Open Textbooks


The promise of open textbooks has been around for a while now. The promise includes textbooks that are written specifically for the needs of K-12. These books would also be available at either no cost or a very low cost (if printed). These books would leverage the contributions of great teachers around the country (or world). By everyone doing a little, great work would be available. These resources are frequently referred to as OER (Open Educational Resources).

There has been some work done. College seems to be ahead of K-12 so far. (Though given what my daughters paid for textbooks over the past five years, open textbooks are definitely not the norm). In 2013, the Affordable College Textbook Act was introduced in Congress (the last action was referred to committee in November of 2013). Even though that bill hasn’t been passed into law, there are at least some options available for colleges to use. Below are some examples of college focused open textbooks resources:


There really is basically one big player in the K-12 arena:

California and Utah did both start initiatives around 2012-2013 to bring open textbooks to their students. The Utah Open Textbook Project seems to have fizzled out around 2013 ( the latest post on the web site). Utah also has an Utah Education Network with some references to open textbooks, but these seem to all be dated 2013 as well. California was working on an open textbook initiative in the 2013 year as well. However, there doesn’t seem to be any real movement since 2013. The California Open Source Textbook Project doesn’t really have any dates on the web site, but seems to have last been updated in 2013. There are no downloads available on their site. (California does seem to have continued to work on open textbooks at the college level. MERLOTx has links to open textbooks and was last updated in 2014. California has established the California Learning Resource Network, but this seems to have a different function. A quick search provided links to resources that required a subscription.

I’ve been following open textbooks for several years now. I really did believe that we were on the right track around 2013. I was waiting and hoping that we’d see some real movement. I was hoping that we’d see some people in power take the reins and truly provide some leadership to change things up.

David Johnson over at The Michigan Open Book Project has seen much more success. He has worked through the 22i TRIG program to garner the funding to create open source textbooks. So far, they have written and published four textbooks:

  • Fourth Grade
  • Fifth Grade
  • Sixth Grade
  • Economics

These have been paid for using State grant money. There is a plan and some funding in place to continue developing additional books. This is a great start.

So, what is the future? How can we restart these initiatives? I still believe that this could be very powerful. Open source textbooks could provide even better resources at a much cheaper price. Note that open source textbooks don’t have to be all digital. Utah was able to print their open source textbooks at under $5 each.

We need some leaders to make this a priority. This would work best at a state or county level. We need some economy of scale. If a county would get together and charge each district one dollar per student, then that money could be leveraged to provide open source textbooks at a reduced cost. Recently retired teachers could be employed using that money to produce the textbooks. Or, districts could utilize teachers who are released for one hour a day to work on textbooks. This is not an unsolvable problem. The economics can work out to save districts money immediately and long term.

We just need some leadership. A couple of states started. Let’s get back on track.