Utah Moves to Open Textbooks

Something very exciting happened today.

The Utah State Office of Education announced that (1) it will be supporting the development of Utah-specific open textbooks for all secondary language arts, mathematics, and science courses, and (2) that the USOE recommends that all schools across the state consider these open textbooks for adoption in their secondary language arts, mathematics, and science courses for this fall (2012). The math and science books will be remixes of CK-12 materials (as per our existing pilot program), while the Language Arts books will be produced locally. The Hewlett Foundation is providing partial funding.


This potentially impacts all 275,000 6th-12th graders in the state of Utah. The cost savings will be astronomical, but I don’t have exact figures yet. More on that in the days to come. My team and I will continue to research the impact on learning outcomes and the actual cost savings associated with the move, as we have with the pilot program the past two years.

The full text of the release is below. This is a historic day for Utah students, schools, and taxpayers. It’s also a historic day for open education. Congratulations to everyone involved.

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January 25, 2012

For Immediate Release

Sydnee Dickson, Teaching and Learning director
801-538-7739 :: [email protected]

Utah State Office of Education to Create Open Textbooks

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State of Office of Education (USOE) today announced it will develop and support open textbooks in the key curriculum areas of secondary language arts, science, and mathematics. USOE will encourage districts and schools throughout the state to consider adopting these textbooks for use beginning this fall.

Open textbooks are textbooks written and synthesized by experts, vetted by peers, and made available online for free access, downloading, and use by anyone. Open textbooks can also be printed through print-on-demand or other printing services for settings in which online use is impossible or impractical. In earlier pilot programs, open textbooks have been printed and provided to more than 3,800 Utah high school science students at a cost of about $5 per book, compared to an average cost of about $80 for a typical high school science textbook.

“Utah’s open textbooks are a great use of technology,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Larry K. Shumway. “Texts get into classrooms quickly and can be updated as needed rather than on a publishing schedule – something that’s particularly important in science. The open textbook also adds to Utah’s reputation as the most cost-efficient school system in the country. This is a fantastic way to get the latest textbooks into the hands of Utah’s nearly 600,000 public school students.”

“We’re thrilled that the State of Utah is encouraging school districts to consider adopting open textbooks,” said Barbara Chow, Education Programs director at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, which helped fund the project. “At a time when education budgets are under increasing stress, digital technology in the form of open textbooks now offers the potential to save school systems millions of dollars.”

Later this spring the Utah State Office of Education will invite all districts and charter schools across the state to attend informational meetings and professional development designed to help open textbook adoptions succeed.

The decision to pursue open textbooks at scale comes after two years of successful open textbook pilots led by David Wiley of Brigham Young University’s David O. McKay School of Education. Each pilot was conducted by the BYU-Public School Partnership in partnership with the Utah State Office of Education. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation provided funding. Mathematics and science textbooks will be based on books originally published by the CK12 Foundation, a not-for-profit organization based in California founded with the mission to produce free and open source K-12 materials aligned to state curriculum.

In new research soon to be published in the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, Wiley and his colleagues found that Utah high school students learn the same amount of science in classes using the $5 open textbooks as they do in classes using the $80 traditional textbooks.

9 thoughts on “Utah Moves to Open Textbooks”

  1. This is great news David, congrats to all involved. Can you clarify – does “Utah-specific open textbooks” simply mean content tailored to Utah’s specific curricular needs?

    • Scott, yes this is exactly what it means – books that cover Utah standards (and Common Core, as applicable) but don’t include other unnecessary bloat.

  2. Congratulations David!  I just got the email asking us to share this with all secondary teachers in my district.  I am very grateful that I can highlight the advantages to using Open Source texts thanks to your work. Well done!

  3. Computers and tablets are only assistants and a good
    teacher’s will always be needed.

    However social networks such as facebook and YouTube as well
    as great resources including Wikipedia and Wolfram-Alpha are here to stay so
    that educators must use them in the teaching process.


    Some time ago YouTube moved a lot of their educational
    content to a separate domain giving people access a broad set of educational


    However, some complaints include the variety of the content
    found there as well as the need for schools to register on YouTube under the
    academic section in order to show their videos, leaving out many academics,
    professionals and students not formally associated with mainstream schools
    which contribute with great videos.


    Many academics are posting great educational videos and
    materials online. The only problem is to sort the good ones from the rest and
    present them in an organized manner.


    This effort is being done by:  http://utubersity.com
    which presents the best educational videos available on YouTube in an
    organized, easy to find way to watch and learn. It also links the videos to
    related content in Wikipedia or associated websites.


    They are classified and tagged in a way that enables people
    to find these materials more easily and efficiently and not waste time browsing
    through pages of irrelevant search results.


    The website also enhances the experience using other means
    such as recommending related videos, Wikipedia content and so on. There’s also
    a Spanish version called http://utubersidad.com

  4. Congratulations David and all at the Utah Open Textbook Project. Looking forward to the IRRODL report and hope you’ll be sharing your experience in dealing with Utah’s education officials.

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