A different textbook for every student

A different textbook for every student

UBTech open keynote speaker Richard Baraniuk, of Rice University, discusses free, high-quality textbooks for college courses
Richard Baraniuk talked about how free, digital textbooks are created in his open keynote at UBTech. (Photo: David Bergeland)

UBTech open keynote speaker Richard Baraniuk, of Rice University, talked to a full house about an initiative to create a library of free, high-quality textbooks for college courses and how that can impact the debt crisis facing students. His organization, OpenStax, has—at a cost of about $1 million each—published a series of free, peer-reviewed open-source books for many of the most popular courses, such as biology, sociology and physics.

"Think about a world where everyone has universal and free access to super-high-quality education,” Baraniuk said in the speech entitled “Disruptive Innovation With Open Education.”

Baraniuk called rising student debt a crisis that will damage the U.S. economy when graduates can no longer afford to buy homes or start small businesses. The rising costs of textbooks is a major contributor to debt that has surpassed $1 trillion.

“The problem with student debt is it is literally changing way students act and think and how they will act and think in the future,” he said. “If we continue on this rapid increase in the cost of materials, we’re going to be pricing students out of going to college.” OpenStax’s books have been adopted by about 120,000 students at 700 institutions. That represents a savings of about $12 million. OpenStax also has developed a textbook editor so the textbooks can be customized by instructors.

"Why can’t we create a different textbook for every student?" Baraniuk said.

He called the development of open-source materials the “Craig’s List-ization” of education, in which the “middle man” is being cut out being content creators and students.


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