(re)Inventing the free online textbook

Picard facepalm cookies“First came free online courses. Now come…free online textbooks” (“Coursera to offer students free online textbooks, with conditions” | WaPo). Call us picky, but the implication that free textbooks are an xMOOC innovation is a bit frustrating, especially coming a couple days before we announced the release of a free-and-open, no-strings-attached college mathematics textbook.

Even more especially after we’ve spent a couple years seeking, vetting, and deploying free, open textbooks, in free, open-as-we-can-get-’em courses.

Superlatively especially given that most all of those great books we’ve found have been developed, improved, and shared by a score or two of individuals and institutions, whose missions in part or whole involve the production, collection, and/or dissemination of high quality free textbooks.

That first line can be forgiven, however unfortunately it might be worded. This kind of oversight, however, is worrisome. Our public memory (or maybe attention span) can be short, and if people suppose that a free-of-cost “rental” of an e-text represents the first/only/best crack at open access to a book, then they might not know to look for alternatives. If history isn’t necessarily being re-written, there is at least a danger of having it be overwritten in the popular mind (and the results are similar).

We’re pretty big-raft, everyone-at-the-table sorts of people here, so we won’t begrudge anyone their free-to-read-for-a-while, please-consider-making-a-purchase textbooks. (Tangent: we also clearly enjoy hyphens.) But make sure that everyone actually does have a seat at the table before snapping the group picture, you know?

One of the inaugural free-of-cost texts that will be deployed at Coursera, as described in the Chronicle (“Partnership Gives Students Access to a High-Price Text on a MOOC Budget“), is for an introductory physics course. The instructor is using a “high-quality, mainstream” text that can cost more than $150. And maybe “mainstream” is the critical point, but here are some physics texts (pdf, html, and otherwise) we’ve found that might cover part or all of an introductory-level xMOOC:

College Physics (OpenStax College)
Introduction to Groups, Invariants, and Particles (Firk)
Essential Physics I (Firk)
The Age of Einstein (Firk)
Calculus-Based Physics (Schnick)
Physics category (Wikibooks)
Fundamentals of Compressible Flow Mechanics (Potto)
Basics of Fluid Mechanics (Potto)
Light and Matter (Crowell)
Simple Nature (Crowell)
Mechanics (Crowell)
Conceptual Physics (Crowell)
General Relativity (Crowell)
Motion Mountain (Schiller)
Upper-division and graduate-level texts at InTech Open
CK-12 Flexbooks:
Basic Physics 2nd ed.
People’s Physics Concepts
People’s Physics Book v. 2
People’s Physics Book v. 3 (+ video)
Physics: From Stargazers to Starships
21st Century Physics: A Compilation of Contemporary and Emerging Technologies

So there are a couple options. (Just sayin’.)

Photo credit: justjenn via photopin CC BY-NC-ND 2.0