Nonprofit textbook publisher launches international initiative
HOUSTON -- Rice University-based nonprofit OpenStax, which already provides free, high quality, openly licensed textbooks to nearly 1.5 million college students per year, is partnering with Open University's UK Open Textbooks initiative to bring OpenStax's textbooks to the United Kingdom.
The yearlong project is funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation as part of its commitment to supporting learning resources that students can download, edit and share. The work is part of an ongoing OpenStax initiative to make its open-textbook model available to students around the globe. OpenStax's textbooks are expected to save U.S. students more than $145 million in the 2017-2018 academic year, and the publisher is hopeful that its approach can have a similar impact on U.K. students.
A 2012 survey by the U.K.'s National Union of Students and the California-based publisher CourseSmart reported that 81 percent of U.K. students thought textbooks should be provided free by their institution; a 2017 survey by Save the Student, the U.K.'s largest student finance website, found that U.K. students spend an average of about $506 per year on textbooks.
"Our goal is to bring affordable course materials to as many students as possible, so international expansion is an exciting and intuitive next step for us," said OpenStax Managing Director Daniel Williamson. "By its nature, openly licensed content is meant for adaptation. This project will allow us to research which pieces of our model work well in an international context and which pieces can best be adapted to meet the specific needs of U.K. students."
OpenStax uses philanthropic grants to produce high-quality, peer-reviewed textbooks that are free online and used in more than 8,500 courses at 4,200 colleges and universities. According to UK Open Textbooks researcher Martin Weller, one of the first things the project will examine is how U.K. institutions and courses differ from their American counterparts. The project will work with OpenStax and the Open Textbook Network to investigate whether these successful models in the U.S. can be adapted to the UK.
"The data suggests there is a great and growing need in the U.K. for more books like those published by OpenStax," said Weller, professor of educational technology at the Open University. "We'll be exploring how textbooks are chosen by U.K. instructors, what kind of messages resonate with U.K. audiences, how faculty adapt open content to meet their needs and what parts of OpenStax's process can be generalized for initiatives in other countries. This partnership will help us develop the most-effective strategies for getting resources in the hands of as many students as possible as quickly as possible."
Another early step will be identifying existing communities of U.K. academics and institutions that have already adopted open education resources (OER) like OpenStax's free textbooks. For example, OpenStax books are already used in more than 100 courses in the U.K. Williamson said early adopters will be a valuable source of feedback as the initiative looks at what U.K. instructors hope to gain from open texts.
Read more about the UK Open Textbooks initiative at http://ukopentextbooks.org/.
OpenStax is a nonprofit initiative of Rice University and is made possible by the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Ann and John Doerr, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the 20 Million Minds Foundation, the Maxfield Foundation, the Calvin K. Kanzanjian Foundation and the Leon Lowenstein Foundation. For more information, visit http://openstax.org.