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

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the check-them-out dept.

Books 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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I want some of that action. (0)

outsider007 (115534) | more than 2 years ago | (#39964173)

This book sucked. Where's my $500?

Re:I want some of that action. (3, Informative)

bmo (77928) | more than 2 years ago | (#39964201)

You signed a form saying that you would actually review and give criticism.

Demonstrate you deserve the $500 and that you read the book or be arrested for attempted fraud.


Re:I want some of that action. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39964501)

"Demonstrate you deserve the $500 and that you read the book or be arrested for attempted fraud."

Welcome to America!

Re:I want some of that action. (1)

bmo (77928) | more than 2 years ago | (#39964621)

"Welcome to America!"

So conspiracy to fraud and fraud are not crimes outside of America? Your sneering remark, you may want to look at it again.


Re:I want some of that action. (1, Insightful)

Ironhandx (1762146) | more than 2 years ago | (#39964981)

Given what big banks and other large businesses have gotten away with in the US, it might be more accurate to say that conspiracy to fraud and fraud are not crimes /inside/ of America.

Re:I want some of that action. (1)

bmo (77928) | more than 2 years ago | (#39965163)

Well, if you're going to put it that way, then yeah, I'll agree with you, with the addendum "only little people get caught" []

What my reaction was:

We are arguing over mouldy bread and bad wine just before the French Revolution.

A friend's reaction was:

In short: contempt for rule of law and fair dealing is embedded like rebar in concrete with BigBanks. It's institutionalized sociopathy, starting at the very top. I cannot think of one exception, but I will be happy to entertain suggestions for the BigBanker Teddy Bear Award.


Re:I want some of that action. (2)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 2 years ago | (#39966057)

It depends: If you defraud big businesses, rich people, or government, you're in trouble. If you defraud people with no power inside big business or government, then you can get a cabinet post [] .

Re:I want some of that action. (1)

outsider007 (115534) | more than 2 years ago | (#39965673)

How is saying it sucked not both a review and a criticism?

it's $500 - fees (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | more than 2 years ago | (#39966507)

bank fee -10
tax at 6% -30
processing fee -10
admin fee -100
pay us to work fee -200
30% cut fee -150
AUX fee -20
500 - 500 = 0 have a nice day

At risk proposal (2, Insightful)

Grayhand (2610049) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:At risk proposal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39964249)

It is almost comical that the government cares about corporate profits, since the corporate pirates outsource their profits to tax havens. Ah, but the rich getting richer...

Re:At risk proposal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39964285)

To be fair: not consulting companies at all would also be bad, you wouldn't want them to bring in regs on software without first talking to people writing software . the problem is that they *only* consult the companies or "consult" the companies, ie let them write the legislation from start to finish.

Re:At risk proposal (-1, Flamebait)

will_die (586523) | more than 2 years ago | (#39964335)

Duh, how do you think people would be employeed or government would get taxes if corporates did not have profits?
The rest of your information is as worthless and uninformed as your understanding of economics.

Re:At risk proposal (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39964491)

Newsflash! Economics is bullshit! The whole concept of perpetual growth is flawed. The fact that some people believe in it is almost as sad as all the lemmings addicted to religion.

Re:At risk proposal (5, Insightful)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 2 years ago | (#39964605)

Duh, how do you think people would be employeed or government would get taxes if corporates did not have profits?

This may come as a shock to you, but there are many possible economic-political systems, of which rapacious corporatist plutocracy is only one.

Re:At risk proposal (4, Insightful)

azalin (67640) | more than 2 years ago | (#39964817)

No one said companies should not profit from their work. This is more along the lines of "we do not thinks your work is worth the price you charge" and or "we think we can do this a lot cheaper than you can". Like deciding you'd rather set up your own IT department instead of paying an other company to do it for. The analogy get's even closer if you get your IT department to write some software to replace one you have been paying large license fees for. Cost / benefit analysis - capitalism at it's finest.

Re:At risk proposal (2)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 2 years ago | (#39965087)

We don't have to imagine an answer to that: Look at the early northern United States, where lots of the economic activity was based around independent farmers and craftsmen.

Re:At risk proposal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39965175)

If open access textbooks were widely used, then even corporations could start to do something productive instead of rewriting the same textbooks in a slightly different manner year after year. Such an unproductive effort is in no way necessary in a capitalist system.

Re:At risk proposal (0)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | more than 2 years ago | (#39964869)

I don't have mod points, but someone needs to mod this up. The overratted mod is pattently unfair.

Re:At risk proposal (2)

Baloroth (2370816) | more than 2 years ago | (#39966361)

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 than your average university, although granted pretty much of them like to save money).

No Medicine Books Yet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39964277)

Its is nearly impossible to have a book in that field published and selling under $40. Specialty and Sub-specialty books usually sell for several hundred dollars and some above $500 each. e.g. or

What about schools? (5, Insightful)

horza (87255) | more than 2 years ago | (#39964363)

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:What about schools? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39964565)

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 decide whether or not it's working. You can't throw it through a compiler and see if it works properly.

Re:What about schools? (3, Insightful)

ThatsMyNick (2004126) | more than 2 years ago | (#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:What about schools? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39964855)

do you like the joke about $500 for knowing where to strike? All sysadmins normally do like it. Same sysadmins then go and label someone else's work as 'easy' because they know nothing about it and think it is easy.

To give you one example, in my country there are standards on what you can and cannot do in schoolbooks, including i.e. max number of letters per line. One may think that these are stupid and ignore them, but then resulting book can't be used in schools. Reason is, if these are ignored, kids will just go to sleep after reading one paragraph of your self-published text.

Art of book layout is subtle and therefore hard to understand for some people. Esp. cause best book layout is invisible - it does not get in the way of your reading. This does not mean it is easy. In fact, publishing books is unsanely hard, if done right.

Re:What about schools? (1)

jholyhead (2505574) | more than 2 years ago | (#39965625)

Doesn't justify the outrageous cost of some schoolbooks. I don't care if Johannes Gutenberg himself did the book layout, $50 - 100 per book is not a reasonable price for a high school textbook, especially when the publishers push out unnecessary updates every other year.

Re:What about schools? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39964741)

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:

Re:What about schools? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39965261)

It's not an issue of difficulty, it's an issue of having dozens of people writing the same book doesn't work. Now, if you don't mind having the inevitably variation in quality and style that you get from that fine, but it's not something that works well.

Yes, some have written them and released them for free, but who precisely is maintaining them? What's more how many is that compared with the collection of books published for profit?

Re:What about schools? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39965409)

Who, precisely, maintains the linux kernel?
You seem to think you're making killer challenges but these are non-issues. Books of a few tens of thousands of lines are a lot easier to maintain than opperating systems with millions.

a book written by a few compentent people and reviewed and edited by many more is better than one banged out by one guy. many eyes improve quality.

most for-profit maths textbooks are remarkably terrible and the selection criteria is normally equally terrible(so much so that blank books are considerered average).

have you by chance ever read Feynmans "Judging Books by Their Covers"?

Re:What about schools? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39978027)

If they're non-issues then why wasn't this done years ago? Why is it that we have Linux, *BSD and all the others when the number of open and free textbooks is pretty much non-existent? If it's so easy to write a textbook, why don't you?

What's more you seem to be forgetting that Linux has paid contributors, *BSD has paid contributors, most major software projects have paid contributors. Hence the original question of where the money comes form. Because without money you only get the fun and interesting parts dealt with.

Re:What about schools? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39964865)

Great question. So far, the only model that seems viable is Flat World Knowledge - a commercial Open textbook publisher. Everyone else is on the Foundation tit. To date, almost a few hundred million have been spent by foundations on Open textbooks, with pretty poor results. They could have started up a serious publishing company with that kind of money.

Re:What about schools? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39965353)

I teach and there's a fair amount of material that's provided in a sort of creative commons way because we don't have a huge amount of money to spend on materials. Basically a many hands makes a light load deal. But a text book is quite a bit different from a single lesson plan or even a curriculum. It requires a lot more focused attention, which isn't something that crowd sourcing is generally good at.

Re:What about schools? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39969359)

Nice try, Flat World Knowledge.

Re:What about schools? (3, Interesting)

Shavano (2541114) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:What about schools? (4, Informative)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 2 years ago | (#39965293)

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.

Re:What about schools? (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 2 years ago | (#39967383)

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.

Re:What about schools? (1)

rwv (1636355) | more than 2 years ago | (#39970121)

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 ones at the higher end of the learning spectrum. You gotta keep the kids focused. Small class sizes help with this. Low faculty to student ratios help with this. But if 500 students are being taught by a staff of 100 educators its going to be more expensive than if that same group of students were being taught by 90 educators. Ten people times $30k is a lot bigger deal than buying 500 new books at $100/each every year ($300k vs $50k -- though these are admittedly fabricated numbers).

You also gotta deal with parents/guardians. There are districts where kids have absentee parents and districts where parents are involved in the education process to the point that they make teachers' lives harder.

All else being equal, though, the "public school" system seems to succeed because it is one system where disadvantaged children are given opportunities comparable to their wealthier neighbors. Local, state, and federal dollars seem to be able to fund a "better" solution than these children would get from a "private school" system funded by their financially-challenged parents. What I don't like about the over-arching complaint about "Government corruption" is that it government-funded public education system takes the moral high-ground by attempting to give poor kids a fighting chance while the competing "private school" solution is inherently corrupt because its expense excludes children from poor families.

Having said all that... someday I think text-books will be free and "private" educators will be able to interact with many students at a time so that the cost of "public school teachers" will be higher than the cost of a high-quality private education. I'm not sure how this will happen because it's really tough to envision what techniques are needed so 100 students can be successfully managed by a single teacher (without a significant portion of them failing badly). I think having a lot of stay-at-home moms and dads is a key to this. But yeah... complaints about corruption are a distraction from the real issues that funding public education is an extremely complex undertaking.

Re:What about schools? (1)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 2 years ago | (#39987293)

>>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 quality and shrillness of political discourse in the US right now.

FAILZOrS.. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39964673)

FreeBSD ycontinues corporations told r3porters, may be hurting 'doing something' BitTorrent) Second,

Textbooks are Buggy Whips (2)

retroworks (652802) | more than 2 years ago | (#39965325)

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.

Re:Textbooks are Buggy Whips (1)

sir-gold (949031) | more than 2 years ago | (#39974019)

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.

"same quality control"?!? (4, Interesting)

djchristensen (472087) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:"same quality control"?!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39966305)

You might be interested in this,
as might others, since as one of the largest single purchasers Texas effects the contents of textbooks brought across America
if you are not sickened by the politics you will be....

Re:"same quality control"?!? (1)

twistedcubic (577194) | more than 2 years ago | (#39966467)

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.

Re:"same quality control"?!? (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 2 years ago | (#39970829)

" 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 nothing but spelling/grammar/sanity checking.

In addition, Wikipedia is the last model in the world you should follow. It's insanely easy to corrupt or otherwise devalue, and it takes an extremely large number of man-hours to get action against a single non-blatant vandalizer or targeted article. It's the honor system, except it's a huge burden on those wishing to follow the rules, and no consequences for violators... It's sorta like communism that way. It just can't hold up under its own weight in the real world.

Re:"same quality control"?!? (1)

sir-gold (949031) | more than 2 years ago | (#39974065)

... 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.

Re:"same quality control"?!? (1)

djchristensen (472087) | more than 2 years ago | (#39975209)

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.

Open and Viable educational resources (1)

starseeker (141897) | more than 2 years ago | (#39966181)

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 interesting ideas for open source textbooks that can be tried. I like the idea of developing a K-12 and college educational plans in an "open source" fashion, identifying the resources needed, and mapping out the missing pieces as a guide for where to concentrate efforts to create open source teaching materials. I suppose there is only so much you can do to "solve" the problem of what constitutes good teaching materials, since that will vary with learning style, cultural and linguistic background, etc. but it would be nice to have a systematic framework and forum within which to try, evaluate, and evolve ideas. It will be interesting to see whether, as open source devs age and start having families, interest in open source educational materials also grows - that's when the question becomes directly relevant and worthy of resource commitment for a lot of people.

Ideally, open source materials could be managed for "dependency satisfaction" - i.e. mastery of the material in grade 6 materials associated with a project provides the necessary and sufficient foundation to learn grade 7 materials, and so on. That was sometimes a frustration for me growing up - structured resources with fine-grained pointers like "understanding of this concept requires understanding of X, Y and Z" from previous years would have been nice. Sort of "knowledge building a.l.a math proof."

Feynman on textbook quality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39966407)

yuo 7Ail it (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39966493)

dying' crow3 - []

Open source textbooks get lots of resistance (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39966605)

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 biggest individual thing preventing us from innovating when it comes to teaching. For example, I've always had trouble to learn exact definitions, so my solution has been to plug them into a flashcard program like Anki, Mnemosyne etc. Having the source code, it would be extremely easy to parse it for \begin \end tags for the definition environment and so turn this into an automated process. Typing stuff into these programs actually take lots of time.

I'm sure that other people would find similar transformations of the textbook to be useful for their individual methods of learning. Since, I never see the LaTeX code published online ever for any lecture notes on course websites, I wonder why fellow people in academia does not value this?

good resource (1)

Quirkz (1206400) | more than 2 years ago | (#39967439)

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.

Well, at least they will produce an index. (1)

rusty0101 (565565) | more than 2 years ago | (#39976979)

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 the time needed to review the books. Unless they are getting publish credit for the review, their time is almost completely committed to the publish or perish grind.

At the very least though, compiling a collection of text books that state school boards can look to and see what offerings are available, and compare them with the texts that they can allocate funds from their budgets for (meaning that their budgets do get to keep growing, when the idea of the Open Textbook is to save the community money) them to justify their position. And it's not like the publishers of the Open Textbooks are going to bey plying those board members to get them to commit to using the Open Textbooks as the commercial textbook publishers will.

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