Richard Baraniuk of Connexions on Open Source Learning and Textbooks

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TED Talks: Richard Baraniuk: Goodbye, textbooks; hello, open-source learning

Strongly recommended and enthusiastic presentation on open sourcing textbooks.

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"Engineering professor Richard Baraniuk talks about his vision for Connexions, an open-source system that lets teachers share digital texts and course materials, modify them and give them to their students -- all free."

"Dr. Baraniuk describes our current educational climate, in relation to learning resources, as a one-way relationship. The authors of text books often have no, or very little, interaction with the students or instructors who use these books during their studies. Baraniuk would have us imagine Open-Source Learning to be a institution where an open relationship exists, where instructors, other authors, experts and anyone else who wishes to add to the body of knowledge on a given topic is free to do so. This system has a multitude of advantages, such as the creation of “Super Textbooks” where instructors would be able to pick and choose as they see fit, essentially producing a custom tailored textbook for their course. Also, instead of a new edition of a book being released on the order of every two or three years (often longer) a new edition on any topic would become available on the order of every twenty to thirty seconds. That said, students and the academic community would consistently find themselves on the cutting edge of knowledge. Additionally, as these “Super Textbooks” are digital, through new innovations they would become interactive, allowing students not just to see, but to do.

While there are many other advantages, the final one pointed out by Dr. Baraniuk which I will discuss here is the issue of textbook cost. Taking precedence from my personal experience, a textbook for an introductory course may cost up to $170 (this has been the upper limit in cost I have enjoyed for a first year course). Now, in a course, which is not my major, this situation provides a very difficult Visa slip to sign. Imagine now, if instead of $170, I could have bought my book (remember, that this book would consist of the absolute most recent knowledge in the subject and be custom tailored to fit my Professors teaching objectives) for $20; cost reflecting only the production and distribution cost. At $20, the reach of this book has been dramatically increased to included a vast population who’s pursuit of knowledge had been previously curtailed by fiscal limitations. This is the power of Open-Source Learning. Dr. Baraniuk goes into some detail explaining why this is the case." (