Sunday, 26 February 2012

Open (text) Books: Online, Free and Serious

Here below is a list of the most important open textbook providers and some other repositories of open access educational content as well as content-rich websites curated by librarians and former educators. Although most of the resources target university students, some are geared toward K-12 students while others may benefit all lifelong learners.

  • The Open Course Library (OCL) is a Washington-based initiative that has made available courses for free as an alternative to the costly traditional textbooks in the US. They have published on the website links to open access resources  - open textbooks, courses and other learning materials created and peer-reviewed by academics, and sponsored by foundations. 

  • As far as open textbooks by Flat World Knowledge and  College Open Textbooks are concerned, the latter is a collection of sixteen educational non-profit and for-profit organizations of open textbooks, i.e. linking to other publishers and websites, while the former is presented as the first and largest publisher of open textbooks. Textbooks by the Flat World Knowledge cannot be downloaded for free, they can be either read online or purchased. There are textbooks in various subjects, e.g. those with focus on writing skills or statistics (to be published soon). Professors can customize them which means that there is the possibility to edit, delete or add new chapters.

  • New OA resources and initiatives may be found by following updates of the main OA textbook repositories and foundations via their blogs or social media. E. g. College Open Textbooks blog provided a link to the Guide to Open Learning written by the independent technology consultant Corbin Tarrant. Appendix A contains links to many useful OER resources

I would add to the list the following websites (some of them might be already indexed by the above providers):

  • Free Literature is a non-profit initiative associated with the Project Gutenberg. Their list of 600 + links covers resources in many languages grouped into thematic sections such as literature & arts, computing, research & academic subjects.

  • Book Boon is a London-based company publishing textbooks, business-oriented books and travel guides for free. While books focus on communication (social media, presentations and speaking) and computing skills (e.g. MS Office tutorials), textbooks are written by academics and cover subjects such as biology, chemistry, engineering, statistics and economics. A press release reports on the success of Book Boon: 500 % growth for just one year (Jan 2011- Jan 2012) and expectations for 50 M downloads + 10 % market share in the US for Q3 of 2012.

  • InTech Open is one of the biggest open access publisher of scientific books. 1,200 books can be downloaded for free, over half of which in the fields of technology, engineering and physical sciences. Health and life sciences books are also very well represented. More recently, several books in the social sciences have been published. InTech Open  has developed OA peer-reviewed journals in robotic systems, engineering  business management, nanotechnology and food science.

  • The Faculty Project is a recent Udemy project which aim is to store course materials - both videos and lectures  - published for free by academics from a range of US universities. Content for some of the courses is already online - for instance for the course Brazil for Beginners (you need to create an account).

  • MERLOT - Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching – is a California-based repository of learning materials in all subjects, media (presentations, courses, textbooks, tutorials) and in a number of languages. Some of the submitted resources include presentations by the Autism Education Foundation; Writing Spaces – online guides covering social media and web writing for students; Guide to Grammar and Writing sponsored by the Capital Community College Foundation; Human Resources Guide by Alan Price. 

  • OpenStax College is a recent project initiated by the Connexions repository. Its aim is to facilitate  students' access to free learning content. Its first textbooks - Sociology and College Physics - were released in June 2012.

  • Cybrary Man's Educational Web Sites - a collection of resources in various education subjects and links of general interest. Along with academic and magazine articles, the team has added blog posts, engaging interactive tools and applications and tweets - altogether 20,000 links with serious content. Jerry Blumengarten - a NYC social science educator with over 30 years of experience - is the main person behind the website. I learned about the website via the Mind Shift article What's on the Horizon in Higher Education

  • Science Section of Smart Links – a website curated by Elmer Bergman, a former educator 

  • Links by Subjects by the educational directory EduHound - geared mainly toward K-12 students and educators

  • E-books Directory – more than 6,400 books which can be browsed by subject. Not all of them are academic, some lead to other repositories (e.g. Wikibooks, Book Boon) while others are submitted by corporate organizations or independent writers

  • Free-Ed, The Free Education Network – an aggregator of courses, tutorials and other learning materials from around the web, they have developed some of the content; launched by David L. Heiserman, an educator, author and software developer 

  • Science Books Online - free science e-books, textbooks, lecture notes, monographs and other science related documents collected from various sources such as Book Boon, InTechOpen, OCW, university websites and other trusted providers 

  • Directory of Open Access Books, a service by OAPEN Foundation - OA books and textbooks available in a number of languages, by subject, title and publisher

  • Free Management Library - free online topical articles containing useful references; links to Free Management Training Programs; other useful links on the right side – online business directories, discussion groups, reference materials (dictionaries, encyclopedias, libraries)

  • Just Free Books - a search engine (powered by Google Custom Search) for free books including websites such as the Project Gutenberg and Wiki Books

  • Links to e-books compiled by John Royce, Robert College library director, Istanbul - paid and free e-books; some articles on great places to find free e-books

  • Wikipedia’s List of Online Reference Desks - probably the most useful Wikipedia page. You can find directories of books but also dictionaries, digital libraries, Q & A forums, French and Italian directories, student guides, how to use Wikipedia, search tools for twitter, etc.

  • Explore LibGuides e-books collections by entering a query (e.g. ‘free e-books’) or browsing particular libraries

  • 50 Cool Search Engines for Serious Readers - links to e-book and library sites compiled by Online Colleges (June 2012); not all of the links lead to free ebooks, some relate to finding paid books, pdf search engines and book reviews

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