Non-profit group leading online learning movement


Textbooks are a large part of college students' education costs, but professors at Rice University are trying to change that.

Christian Seberino is on the cutting edge of education.

"The light bulb went on that I could use them for my home-school classes," he said.

A PhD who teaches math and physics, he offers his private students and those at Lone Star College the option of digital textbooks.

"For every single class, I was eventually able to find a free textbook," Seberino said.

It's online learning for free, and it's saving his students hundreds of dollars. When he can find the right book...

"I think we're in the infancy because there's not a lot of choices. I had to really search far and wide to find some free textbooks," Seberino said.

Which is why, across town at Rice University, professor Richard Baraniuk is working hard to change that.

"The goal is to save millions of students hundreds of millions of dollars every year," Baraniuk said.

Baraniuk started a non-profit called OpenStax College. Within the last year, they've provided five free digital textbooks, low-cost interactive and paper versions and have plans for 20 more.

"The books are developed by the same tried and true production processes that standard publishers use. They're authored by professionals. They're peer reviewed by hundreds of reviewers," Baraniuk said. "While we might save over the short term hundreds of millions of dollars, in the long term, digital textbooks are going to end up with a better education for everybody."

With grants from large trusts, including Houston's Laura and John Arnold Foundation, OpenStax is starting what some think is a revolution in education.

"The classroom that you grew up in and I grew up in, it's a dinosaur. Technology is there today. In another 10 years, you won't even be able to find a textbook," Sen. Dan Patrick said.

That is, unless it's free online.

"There's no reason why a free textbook couldn't be as good as another one," Seberino said.

They even argue the digital textbooks could be better because they can be interactive and eventually intuitive, where it can pick up on how a student learns and tailors the education to their needs.

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