14 July 2006

Making All the Right Connexions

A couple of months back I had the pleasure of interviewing Richard Baraniuk for an article about open content for LWN.net. As I wrote then:

Just as open source avoids re-inventing the wheel by building on existing code, so open courseware aims to save time, effort and money by making educational material freely available for others to re-use, extend and improve.

The first such project, Connexions, came from Rice University. It was the brainchild of Richard Baraniuk, professor of electrical engineering, who was directly inspired by the example of open source. Connexions uses a content creation platform called Rhaptos, which is released under the GNU GPL.

Connexions is a fascinating exercise in re-inventing university course materials, but Baraniuk told me that they were planning to go even further. Now Rice has announced that it is to use print-on-demand technologies to produce academic textbooks in a completely new way. As the press release explains:

Rice University's innovative Connexions today announced an on-demand printing agreement with QOOP Inc. that will allow students and instructors anywhere in the world to order high-quality, hardbound textbooks from Connexions - in most cases for less than $25.

The deal positions Connexions to take the lead in open-source textbook publishing as soon as it completes software needed to feed each of its titles to QOOP's on-demand publishing platform. Connexions plans to offer more than 100 titles for online purchase by year's end.

"From its inception, Connexions has used the Web to go beyond print," said Connexions founder Richard Baraniuk. "Connexions lets pupils and instructors make cross-disciplinary intellectual leaps with a simple mouse click, following knowledge wherever learning takes them.

"But being Web-based is also about access, and because our materials are freely available to everyone, we needed an easy, low-cost way to let people use a book if that's the medium they are most comfortable learning from," said Baraniuk, the Victor C. Cameron Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering.

QOOP's on-demand service will allow Connexions users to order customized course guides and a variety of fully developed Connexions textbooks. Standard paperbacks will take just 3-5 days to produce and ship, and traditional hardbacks will take about a week to produce. QOOP ships directly to customers.

No other publisher of open-source educational content can match Connexions offerings. This is partly due to Connexions early adoption of Creative Commons open licenses. Because all content on the site is authored under these licenses, there are no copyright conflicts to negotiate.

Open content, open source - sounds like all the right connexions are being made.

No comments: