31 January 2009

Flatworld: Open Textbooks

Flatworld, a open textbook publishing company, has finally come out of private beta. Here's what makes it different:

We preserve the best of the old - books by leading experts, rigorously reviewed and developed to the highest standards. Then we flip it all on its head.

Our books are free online. We offer convenient, low-cost choices for students – softcovers for under $30, audio books and chapters, self-print options, and more. Our books are open for instructors to modify and make their own (for their own course - not for anybody else's). Our books are the hub of a social learning network where students learn from the book and each other.

Flat World Knowledge. Because great minds are evenly distributed. Great textbooks are not. Until Now.

This isn't entirely new - for example, Rice University is doing something similar with its opencourseware - but it's probably the first time it's been made the basis of a startup.

Of course, the approach is eminently sensible: you give away what's abundant, and sell what's scarce. You create communities around learning, including teachers and students. And, crucially, you let people build on the work of others to improve existing texts - all of which are/seem to be under a Creative Commons licence:

Is the book close to what you need, but not perfect? Now you can make it perfect for you. You can customize your book before you adopt it, or anytime afterward. Think of it as your book – you’re in control and you can modify what you want, when you want.

You will find “Customize This Book” links on the catalog page and on every book page. Click and we load the book you are looking at into our “Build-a-Book” platform (you’ll need to register to do this – we need to save your work somewhere). You can click and drag chapters and sections into a better order that's right for you. Change the order of chapters or sections - or delete them altogether. Beginning Summer 09, you can add large chunks of information like a case study or an exercise set. You can search our database for material and add that. You can click the pencil icon and load that section of the book into our online editor, and actually make changes at the sentence level. Do you now have the perfect text? Great. Click “Save” and we’ll give you a unique URL, and put it in your “My(flat)World” page.

It's too early to tell how this particular implementation will do, but I am absolutely convinced this open textbook approach will do to academic publishing what open source has done to software.

No comments: