2012 November 19 Monday
Free Online Textbooks

Wikipedia killed off many commercial encyclopedias. What's next? Can commercial textbooks survive competition from tree online textbooks?

What's controversial is how Boundless creates these texts. The company trawls for public material on sites like Wikipedia and then crafts it into online books whose chapters track closely to those of top-selling college titles. In April, Boundless was sued by several large publishers who accused the startup of engaging in "the business model of theft."

I was thinking what's needed are sites that enable skilled people to volunteer their time to contribute to the writing and editing of open source textbooks. But that seems like such an obvious idea that it seems like it ought to exist. Well, it does: wikibooks.org. But the coverage seems scant. They say they have 2,491 books with 44,430 pages. Well, that works out to about 18 pages per book. So a lot of these books are still skeletons. The site has a page that lists what they consider to be completed books. The site has quite a few science texts at various stages of development. The Wikipedia page on Wikibooks provides insights into its founding.

O'Reilly's Open Books effort is of interest as well.

I'm wondering whether a philanthropist could cheaply buy up rights to old out-of-print textbooks on basic unchanging subjects (e.g. calculus, linear algebra) and convert them to ebooks. The quality of the texts might be higher than what is currently available for free.

The larger context: take a look at inflation rates for various sectors of the economy since the year 2000. What has been going up fastest? College tuition has more than doubled since the year 2000 and shows no sign of slowing. Higher education needs a large dose of disruptive technological change. Open source books, online lectures, and online tests, are all needed to break the current burdensome business model of higher education.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2012 November 19 07:03 PM 

Wolf-Dog said at November 20, 2012 1:55 AM:

Even printed textbooks are very cheap if you compare these to the tuition fee of the college. Very soon there will be more wikibooks even before online universities that can compete with top schools.

But within a decade there will be excellent online coursepacks that will be self-contained and due to their interactive nature, these will be better than taking notes in a lecture room where the professor just writes on the blackboard. A well written book is much better than just taking notes from a blackboard, unless you are taking a very advanced graduate course at the research level where there is no book but only cutting-edge research.

no said at November 20, 2012 10:30 AM:

Already exists:
The interactive stuff is mostly Maths atm but content is growing fast.

Stephen said at November 20, 2012 2:16 PM:

If you were just today inventing the idea of higher education, you wouldn't decide that an integral feature of it must be something called a textbook.

Engineer-Poet said at November 20, 2012 2:30 PM:

Reference works are an inherent part of storing and accessing knowledge, but they're poorly organized for teaching.  Textbooks have some of the character of tutorials, and I don't see how an education system can get by without tutorial works of some kind.

Check it Out said at November 20, 2012 4:58 PM:

"Free Online Textbooks"

Still waiting for that to really happen. Specially for the really good books one would like to just download.

James Bowery said at November 21, 2012 8:36 AM:

In order to really understand the dynamics behind increasing tuition costs you have to look at the race and sex ratios in the colleges. Age 18 to 21 year old white females are among the most valuable commodities in the global market. Add to that the guarantee that they are at least 100 IQ and you have a multiplier. Add to that that they are "fresh off the farm" (in the sex slave trade "midwestern with no tatoos") in a lot of the land grant colleges and you have an even higher commanding price. If you can get them in debt up to their eyeballs that cannot be discharged with bankruptcy, you have a virtually guaranteed limitless supply of sex slaves for places like New York City.

But that is after graduation.

During "upper education", to understnd what is happening, you have to look not just at the gender ratio (which is an enormously powerful variable driving nonlinear dynamics in sociosexual statu) but racial ratios. Let's take the University of Illinois as an extreme example:

During the years we were building the foundation of the network revolution at the University of Illinois the male to female ratio was about 2.7 to 1 and the non-white population was negligible. The females enjoyed such enormous sociosexual power that there was virtually no student left unscarred for life that came out of that institution: males from the abuse by females and females from the devaluation of males to the point that many became lesbians.

What happened between the time the network revolution was founded and the accomplished invasion from India? The native male to native female enrollment rate reversed and the slack was taken up by males from India who now had access to a much healthier male to female ratio -- and, of course, to those globally demanded "midwestern with no tattoos" 18 - 21 year old girls. You have to compound that not only with the indoctrination that white males are worthless but the sociobiological reality that females, especially in that age bracket, perceive the entry of foreign males to the territory of white males to be essentially a challenge to the white males from which the white males mysteriously back down. I mean it couldn't have anything to do with the fact that if a white male were actually to physically challenge a foreign male to violence, the foreign male would call on the white male's own government to have the white male gang-raped by black and hispanic gangs, likely infected with HIV, not to mention Hep-C while the white male's own national media would ceaselessly repeat the horrific hate crime (of the white male threatening the guy from India, not, of course, what the government was doing to the white male in its prison system). I mean where in the environment of evolutionary adaptation did that condition obtain for crying out loud???

Considered in these terms, you're looking at the highest class brothels in the world at prices that are very cheap by comparison that offer up not only sex slavery per se -- but dominance and submission/humiliation of white males (which can be considered an added "bonus feature" of the service).

Mthson said at November 21, 2012 1:18 PM:


White males have the highest average value in the real-world dating scene.

See this chart from the OKcupid blog, showing that women respond at a higher rate to white males than to males of their own ethnic background. (More info can be found at the full article.)

This is consistent with my experience in Silicon Valley.

Caveat: The variance in response rates between ethnic groups is smaller than the variance within ethnic groups, so anybody who's smart, nice, and organized in life will be fine.

James Bowery said at November 21, 2012 4:00 PM:

So you consider a chart that provides no age data and is limited to online dating service interactions -- even further removed from the EEA -- is indicative of the 18 to 21 year old situation on US campuses where the persistent physical proximity presence permits physical "assertion" and improvisational intelligence to, in essence, say "Come on, you pink boys!!! Aren't any of you going to even _try_ to lay the smack down on me as I put myself within the limit of sexual harassment of your girls? What do you white girls think about that?"

Mthson said at November 21, 2012 9:01 PM:

I've never witnessed anything like the world you're depicting.

The average age on OKcupid is around 26 (online dating is pretty common among the younger, tech-addicted generations), and the trends in their data are very strong, so their data seems to be high quality for our topic.

Wolf-Dog said at November 21, 2012 9:12 PM:

Some top level classical math, physics and chemistry books are already made very cheap by the Dover editions.

Certainly some benevolent authors will provide cheaper versions of their books once they have made money by selling them for a few decades. There are already many good authors, and some top professors will surely collaborate and write a PDF books for college students.

The main thing is that state universities are already becoming dedicated to providing competitive online programs. As interactive graphics technology improves, and as 3000x2000 screen resolutions become commonplace in a few years, this will gain momentum.

James Bowery said at November 22, 2012 11:02 AM:

Mthson, then I'm not sure how your comment is relevant to the current discussion. It appears to me you are responding to the proposition that "Nerds can't get a date" except that "Nerds" is replaced with "young white men". While I am somewhat "surprised" at your finding, merely because I haven't thought about online dating's impact on population genetics and therefore didn't consider the, in retrospect obvious, relative advantages to white males of a playing field that avoids physical presence during initial encounters, I'm not sure what relevance your response has to my initial response unless there is data to show that for intra college campus sex, online dating has replaced physical presence as the initial encounter. Physical presence triggers all manner of evolved neurological modules for obvious reasons.

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