The past few years have seen a shift from print to digital textbooks. However, a new alternative -- the latest development to hit the textbook industry -- is receiving attention from professors seeking alternatives to the typical e-textbook.
According to a press releases issued by The Student PIRG's — Student Action For The Future — "Open source textbooks, which are commonly hailed as the ‘the next step,' will be used in hundreds of new classrooms starting this fall."
Open source textbooks, which are accessible online to students and faculty for free, are now used by professors throughout the country as well as a few at Baruch, who are using the open source textbook provider Flat World Knowledge.
Flat World Knowledge utilizes an alternative to the one-size-fits-all approach, driven by technology, and boasts to proffer "convenient options," which extend beyond its free online version.
They can opt to purchase a regular soft cover copy for $29, a color copy for $59, printable PDF copies for $1.99 a chapter, or a digital version - for an e-reader - for $25.
Students may also download an audio version and can utilize "mp3 study guides, mobile flash cards, and online practice quizzes with feedback," according to the company's website.
"The notion of having a free version and having a range of formats available is a radically different set of choices," said Eric Frank, CEO of World Flat Knowledge.
The company conveys that they promote social learning since students can view a Q&A section to see if their questions concerning the material have been addressed.
Baruch Professor Kannan Mohan, who teaches a graduate level course in CIS 9000 Information Systems for Managers, took into account sustainability and students saving money, when he decided to use Flat World Knowledge. "E-books appeal to me as a sustainable alternative to physical printed ones," Mohan said.
Professor Nanda Kumar, who also teaches CIS 9000, says he selected the provider because of its quality, multiple options, content publishing model, long-term sustainability, and that students can access the text wherever they go.
He expecially likes being able to read the material online. "Even though I have a copy of the book, I read it online," Kumar said.
Both professors concurred that the ability to edit the material is well received. Because of the ‘creative commons' open license feature, instructors can delete whole chapters and annotate the book to their liking.
Mohan believes it is counter-intuitive to purchase a textbook for $100 to $120 and not use all of it. Since most textbooks are geared for three credit courses, Mohan considers customization a useful option for when CIS 9000 is reduced from a three credit course to a 1.5 credit course. "Such an option [...] allows faculty to customize what we want to deliver to students," he said.
As experts in their field, professors have a difficult time finding the right book for their course. "Probably all professors think there is no perfect book," he said.
Although some may object to professors having the right to edit a book, Frank explained why Flat World Knowledge allows this form of expression to faculty. "Professors have [the] academic freedom to say what they want to say [...] That diversity of opinions makes the higher education system great."
So far, there have been no complaints from Mohan or Kumar's students. Kumar says that within a few weeks he will have his students fill out evaluations of the course and the text. Then he will have a better understanding of how they are liking it.
Of Mohan's class, 52.17 percent read the book online for free, 36.96 percent bought the physical copy, and 10.87 percent purchased and printed out PDFs of selected chapters, according to his data.
Mohan did note an incident in the beginning of the semester when the website was down for a few hours. As with any online source, there is always the possibility of a glitch, however, keeping that in mind, Mohan suggests doing readings in timely manner.
Since there are several options available and since students may utilize more than one, they can use another medium as a back-up plan in the even of a malfunction.
Considering the accessible alternatives, some might consider this service to be revolutionary, however Frank believes, "Its a pretty simple concept [...] giving control back to the consumer."