Education Wants to Be Free: EduMOOC 2011

By Polly Peterson and Jessica Balik

e-book e-textbook

Open Learning

Cyberpunks adopted Stewart Brand's slogan that 'information wants to be free.' Edupunks take the stance that 'education wants to be free.' The open education movement is gaining speed as more and more people look to online classes and self-guided resources for professional development and to help prepare for career changes.

EduMOOC panelists Larry Ragan (Pennsylvania State World Campus) and Cable Green (Creative Commons) touched upon the advantages of more informal learning formats, which make education more accessible, affordable and tailored to the specific needs of learners. Ragan suggested that learners can mentor other learners in open collaborative environments. The consensus, however, was that a formal accreditation process, such as open badges, is necessary so that people can get credit and public recognition for what they've learned.

Within brick-and-mortar schools, there are efforts to lower the costs of online courses and textbooks. Faculty are reshaping teaching strategies and are rethinking the traditional 15-week semester system, considering that asynchronous delivery has been shown to cut course completion time in half. To increase student retention for online courses, which currently have a higher drop-out rate than traditional face-to-face courses, initiatives such as the Community College Open Learning Initiative and Open Course Library are redesigning course delivery. Access and affordability are driving the need for alternatives, especially when student loan debt surpasses credit card debt for most people.

Open Textbooks

Ray Schroeder (University of Illinois, Springfield) noted that, on average, college students spend over $1,100 a year on textbooks. For community college students, textbooks account for a quarter of the cost of college, Jeff Newell (Illinois Community College Board) remarked. Green pointed out that students aren't the only ones who are spending money on books, because both state and local governments supply the financial aid with which many students purchase them. But open textbooks can be more than merely cost efficient, because sharing materials openly allows others to tailor, repurpose and improve upon them. Here are some of our favorite open textbooks.

Flatworld Knowledge

The books on this site are written and vetted by contracted subject-area specialists. Anybody can read these books online, but there are fees for printing text as well as supplemental media. Furthermore, instructors can choose to adopt books for specific courses, and when they do, they can edit them to tailor the texts for their specific classes.

Orange Grove Text Plus

The Orange Grove, an initiative of the Florida Distance Learning Consortium), is an online repository of open educational resources, covering K-12 through higher education. Orange Grove partnered with the University Press of Florida to create Orange Grove Text Plus. The books in this library can be downloaded free of charge, or printed at reduced costs.

College Open Textbooks

An initiative of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, this site aggregates open textbook resources. Additionally, peer reviews are available for some titles.


The Wikibooks library offers free educational texts. There are more than 2,400 books written in English alone, with texts available in nine additional languages.


The Connexions platform allows instructors to create small educational modules, which can be organized into larger collections, some of which are textbooks. Anyone can contribute content, but users can apply 'lenses' to filter for quality. For example, one 'lens' is the Community College Open Textbook Collaborative, which has vetted and endorsed certain textbooks.

If you're looking for more ways to lower education costs, consult's list of open textbooks.

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