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Open Sourcing Textbooks

Based on legislation signed into law this week by California’s governor Jerry Brown, the state is taking the first steps toward becoming a major player in the textbook industry. And maybe changing it completely.

The new legislation encompasses two bills: One, a proposal for the state to fund 50 open-source digital textbooks, targeted to lower-division courses, which will be produced by California’s universities. (Students will be able to download these books for free or pay $20 for hard copies.) The other bill is a proposal to establish a California Digital Open Source Library to host those books.

Even better, the law requires that all “books” in the library be released under a Creative Commons license and encoded in XML, making it easy for all of the materials to be reused and repurposed by anyone.  The potential benefits to education go way beyond just saving money.

But getting the law passed was probably the easiest part of the process. It’s not likely the textbook industry will sit by and watch their hugely profitable market dry up. Expect plenty of legal challenges.

However, lawsuits aside, once this project gets rolling, we also need for some state – or maybe an overly-large school district – to begin the same process for K12.


  1. Dave

    To me, it’s completely insane that this has taken so long. This is such a perfect way for state and federal education departments to do something with a very concrete, physical outcome. Save money, improve the value of an education resource (you can write in your books now, kids!), prepare for a low-cost transition to digital materials, the authoring money goes to educators instead of marketers at textbook companies, remove the temptation/ability for textbook companies to influence legislators…there are so many wins.

  2. Eston Melton

    Looks like the Finns have a leg up on this, too: a group of teachers hammered out a textbook over a three-day hackathon (http://linja-aho.blogspot.fi/2012/09/a-group-of-finnish-math-teachers-write.html).

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