Open source textbooks not flunking out

BYU open source textbooks

Finally, a bit of good news on the college costs front: A study out of Brigham Young University finds that free open source textbooks do the job pretty darn well.

The study of nearly 17,000 students at 9 colleges found that open source textbooks (or open educational resources -- OERs in academic lingo) found that students learn the same amount or more from the free books across many subjects. (Here's a sampling of the sorts of texts available, via a University of Minnesota site.)

What's more, 85% of students and instructors said open textbooks were actually better than the commercial ones. The research focused its results based on measurements such as course completion, final grade, final grade of C- or higher, enrollment intensity, and enrollment intensity in the following semester. 

“In an introductory class like College Algebra, the textbook isn’t there to entertain, it’s there to teach a topic,” said Lane Fischer, one of the BYU researchers, in a statement. “Algebra hasn’t changed a lot in the past 50 years, so you don’t need the latest, most expensive book to teach it well. There are comparable free resources available, and students really appreciate saving money.”

Especially when the average textbook can run you $90.

The other beauty of the open textbooks is that instructors can customize them with fresh content via open licenses.

BYU credits Ivy League and other schools, through initiatives like the OpenCourseWare projects at MIT and Johns Hopkins that launched in the early 2000s, for getting the open textbook movement rolling.

This latest research was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. A slew of other research has also been conducted on this topic in recent years.

MORE: Big names like Google dominate Open Source funding

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