The Benefits of Open Source Textbooks: Cost Savings, Contextualization, Accessibility, and Copyright

The Benefits of Using an Open Source Textbook

Open educational resources (OER) are free and publicly available learning materials. These include textbooks, courses, and modules. OER are usually released with an intellectual property license that permits their use and adaptation.

The promise of this new approach led California to pass two pieces of legislation in 2012. This legislation will fund the development of digital textbooks that can be used by its schools.

Cost Savings

Using open source textbooks can be much cheaper for students than traditional books. For example, an algebra class of 50 students could save $5,400 if they switched to an open source textbook instead of a standard textbook. Another benefit of using open source textbooks is that they allow faculty to customize the texts for their courses. They can also add in supplemental material to help students understand the materials.

Rising textbook prices have prompted many professors to seek alternatives. Nonprofit organizations have been developed to bring greater resources to bear on the task of creating and distributing open source textbooks. These nonprofits are reliant on private charitable donations at least initially, but they are working toward a long-term self-funding model through the sale of additional study tools such as flash cards and audiobooks.

Research suggests that open source textbooks are effective in achieving the same learning outcomes as commercial textbooks. The studies have compared student outcomes and perceptions when using either a conventional or an open textbook.


When students are given the opportunity to contextualize course material, they are more likely to be engaged and motivated in class. It can also help them better understand complex concepts and develop critical thinking skills. This is particularly important in a world where globalization and cultural diversity are increasingly prevalent.

Linguists who support contextualization argue that the context in which words are used is just as important as the actual words themselves. If the context is ignored, it can lead to misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

Aside from cost savings, contextualization can improve student learning outcomes by helping them to relate the material to their everyday lives. Teachers can do this by providing a meaningful context for the information they teach, and by encouraging students to discuss the material with their peers. For example, a teacher could ask students to research the environmental impact of a local development project. This will encourage them to learn about the real-world implications of their work and help them better understand how science, technology, and engineering affect their communities.


Several accessibility benefits are associated with using open source textbooks. For instance, they are more accessible to students with visual, auditory and physical disabilities. In addition, these books are readable by text-to-speech software and can be converted to formats compatible with assistive technology. However, there are some limitations to using these textbooks. Some of them may not meet the accessibility standards required by law.

The authors of open textbooks should use software that can help them ensure their books are accessible. For example, the free software NonVisual Desktop Access can be used to test a book’s accessibility. It also helps authors create more accessible files by automatically tagging and describing images and tables.

In addition to tagging and labeling content, authors should try to include accessible metadata for each chapter. This will help readers understand the content’s purpose and structure. They should also choose a reflowable format, rather than a fixed layout, when publishing their books.


Unlike traditional books, open textbooks have an “open copyright” that allows them to be modified, revised, and redistributed without being infringed upon. This means that they can be customized for specific courses and students. For example, a calculus teacher can remove a chapter that doesn’t pertain to her class and add a video to keep students engaged.

While the ability to customize and adapt open textbooks is an important benefit, many faculty also value the quality of content. For example, one communication professor cited that the open textbook she adopted was of high quality and relevant to her course.

Furthermore, these textbooks are available for free online or at a reduced cost in print. This makes them a viable alternative to traditional textbooks, which can be very expensive. Additionally, they are easily updated as our knowledge of a subject increases or when errors are discovered. This is much faster than traditional textbooks, which can take months to update.

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