08 November 2006

All the Right Connexions

Even though MIT's OpenCourseWare is better-known, Rice's Connexions programme is arguably a more innovative and thorough-going example of the open courseware concept. For a start, it's based on the open source Rhaptos sofware, whereas MIT's is proprietary. But Connexions is also going further in terms of re-inventing education.

So, as well as its open courseware, it is making materials available as print on demand books, that can be individually customised. It hopes that this move will enable it to become self-sufficient, helped along the way by another grant from the enlightened Hewlett Foundation, which is driving much of the best work in open access and open courseware:

Connexions' initial revenue streams will come from the sale of books. In one case, Connexions plans to found a University Press Consortium that allows member presses to offer print-on-demand publication of money-losing monographs that are academically important but which simply cost too much to publish. The model builds upon Rice's announcement in July that it would use Connexions to revive its own university press, which was shuttered in 1996. The reopened Rice University Press published its first title, "Art History and Its Publications in the Electronic Age," early this month (see http://cnx.org/content/col10376/1.1).


Connexions also plans to develop a catalog of the 10 most-popular community college textbooks, which also will be free for online viewing and cost less than $30 when purchased as hardbound books.


Connexions' final revenue-generating plan involves licensing its platform to companies for in-house corporate training. This model will allow companies to slash costs for updating printed materials, particularly for large product lines, and Connexions' robust translation features will allow companies to easily convert courses and texts into other languages, including Spanish, Chinese, Thai, Japanese and Italian.

Kudos to Richard Baraniuk for initiating what is proving to be a hugely ambitious project. I wish it well.

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