.

Young created the basic outline for the textbook by establishing 18 chapter headings. Then he divided the class into 18 teams and assigned each to research and write one chapter. By involving the students in their education through creating their own textbook, they learned more than just physiology.

“I once heard someone say, ‘If you never fail, you’re not trying enough new things,’” Young said. “That’s what I try to instill in my students as I aim to prepare them for an uncertain future. I want them to learn how to take risks and how to discover in new ways.”

To view and contribute to Human Physiology, visit

Open Source Physics (OSP)

open textbookThe OSP Collection provides curriculum resources that engage students in physics, computation, and computer modeling. Computational physics and computer modeling provide students with new ways to understand, describe, explain, and predict physical phenomena. It provides extensive resources for computational physics and physics simulations. OSP also provides several general applications for physics teaching, student activities, and curriculum distribution. These are:

Computational physics and computer modeling engaging students in the design of physical models to describe, explain, and predict phenomena. OSP believe that the combination of computational physics and computer modeling with theory and experiment can achieve insight and understanding that cannot be achieved with only one approach.

9 College Students Publish Ed-Tech Textbook via iBooks

A group of students of Georgia College have collaborated to produce Using Technology in Education, which is currently available in iBooks. (Educational technology is a topic which changes as rapidly as the tech it covers, so there’s a good chance that this textbook will need revision. Will the next graduate seminar take up the task of updating this textbook? That’s why using web as a delivery platform is better than publishing in iBooks)

Colleges as Publishers?

Jeffrey R. Young argued that :

Publishers aren’t the only organizations building this new kind of textbook. In a way, MOOCs, or massive open online courses, which many top colleges are experimenting with, offer the same mix of features without any involvement from a textbook publisher. Those MOOCs are designed to teach unenrolled students free of charge, but colleges are also starting to try using MOOC content as a replacement for textbooks. It’s called “flipping” the classroom.

Amid all this change, the lines separating publisher, professor, university, and software company are blurring: The blockbuster textbooks of tomorrow could be produced not by publishers but directly by universities, maybe with the help of MOOC companies like Coursera or Udacity.

open education resourcesWhat do you think? Colleges and even K12 schools could be in an excellent position to become textbook publishers as the centers of knowledge constructing, flowing and exchanging. Just remember learning isn’t only about the transfer of knowledge. Can educator and learners have more active roles when we re-imagine digital textbooks leveraging abundant open education resources(OERs) ? The report on OER usage in US higher education from Babson Survey Research Group indicated that there is much for improvement. Some service like Connexions which deconstructs textbooks and lets you put them back together, helping learners become teachers and teachers become learners.With the right tools it should not be so distant.

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6 Responses »

  1. Chem, Bio, you need some art and history! Try

  2. Another great digital “textbook” : A “post Gutenberg” e-text for biology 101 :


  1. 8 Exemplary Open Textbooks and The Meaning Beyond Bringing Cost Down | Personal e-Learning Environments |
  2. 8 Exemplary Open Textbooks and The Meaning Beyond Bringing Cost Down | Marketing and communication in higher education |
  3. Open Participatory Learning Infrastructure (OPLI) #OER | Classroom Aid

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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
"I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game," President Barack Obama said while touring a tech-focused Boston school (year 2011).
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