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Univ. of Minnesota Compiles Database of Peer-Reviewed, Open-Access Textbooks 54

First time accepted submitter BigVig209 writes "Univ. of MN is cataloging open-access textbooks and enticing faculty to review the texts by offering $500 per review. From the article: 'The project is meant to address two faculty critiques of open-source texts: they are hard to locate and they are of indeterminate quality. By building up a peer-reviewed collection of textbooks, available to instructors anywhere, Minnesota officials hope to provide some of the same quality control that historically has come from publishers of traditional textbooks.'"
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Univ. of Minnesota Compiles Database of Peer-Reviewed, Open-Access Textbooks

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  • At risk proposal (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Grayhand ( 2610049 ) on Friday May 11, 2012 @04:31AM (#39964193)
    There is only one sacred thing to the US government, corporate profits. You can accurately determine their reaction to any proposal based on whether it benefits corporations or not. The point is if it's seen to harm corporate profits then expect government funding to get cut. Open sourced doesn't make the rich richer so expect the government to be against it. Government of the people and by the people died 200 years ago. Now we have government of the corporations and by the corporations. Oil companies are consulted on the clean air act so what is they likelihood of the government supporting open sourced text books? Don't hold your breath.
    • I don't have mod points, but someone needs to mod this up. The overratted mod is pattently unfair.

    • You do realize the University of Minnesota is a public (i.e. government funded) institution, so in answer to your post: actually, we can expect implicit government sponsorship of open source textbooks right now, since that is, you know, exactly what is happening.

      And it isn't a tiny university either: it's one of the biggest in the US (fourth largest, actually) and is moderately well respected, for a public university, so this isn't some fly-by-night desperate-to-save money kind of place (not any more so th

  • by horza ( 87255 ) on Friday May 11, 2012 @05:14AM (#39964363) Homepage

    It would be good to have a set of peer reviewed books that covers education all the way up to 16 years old. Maths, languages, etc. This way no child will have to pay for books ever again. Children can get a Nook loaded with every book they will ever need the day they start school, so advanced students are able read ahead. A developing country could then simply localise a selection to create its own curriculum. Those deciding which modules to do can read the books they will be studying for that subject before choosing. Children moving country can download the new set in advance and familiarise themselves so they don't start their new school at a disadvantage.

    So many countries are bitching about ThePirateBay which is an international repository of arts and culture, but can't be bothered to create an international repository of where people can learn basic reading, writing and math skills.


    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      And where does the money to create, update and maintain these books come from? I think that's the point, we can have free textbooks and could have had them for the cost of printing, but somebody ultimately needs to pay for their creation, evaluation and the various other costs involved.

      I'd love to have free things too, but some things are way too time intensive to expect people to create for free. This isn't software, it's substantially harder to crowd source it than it is software and a lot harder to decid

      • by ThatsMyNick ( 2004126 ) on Friday May 11, 2012 @06:21AM (#39964637)

        The Govt, and inturn your taxes? Creating, updating, and maintaining text books does not cost as much as the publishers want you to believe. A small organization, that can be tasked to receive feedback from teachers and parents, and can update textbooks is pretty good. Hell, make it a prestigious organization, run by top teachers (not administrators, the ones that actually teach), and offer special perks to these members, and you dont even spend much on it.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        How is writing a grade school maths textbook harder than writing the linux kernel?

        the latter is massively time intensive yet people have done it for free already.

        people can and have written maths books and released them for free:

      • by __aaltlg1547 ( 2541114 ) on Friday May 11, 2012 @08:58AM (#39965543)

        From the government, which currently pays textbook publishers to make them.

        Have University math departments make math texts for grade sxhools. University history departments can make history texts, etc.

        The projects could be cooperative among the state governments. And since there would be no profit motive to keep obsolescing old texts you wouldn't have so much churn or so many errors.

    • by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Friday May 11, 2012 @08:29AM (#39965293) Homepage

      This is a great idea, but may be difficult to put into practice. Here in California, then-gov. Schwarzenegger tried to do essentially what you're describing with the Free Digital Textbook Initiative []. I was involved in that as an author. AFAICT, the FDTI was a complete failure. State senator Darrell Steinberg is trying to do something similar, but I don't know if it will work any better this time around: [1] [], [2] []. I think there are a number of fundamental problems. One is that textbook selection in K-12 education in the US tends to be extremely bureaucratic and top-down, and it's virtually impossible to change that overnight, as Schwarzenegger tried to do. It's completely different from higher education, where the assumption is that professors can choose whatever text they like as a matter of academic freedom. My experience is with writing free physics textbooks. They're written for college students, but have also been adopted by a bunch of high schools. However, almost all of the high school adoptions have been from private schools, mainly Catholic schools.

      There is also a huge financial incentive for the non-free textbook publishers to maintain their positions in the market. The really enthusiastic supporters were hardware manufacturers. For them it looked like a huge opportunity, because they thought they could sell a ton of computers to schools in order to give students access to the electronic books.

      • by Hatta ( 162192 )

        I think there are a number of fundamental problems. One is that textbook selection in K-12 education in the US tends to be extremely bureaucratic and top-down

        So there's one fundamental problem. Government corruption.

        • by rwv ( 1636355 )

          Well, if I were running a school, text-book costs would be the last place I'd try to be reducing costs. The risk of giving kids inferior text-books to save a few thousand dollars doesn't really make sense from a high-level perspective.

          The real money is empowering educators to use their time more effectively. This means increasing classroom sizes without sacrificing quality of education. An overlooked part of this problem is successfully handling disruptive kids while at the same time challenging the on

        • >>I think there are a number of fundamental problems. One is that textbook selection in K-12 education in the US tends to be extremely bureaucratic and top-down

          >So there's one fundamental problem. Government corruption.

          By "corruption," I assume you mean something like kickbacks to the textbook publishers. Do you have any evidence to back up this claim? Or if you mean something much broader than that, then I think your indiscriminate use of the term "corruption" is an unfortunate example of the low

  • by retroworks ( 652802 ) on Friday May 11, 2012 @08:34AM (#39965325) Homepage Journal
    They need to think outside the box. Professors may only a assign a chapter or two of a textbook as it is (one of the bones I had to pick about buying some in business school). Wikipedia is being built paragraph by paragraph with a kind of "open source" peer review. Khan Academy,, and are other instructional models. I was relieved when Raytheon (military sales) exited the USA school textbook market (sold out DC Heath in 1995) and am not sure I want their textbooks back, by the way.
    • My last English teacher was nice enough to just scan the relevant chapter and post it (securely) online, for legitimately educational purposes.

      This is in contrast with the music teacher from the same school, who specifically instructed the school library to wait 2 weeks into the semester before allowing students to borrow the relevant class textbook, in order to force us to buy the book.

  • by djchristensen ( 472087 ) on Friday May 11, 2012 @09:03AM (#39965577)

    I hope the open access books don't have the same quality control as from traditional publishers. My daughter's in high school and has some pretty atrocious text books. In her AP history class, the teacher dislikes the book so much (for organizational and content reasons) that she has supplied alternative materials as much as possible, mostly at her own expense. She still has to "teach the book" to meet state requirements, but that doesn't mean the text is beyond reproach (and perhaps just the opposite, given the politicized lobby-driven nature of text book selection these days; I live in Texas so it's a bit of a sore point with me).

    I think the Wikipedia-style crowd-sourced approach holds tremendous promise, especially if there is an active feedback mechanism where kids and parents can be involved as well as educators. The power of many, many people each providing a little bit of the work is staggering and inspiring. As long as the publishing lobby doesn't buy any protective legislation, this is an experiment I'm looking forward to.

    • There's the problem. It's OK for large publishers to sell crappy books with nice typesetting and pretty color pictures. But an open text with reasonably good content, mediocre typesetting, and simple grayscale figures is supposed to be an abomination. The bar is set way too high for open texts, given the garbage these publishers push.
    • " I think the Wikipedia-style crowd-sourced approach holds tremendous promise, especially if there is an active feedback mechanism where kids and parents can be involved as well as educators. The power of many, many people each providing a little bit of the work is staggering and inspiring."

      Wikipedia isn't crowd-sourced like you say, with lots of people contributing a little. Instead, there are an exceedingly small number of smart people doing just about all the hard work, and the "crowd" at large does no

    • ... I live in Texas....

      Well there's your problem.
      Seriously, I don't know if the groundwater is heavily contaminated there or what the deal is, but far too much stupidity (especially concerning textbooks) seems to be centering around Texas.

      • There are worse states as far as fundamentalism is concerned, but Texas has both a very large population and a very large collective ego, which combined give it the weight and the will to push its conservative views into textbook standards. I live in Austin, though, which doesn't really fit in with the rest of the state.

  • Acceptance of textbooks - verification of quality and being usable in courses - is a big hurdle. It's the equalivent to the problems open access journals are currently striving to overcome - building a reputation takes time, and without it viability in education/academia is a difficult proposition. Hopefully this is a useful way to start building momentum - I think it would be an excellent way to get more educational value for the dollar.

    If the idea can gain broader acceptance, there are a number of inter

  • I got into academia after tinkering with open source applications as a teenagers since the early 90s. Whenever I publish content, it has always been an obvious thing for me to also publish the source code for it. I have many colleagues that publish lecture notes online in PDF and PS form for their students to download. For some reason publishing the underlying LaTeX code never crosses their mind and when asked to do it they usually refuse.

    To me the lack of source code level access to written works is the bi

  • My first thought was this is a great resource for me as a reader. I went out, scanned the list, and downloaded a couple of books right away because I'm very excited about free textbooks on topics I wanted to learn more about. I've bookmarked the site and will be going back regularly to see what else gets added.
  • From what I've seen that $500 will go to the profs, who will give a TA a $100 stipend to submit between 1 and 5 corrections and a review of the quality of the material. The TA will look for misuse of "its" and "it's", and submit one correction per week for a semester, in hopes of getting a bit more than $100, then find a generic review of the text that someone else has done (in another school possibly, or at least from another prof) and wordsmith the review to submit their own review.

    Profs really don't have

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