Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Inside Higher Ed > Free, Unless You Want to Pay

December 4, 2012 - 3:00am / Alexandra Tilsley

OpenStax College, the nonprofit, open-access publisher out of Rice University, announced the launch of its first iBook text Monday, becoming the latest publisher to try to make the free-with-paid-options model sustainable. The interactive, iPad-based version of OpenStax’s free-to-read online College Physics text is available through iTunes for $4.99.

OpenStax, which launched earlier this year, is one of several publishers trying to combat the “access gap,” as founder and director Richard Baraniuk calls it. “In part of because of rapidly rising textbook costs, student debt is at an all-time high, and students in some cases are having to drop out of college because the combined effect of the learning materials’ cost and tuition is becoming prohibitive,” Baraniuk said. OpenStax draws from expert-generated, peer-reviewed content to create its free online texts, which cover a variety of introductory college courses. Two online-only textbooks have been published so far, with three more on the way, and the goal is to eventually offer texts for the 25 most popular college courses.

Though access to the online text is free to students, OpenStax also offers extras that students or universities can purchase, such as online tutorial programs, like Sapling Learning and WebAssign, or web-based tutoring services. An instructor could, for example, assign OpenStax’s free textbook and then ask students to submit homework through WebAssign, which charges between $20 and $25 per student per semester – still cheaper than the cost of an average physics textbook, which runs from about $80 to more than $200.

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