Posts Tagged ‘ Free Textbooks ’

eBook Review: Flatworld Knowledge MIYO

Today is a very special edition of our eBook review series. Today we get to take a look at the unique publishing tools offered by Flatworld Knowledge. If you missed our review of the student side of Flatworld, you can check it out here.

As I mentioned in the student side review, all Flatworld Knowledge books are under a creative commons license as opposed to an all rights reserved license that most publisher use. For students this may not mean much but for educators it makes all the difference. Essential this ‘open license’ allows teachers to pick up a standard textbook for their course and customize it to fit their needs.

Flatworld calls this feature MIYO (pronounced Meeyo) which stands for Make It Your Own. When a teacher chooses to use Flatworld, they first sign up with an educator account and then find a book for their course. While not every course will have an appropriate textbook, Flatworld boasts a diverse catalog that covers many of the general credit courses most liberal arts college students are required to take.

After locating the appropriate book, teachers can choose to ‘Adopt This Book’ which puts it into the ‘Your Adoptions’ menu. Adopting a book prompts the teacher to enter a variety of data about their course which allows students to easily find their professors specific book later.

The next step is where MIYO comes in. From the ‘My Adoptions’ menu, teachers can pull up their book in a view almost identical to the student view except they have a variety of editing options. Editing is simple and easy and works a lot like editing a word document. Professors can easily delete any chapter or subsection that isn’t relevant with a single click.

Adding chapters or sections is just as easy, even if writing them is not. Professors can use this feature for anything from simply copy/pasting their lecture notes for each chapter in as a sub section, or they can add an entire chapter to cover something the book leaves out.

Maybe adding an entire chapter is  a bit much, but you’d like to adjust the existing chapters. In the editing view, professors can pull up any section as if to read it, then double click the text to begin editing at the sentence level. Say a professor has been teaching an economics course for a few years and has noticed students have a very hard time with a certain concept. Rather than add a new section, they can simply insert their own additional explanation into the text as supplemental material.

After making adjustments to the text, publishing it takes just a couple clicks and it is ready to be viewed by students. A custom link to your text is provided after making an update which can easily be emailed out to a class list. Even making changes mid semester is easy, and students will see the new material instantly in their online versions.

Of course the best part for students and educators is that the online version of ANY book on Flatworld Knowledge is completely free to read. With basically no barrier to entry, Flatworld Knowledge has changed the game for students and faculty alike. Greater customization and versatility for teachers and free books for students make so much sense it’s hard to believe this platform isn’t the norm already, but it will take time to wrestle a foothold in the industry away from traditional textbook publishers that have had a hold on the market for decades.

Free Textbooks – Crowd funding Your Next Idea

Crowd funding is a term in our new social-media-based society and we should become more comfortable with it and the larger tech-lexicon. Similar to “viral” of a few years back, I am hearing “crowdsourcing” more and more. The concept is basic, but it’s pretty cool and far reaching in its implications. In a nutshell: a person has an idea (such as creating a free textbook), that creator registers and posts the idea on a crowdsourcing funding website such as Kickstarter.com. The post describes the textbook project, why the creator is qualified to proceed, and the vision for the funds and execution. People who believe in the project and contribute money are called “backers” and the project only gets the green light if the target funding is met (or exceeded). The fun part is that the creator can market his or her Kickstarter project and page and even add incentives for various levels of support (think NPR or PBS pledge drive but with stuff cooler than a mug or totebag).

Well, that is just what Brendan Myers, a philosophy professor at Heritage College in Quebec, did. Prof. Myers realized that many of his students would show up to class without the required textbook. After asking them why they didn’t have the book, he was often told that they just couldn’t afford it. To help students in his own classes, Myers decided to write his own textbook (Clear and Present Thinking) and he digitized and emailed PDF copies to his students.

The problem in education — no, one of the problems in education — is that just writing a book isn’t enough to get it widespread use across other campuses. It takes money and time and peer reviews and publisher interest, lots of all. That said, Myers’ text was limited to his classes at his university. At this point he used Kickstarter to develop a campaign to raise the money necessary to create a professional version of his book that could be more widely applicable and distributed.

The original goal of the campaign was to raise $5,000. The campaign recently closed raising $16,872 and funded by 707 backers. Five backers each gave more than $250 while 11 each gave between $100 and $249. Pretty amazing if you ask me and unheard of a couple of semesters ago.

With the extra money, Myers will be creating a French-language edition and audiobook edition of the textbook. With any extra money over $15,000, he will be creating a series of dramatic readings from the works of Plato as the works are core curriculum in philosophy courses across the world. Now that’s a project I can get behind.

500 Free Courses, 150 Free Textbooks from Top Universities

The concept of Open Education Resources (OER) is not new by any stretch of the imagination yet most people remain unfamiliar with this free resource, if only because there is no publisher, author, or seller owning and promoting it.

Since OER is mostly produced via grassroots efforts, it is hard to find the best works, review them, and integrate them into the textbook of the future. Making the problem more difficult is the fact that by its nature, OER content is free so not many entrepreneurs are spending time and money to create the tools necessary to make the discovery easier. There’s simply no profit potential (that’s recognized and capitalized upon yet).

So for now, discovery of such resources is done on a small scale, mostly by individuals, small like-minded Web-based communities, and one-off recommendations. To this point, I wanted to share with you the gem that is OpenCulture.com and its 500 Free Online Courses from Top Universities. This collection includes courses in the liberal arts and the sciences. Each courses is an audio and/or video download that you can add straight to your computer or MP3 player.

In addition, OpenCulture has also created a list of 150 Free Textbooks. Similar to the courses, this list goes topic by topic to provide links to free textbooks for many of the basic courses taught at higher-education institutions today. This list isn’t new but it is growing all the time. Keep checking back as they add more content.

So now that you know, why not take some time to learn something new today? It’ll never be cheaper than free.

Free Textbooks for All

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a lot of websites and organizations positioning themselves as student allies dedicated to bringing low-cost or free textbooks. Many of these dot-orgs and dot-coms are relying on open-source content as an equally useful alternative to proprietary and copyrighted materials like textbooks (Correction – Open Source conent are copyrighted martials, they are just published with the intent to be shared more freely). In theory, it makes a ton of sense. After all, the basic concepts of biology, sociology and physics haven’t changed and the base content is centuries old in some cases. However, the publishers have an edge over this open content in the form of PEER REVIEW. Peer review is where members of the academic community come together to review an author’s finds and deem it suitable (or not) for use in an academic setting. It’s a seal of approval, a stamp that the content is accurate and valuable. Without peer review and that endorsement, academic content is nothing more than words on a page.

This brings us to OpenStax College, which announced earlier this month and recently again at the Connexions Conference that they will be releasing free of charge a series of five books that have been developed and peer reviewed by educators (including two Nobel laureates). OpenStax College is an initiative of Rice University and is supported by donations from organization such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and 20 Million Minds, and the group plans to offer more than 20 titles.

The first five books are College Physics, Intro to Sociology, Biology, Concepts of Biology, and Anatomy and Physiology. Once published, they will be free to download and view via the Web, PDF or EPUB. Given the nature of open-source content, faculty is a big part of the development process as they are encouraged to post corrections, suggest examples, or volunteer as editors.

As with a lot of the open-source content now being shared, it will take a bit of time for these books to work their way into the adoption process, but as they do, it is clear that a peer-reviewed book will have a leg up in credibility and thus in getting more widespread adoption and classroom use.

%d bloggers like this: