Carpe Diem

Update on Boundless Learning, and the ‘open educational resources’ movement, which could upend textbook publishers

I’ve written before about Boundless Learning (see posts here and here), which is at the forefront of the “open educational resources” movement that is challenging the textbook cartel by providing low-cost or free content online as an alternative to $100-300 college textbooks.  Here’s an update from Tech Crunch:

Boundless has been met with a number of lawsuits from top textbook publishers and is currently trying to resolve these differences in court. But, in the meantime, it’s pressing on and is today officially adding a familiar name — some legitimacy — to its open textbooks through Creative Commons.

The startup has released 18 open textbooks that features content licensed by Creative Commons, under the very same license used by Wikipedia, in fact. The 18 textbooks cover college subjects that range from accounting and biology to sociology and economics, and with content now licensed under Creative Commons, Boundless is assuaging some of the concern that teachers might feel over using open textbooks — as compared to the more “trusted” (or controlled) content from the familiar names.

Here’s a list of the new Boundless textbook collection. Here are the Table of Contents for 29 chapters of Principles of Economics material, with content from government resources, open educational repositories, and other openly licensed websites. The free online content contained in the 29 chapters has been be re-organized by Boundless to provide an alternative textbook to best-selling textbooks by Greg Mankiw (Principles of Micro and Principles of Marco). For finance, 21 chapters of free, online content can be used as alternatives to best-selling Principles of Finance texts by Stephen Ross and Eugene Brigham.

How will Boundless make money from its free online content?  According to Tech Crunch, “To monetize, Boundless will likely turn this into a freemium model, adding optional premium features on its own platform and in its textbooks, which will help students study more effectively (get smarter, etc etc.) and will be available for a cost.”

Q: Could the Boundless model have the same effect on traditional textbook publishers as Wikipedia had on encyclopedia publishers? It’s looking more likely all the time, at least for many of the “principles” level textbooks.

28 thoughts on “Update on Boundless Learning, and the ‘open educational resources’ movement, which could upend textbook publishers

    • See what great innovation happens when businesses compete for education dollars?

      Such a learning system might even address the glaring failures you envision due to students moving from one school district to another. Your concern about teachers having to spend extra time with a transferred student is eliminated. Every student could have their own teacher, so to speak.

      • re: ” Every student could have their own teacher, so to speak.”

        and I totally support it as well as virtual online schools that would offer the same capability.

        it could be especially helpful to a teacher who has a class with 3/4 on grade level and 1/4 behind – and the 1/4 behind in different areas.

        this could help that.

        as a teaching tool – it would need to capture the students performance and transmit results to the teacher so she/he can follow the progress or get more help if the online is not working as well as it should.

        some kids learn better with a human teacher. Others do fine online.

        we may actually agree on some things.

        • as a teaching tool – it would need to capture the students performance and transmit results to the teacher so she/he can follow the progress or get more help if the online is not working as well as it should.

          Of course you don’t need a teacher for that, only an administrator with access to online support, and perhaps addition and remedial material.

          • Mom, Dad, administrator, teaching assistant, tutors, online chat, Skype – there’s lots of human help.

            You must be unaware of how tech savvy kids are these days, and how well they function in an electronic world.

            For those few who need their hand held every day, a few actual teachers might be retained, but only the best ones. Perhaps a single “special needs” school in each district.

          • it’s not the elementary schools that are the big cost.

            It’s the high schools.

            Young children in K 1-3 need human teachers, believe me.

            the schools in Europe and Japan that clean our clocks have real teachers in K1-6 –

            locally, we are starting to see IPADs and tablets in K1-3..but the real holdup is good software… like the kind discussed in the WSj article.

            Much of the consumer software you see is not sufficient for comprehensive early learning.

          • it’s not the elementary schools that are the big cost.

            It’s the high schools.

            And high schools are exactly where fewer adult humans are needed. By high school, we might expect students to be able to work well on their own. They can learn at home, at the park, at the library, just about anywhere.

        • In fact there’s no reason for students to travel to school each day for a fixed amount of time. Billions could be saved in education and far fewer teachers would be needed. For that reason I know that nothing much will come of this as teacher’s unions won’t allow it.

          • not the unions you have to worry about. It’s the parents. they WANT the schools and all the amenities they offer.

            Most schools are funded primarily locally – and in places like NoVa – 12K per student is what it takes to provide all the things that parents want for their kids.

            it’s much more than mere “academic instruction”

          • That’s nonsense. The parents have no choice – we’ve been over that. Parents don’t choose the school their kids go to and don’t pay directly, so they aren’t the customer. Of course the parents ask for a lot, because they don’t pay directly for it.

            Do you seriously believe the teachers unions would be OK with drastically reducing the number of teachers working in schools? . Remember Wisconsin? New Jersey? They went insane over suggestions they should pay a little more for their medical and retirements benefits.

            They left their little charges with no schooling at all while they stormed the capitals. What do YOU think their priorities are? It’s not the kids.

            A buffet style education package would work just fine. A basic curriculum – $x. Add band for Y dollars more. art classes? music? sports? field trips? GATE programs? Whatever individual parents want to buy for their kids. What could be better?

            User pays, Larry. It always works best.

          • you keep forgetting – parents are not the only ones who fund education.

            Non-parents who fund education have skin in the game also.

            re: teacher’s unions – get serious – half the country does not have teachers unions.

            education employment will inevitably get cut but much of it will phase out through attrition. There is no need for blood.

            teachers priorities not kids? maybe .. but if you actually know some teachers, you’ll know how involved they do get with the kids…

            I’m all for change… competition and user-pays.

            I think anything over and above core-academic is parents responsibility.

          • you keep forgetting – parents are not the only ones who fund education.

            Non-parents who fund education have skin in the game also.

            That’s what I said. Parents don’t pay directly for what they get, so of course they want as much as they can get for the same price. Nothing surprising about that.

            re: teacher’s unions – get serious – half the country does not have teachers unions.

            That’s not true. Maybe you meant to write that not all teachers are unionized. The NEA is a statewide organization in your state.

            In any case, those who aren’t unionized should be easy to get rid of.

            education employment will inevitably get cut but much of it will phase out through attrition. There is no need for blood.

            That’s nice, but when teachers – or anyone else – makes their labor a commodity by unionizing, there is little reason to be sympathetic when that commodity is reduced by the business that uses it. Especially those who would rather protest in the State Capital than show up at school to teach their students. Eff ‘em, I say.

            teachers priorities not kids? maybe .. but if you actually know some teachers, you’ll know how involved they do get with the kids…

            I know some teachers who, in my opinion, care deeply about their students, and about teaching those little minds to think critically and logically and to be curiose and love learning for its own sake. Those teachers I would keep at any cost.

            Others I wouldn’t let tie my shoes. Those would be gone in a heartbeat.

            I’m all for change… competition and user-pays.

            I think anything over and above core-academic is parents responsibility.

            Wow! That’s sure different from what you wrote before.

          • “That’s not true. Maybe you meant to write that not all teachers are unionized. The NEA is a statewide organization in your state.”

            no unions guy. no strikes… they can meet and discuss and that’s about it.

            “In any case, those who aren’t unionized should be easy to get rid of.”

            they are… but you still have to have justification.

            “education employment will inevitably get cut but much of it will phase out through attrition. There is no need for blood.”

            “That’s nice, but when teachers – or anyone else – makes their labor a commodity by unionizing, there is little reason to be sympathetic when that commodity is reduced by the business that uses it. Especially those who would rather protest in the State Capital than show up at school to teach their students. Eff ‘em, I say.”

            it’s not the teachers. they basically do what they’re told and 1/2 of them are gone at the end of 5 years anyhow.
            they pretty much self-select out of the business. It’s not for folks who don’t want to work 8-6.

            “teachers priorities not kids? maybe .. but if you actually know some teachers, you’ll know how involved they do get with the kids…”

            I know some teachers who, in my opinion, care deeply about their students, and about teaching those little minds to think critically and logically and to be curiose and love learning for its own sake. Those teachers I would keep at any cost.”

            the trick is how do you quantify it ….. how do you recognize “motivation” and reward it?

            “Others I wouldn’t let tie my shoes. Those would be gone in a heartbeat.”

            “I’m all for change… competition and user-pays.

            I think anything over and above core-academic is parents responsibility.”

            Wow! That’s sure different from what you wrote before

            no it’s not. you boys are so busy attacking me for what you think I support you never take the time to really find out.

            you should have had a clue when I told you long ago I support tolling of roads.

            I’m totally into user-pays across the board but unlike some, I’m not virulently anti-govt.

          • they are… but you still have to have justification.

            How about “we don’t need you anymore”?

            the trick is how do you quantify it ….. how do you recognize “motivation” and reward it?

            It can’t be quantified, and that’s not necessary.

            “I’m all for change… competition and user-pays.

            Bullshit. You are all in favor of taxpayer supported public education – entirely uniform one-size-fits-all education at that.

            I think anything over and above core-academic is parents responsibility.

            Good – that’s an improvement. But aren’t you worried that the rich will get better educations because they can afford to spend more?

            Wow! That’s sure different from what you wrote before

            no it’s not. you boys are so busy attacking me for what you think I support you never take the time to really find out.

            You have continually claimed to support government regulation of every possible activity, interference in markets, tyranny of the majority, and taxes to fund every imaginable need. What don’t people understand, Larry?

            I’m totally into user-pays across the board but unlike some, I’m not virulently anti-govt.

            So you are opposed to taxation? People should choose to pay for what they want, and not be told by government what they must pay for?

          • re: “we don’t need you anymore”

            whatever snaps your socks… but changes are not happening that quickly and attrition works …

            re: taxpayer supported education –

            yes I am – on the same scope and scale that other OCED countries do.

            One of the main differences between advanced countries and 3rd world is literacy.

            re: govt regulation – I understand why we have it and I am pragmatic about why it won’t be gotten rid of easily.

            regulation of often protection of property rights.

            I’m not anti-govt nor anti-tax per se.

            and if there are countries in the world that out-compete us by using more libertarianism – then we should adopt it and if we can use it as an advantage then we should adopt it first.

            but basically Libertarianism and representative govt are not very compatible as you know.

          • 1. “I’m totally into user-pays across the board but unlike some, I’m not virulently anti-govt.

            2. “re: taxpayer supported education –

            yes I am – on the same scope and scale that other OCED countries do.

            you cannot be in favor of both. One of those statements is a lie. Which is it?

            I can’t wait to see what bullshit you’ll use to try to squirm out of that direct contradiction.

          • 1. “I’m totally into user-pays across the board but unlike some, I’m not virulently anti-govt.”

            2. “re: taxpayer supported education –

            yes I am – on the same scope and scale that other OCED countries do.”

            you cannot be in favor of both. One of those statements is a lie. Which is it?

            I can’t wait to see what bullshit you’ll use to try to squirm out of that direct contradiction.”

            there is no contradiction, no lie.

            I favor tax-payer supported core academic education and user-pays for non-core academic education – which is how much of Europe and Japan work – and the reason why it costs less to education over there and at the same time they beat us academically.

            A fundamental difference between a modern industrialized country and a 3rd world country is public education.

            I’ve asked you many times to show me some countries that that do taxation – for purposes like this – i.e. the Libertarian version of user-pays – EVERYTHING and you have no countries to show – only theories.

            core academic education is a key enabler of advanced countries – there are no advanced countries that don’t do this.

          • So you don’t really believe this:

            1. “I’m totally into user-pays across the board…

            Across the board means across the board.

            there is no contradiction, no lie.

            THAT’S a lie.

            You don’t even know what you’re writing!

            I favor tax-payer supported core academic education and user-pays for non-core academic education – which is how much of Europe and Japan work – and the reason why it costs less to education over there and at the same time they beat us academically.

            Does that tell you that when parents have more choice their kids do better?

            And if most of Europe and Japan is “cleaning our clocks” academically why is the US the richest most prosperous large country in the world? Go figure.

            A fundamental difference between a modern industrialized country and a 3rd world country is public education.

            You appear to have no clue about third world countries. Most third world countries have public education, often aided by various UN organizations, but it is such a joke that some of the poorest people on earth pay for private education for their kids.

            If you’re really interested in your OWN education you might consider reading this book.

            1. “I’ve asked you many times to show me some countries that that do taxation – for purposes like this – i.e. the Libertarian version of user-pays – EVERYTHING and you have no countries to show – only theories.

            2. “core academic education is a key enabler of advanced countries – there are no advanced countries that don’t do this.

            Your continual appeal to practice is meaningless.

          • So you don’t really believe this:

            1. “I’m totally into user-pays across the board…

            Across the board means across the board.

            “there is no contradiction, no lie.”

            THAT’S a lie.

            You don’t even know what you’re writing!

            I do know. You live in a binary world. The real world is not binary.

            no country in the world becomes a modern economic power if their citizenry is illiterate. There are no countries in the world that have taxpayer-funded education that are illiterate. The only countries in the world that have significant literacy deficits are 3rd world.

            In your world – you call this reality – a “lie”.

            “I favor tax-payer supported core academic education and user-pays for non-core academic education – which is how much of Europe and Japan work – and the reason why it costs less to education over there and at the same time they beat us academically.”

            Does that tell you that when parents have more choice their kids do better?”

            no it does not. Have you considered how this works in 3rd world countries?

            “And if most of Europe and Japan is “cleaning our clocks” academically why is the US the richest most prosperous large country in the world? Go figure.”

            maybe for you. many others know why.

            “A fundamental difference between a modern industrialized country and a 3rd world country is public education.”

            You appear to have no clue about third world countries. Most third world countries have public education, often aided by various UN organizations, but it is such a joke that some of the poorest people on earth pay for private education for their kids.

            it does not work successfully in 3rd world countries for the most part because it’s not a full-fledged K-12 system with standards comparable to the rest of the world.

            “If you’re really interested in your OWN education you might consider reading this book.”

            go suck a nut boy.. you don’t know what the hell you are talking about – you are so blinded by ideology you are incapable of even admitting the realities.

            1. “I’ve asked you many times to show me some countries that that do taxation – for purposes like this – i.e. the Libertarian version of user-pays – EVERYTHING and you have no countries to show – only theories.”

            2. “core academic education is a key enabler of advanced countries – there are no advanced countries that don’t do this.”

            Your continual appeal to practice is meaningless.

            it’s an appeal to the real world – and not blind ideology.

            you cling to theories of which there are no practical examples.

            that’s not arguing “practice”. that’s delusional.

            your theories do not exist in the real world guy.

          • I do know. You live in a binary world. The real world is not binary.

            Jeez. “I’m totally into user pays across the board.” And “I favor taxpayer supported education.” are pretty clear concepts and neither can be included in the other.

            no country in the world…

            Lots more blah blah blah drivel.

            Congratulation, Larry, You have batted 1000 with this comment in not actually addressing even one of the quotes you responded to. How do you do it?

  1. I don’t know about college textbooks but I’m sure my 60 year old high school algebra and geometry books could be used today at great advantage.

    With regards to economic texts there need to be two categories: 1) for future economists and 2) for general purpose. But all the students get is Mankiw, et al (does Samuelson’s book still sell?) giving us dense crap that even business people never need. Six weeks of economics is enough for all non-economics majors. Throw in two weeks of accounting and you’ll be done.

    Plus, do away with foreign language requirements in high school and college.

  2. Yes textbooks are ridiculously expensive but E-books and crowd-sourced books are the wrong solution. Not E-books because there’s nothing like writing in your book to promote active learning (I don’t mean mindless highlighting, I mean scrawling comments in the margins). Not crowd-sourced books because (judging from Wikipedia) they aren’t going to provide the kind of coherency you find in a book–not any book of course, a *good* book–written by one guy.

    The right solution to over-priced textbooks is still books. For one thing, professors could make it clear that earlier editions of that $240 first-year French book (yes, that’s the price at UC Berkeley) would be fine; the French language hasn’t changed all that much in the last four years! Neither has calculus changed, nor economics (at the undergraduate level).

    For another, professors could assign cheaper (and smaller and lighter) books. The best books aren’t textbooks anyway; instead of a committee-designed history of the USA with twenty colors of ink, a dozen pictures on every page, and compliancy with the very latest dispensation about politically correct language, assign a few of the hundreds of high-quality trade paperbacks that are in print. Instead of that $240 French book, assign a two-ounce reference grammar and a book of readings, or a compact all-in-one book made for self-learners like Random Houses’ _Living Language French_.

    These alternatives I’ve suggested aren’t just cheaper; they’re actually better than the typical late-model official textbook. Textbooks were, long ago, treatises that could engage a curious non-student: look, for example, at the first edition of Samuelson’s economics. Since then textbooks have evolved, perversely, into something that can *only* be sold to a student who finds himself under some pressure to buy.

    • Theodore

      Yes textbooks are ridiculously expensive but E-books and crowd-sourced books are the wrong solution. Not E-books because there’s nothing like writing in your book to promote active learning (I don’t mean mindless highlighting, I mean scrawling comments in the margins).

      Are you aware that many e-books allow for bookmarks, highlighting and note taking? In addition most can be printed if you really need that paper copy to write in.

      I think the cost differences will convince many people to prefer e-books.

  3. I agree, Norman. This one little book includes everything a person needs to successfully understand basic economics. In my opinion it should be introduced as early as middle school.

    It is also available here as a free PDF download.

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