Not All Open Textbooks Are Created Equal

As I read posts about the availability of new open textbooks in a variety of formats, I’m reminded that an open textbooks is much like an iceberg. The textbook itself is the tip that we see above the water. To be more specific, I should say that the student edition is the tip we all see above the water. A tiny fraction of the open textbooks (read: student editions) in the world have a corresponding teacher’s edition that includes problem solutions, lesson plans, teaching tips, and other information teachers and faculty have come to depend on. An even more minuscule number have additional supplementary material available like Powerpoint slides, review flash cards, etc. available.

So the next time you hear someone complain about why no one adopts all the great open textbooks in the world, ask them if their favorite open textbook has a teacher’s edition or supplemental materials available. Asking a teacher to give up the problem solutions and other features of a teacher’s edition is like asking someone to make bricks without straw. Why would a teacher do that to him/herself?

If you want to see open textbooks adopted more broadly, rather than blaming the teachers who won’t “make the jump,” spend your energy creating the support materials that are prerequisite necessities for teacher adoptions. CK-12 (at the secondary level) and Flat World Knowledge (at the higher ed level) have this nailed and, consequently, are getting some scale in their adoptions.

2 thoughts on “Not All Open Textbooks Are Created Equal”

  1. Really great point! As the co-founder of a creative-commons licensed open textbook (, it’s clear from the email we get from faculty that while they might be willing to adopt an open resource like Smarthistory, it would be enormously valuable to also get syllabi, teaching tips, discussion questions, and the other things that make traditional textbooks of value for them. That’s why we were thrilled when College Open Textbooks recently gave us a grant to write two syllabi for Smarthistory (see the link on our home page). We’re interested in developing other “add-ons” for both students and faculty so we can truly be on par with the traditional textbook.

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