Open source textbooks and existing books

I haven’t made much progress in finding and/or adapting open-source material for my fundamentals of communication class. In the meantime, I ran across an article that addressed an issue concerning the larger project of possibly creating an open source textbook replacement recently though.

This was a post in the “Wired Campus” blog of the Chronicle of Higher Education. It discussed a lawsuit between textbook publishers and an open source book publisher called Boundless. The textbook publishers argue that Boundless is creating collections of open-source material that follow the organization and structure of their books too closely.
Some of the comments that follow the article are interesting, observing that the book companies borrow each other’s structure all the time. This is certainly the case in my field and in the course for which I would like to find/develop an open source alternative. Books for this course have gradually become homogeneous, with exactly 15 chapters, each covering the very similar material. I spoke to a textbook author a few years ago who had just published a new textbook for the course. He said publishers wouldn’t allow him to include certain topics because they needed the same structure as existing books to compete with them.

Part of the open source publisher’s argument is that you can’t copyright ideas and facts. This is a key issue in my thinking about how to create an open source textbooks for this course. The set of ideas has been gradually standardized for the sake of competition. The situation cries out for an open source solution, since the publishers themselves have limited the set of topics in this course, creating this standard set of ideas. Making materials engaging, or the treatment of the ideas, is something that should not be copied. This is the writer’s craft. But the set of ideas is clearly spelled out for this class. This could serve as a structure for a collection of open source material in a wiki-like structure.


One thought on “Open source textbooks and existing books

  1. This is definitely a very interesting turn of events. Many websites essentially take either free or freely-available content and repackage it or simply redirect traffic. This site is being more open about what they’re doing than most. And as you say Tony, communications, as well as many other courses, are ripe for this. Many faculty are drawn to OER primarily because they want to control the content, picking and choosing from sources they like, and not being tied to what a publisher chooses and what’s become standardized.

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