A Better Open Textbook Bill

There’s a lot of talk about open textbook legislation going around right now. I recently reported on HR 1464, which was a great first start, but on reflection could be improved significantly. I’ve had some opportunities to think about what the “perfect” open textbook bill would look like, so I thought I’d share MNSHO.

The legislation would create competitive funding opportunities to create open textbooks in any content area. These would be multi-stage grants (like the SBIR program), with additional funding tied to the successful completion of initial project goals.

Individuals, teams of individuals, or organizations would complete an application in which they would provide the following information:

– The approximate number of US post-secondary students annually who take a course in which the text could be used appropriately
– The average cost of the five most widely adopted competing textbooks
– Content and pedagogy-related credentials of individuals who will serve as authors for the open textbooks, including honors like teaching awards in the area
– A letter of support from a reputable publisher committing to partner on the proposal. This partnership must include the provision of traditional publishing services like editorial support, design / layout support, and the creation of supplemental materials (like slides and exams).
– A management plan for author and publisher functions, including timelines and responsible parties
– A marketing plan for the textbook, including prices for all planned formats of the book (excluding the web version which will of course be free, but including paperback, hardback, audio, etc.) and a target number of student adoptions in the first two years after publication
– A licensing statement from the authors and project partner stating which license they will use for their open textbook – either CC BY or CC BY-NC-SA

All grant recipients would have to meet a handful of requirements:
– A content-complete version of the open textbook must go online with all text, images, and other features of the printed version available to the public for free, unrestricted, unfettered access
– The online version of the open textbook must clearly display it’s open license and include appropriate embedded license metadata to allow search engines like Google and Yahoo to index it as an openly licensed resource

Proposals would be evaluated according to:
– The estimated financial impact of the project (the number of students in the course annually x the average cost of the five most widely adopted books is the baseline; the target number of adoptions x average cost of the formats to be offered is the comparison point)
– Credentials and track record of the authors
– Credibility and track record of the publisher
– Feasibility of the management and marketing plans

After-grant reviews would pay attention to only one metric – the number of students impacted by verifiable adoptions is the ultimate measure of success. Projects that reach year 1 and 2 adoption goals as stated in the funded proposal would be eligible for update / enhancement grants.

Comments? Thoughts? Arguments?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Is there any reason for not including the whole range of permissive CC licensing, including the Public Domain one?

  • > “A letter of support from a reputable publisher committing to partner on the proposal. This partnership must include the provision of traditional publishing services like editorial support, design / layout support, and the creation of supplemental materials (like slides and exams).”

    This would torpedo the whole project.

    The ‘reputable publisher’ would support only its own proposals (or those of affiliates), automatically eliminating most of the competition, and in turn, forcing the cost of the proposals significantly up.

    Letters of support should more properly come from experts in the field, associations active in the field, or learning resource developers, etc., and not merely publishers. Indeed, for my own part, it is a letter from a publisher that I would (among those just listed) least trust.

    Also, “A marketing plan for the textbook, including prices for all planned formats of the book (excluding the web version which will of course be free, but including paperback, hardback, audio, etc.) and a target number of student adoptions in the first two years after publication” needs thought.

    – you don’t want the textbook producers to deliberately undermine the free web version (eg., by making the server so slow its impossible to download, by using obsolete content formats, etc etc)

    – you don’t want to create a situation where the poorest or most disadvantaged pay the costs – having print and audio versions for a fee means that people without computers and people who are blind must pay for their copies, while richer fully sighted people can get it for free.

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  • Strange how trackbacks don’t seem to be working from my blog to yours.

    I’m just still wondering how you see k12 fitting into your vision for open textbooks and I’d love to work toward making this a reality in the Canyons district:

    http://drapestakes.blogspot.com/2009/05/open-textbooks-in-k-12.html

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