OpenStax: Free and Flexible Textbooks and Resources


97 points | by memorable 12 days ago


  • mncharity 10 days ago
    Has anyone tried creating deliberative infrastructure in support of crafting better OER? For instance, each field's science education research has lists of misconceptions commonly reinforced in textbooks. It could be nice to collect such lists and... not do that.

    The quality of science textbooks has been decried by researchers for decades. Even with SER focused on narrowly incremental improvements, on the easily deployable, textbooks often don't reflect it. Incentives are poorly aligned, authorial resources too limited, and scope constraints too severe. Further, attempts at less incremental, more foundational improvements, are very rare (eg, integrated life-sciences curriculums). What support might allow OER to achieve better?

    OpenStax "View online"'s nice text search allowed quickly finding such common misconceptions. And OpenStax supports open errata databases. The database of a past version of a textbook could be reached by URL editing. One misconception was pointed out twice, and WONTFIXed "Our reviewers determined the textbook meets scope, sequence, and accuracy requirements as is. No change will be made." Perhaps if the errata database had a discussion mechanism, like github issues, the problem might have been clarified and the new version of the textbook fixed? (Disclaimer: It's a misconception I commonly check for, and one of the two comments might be mine.)

    Problems this pervasive are structural. How might OER creation be restructured to work better? Ideally much much better? For instance, support for easily combining patch-sets might allow an ecology of "ok, I fixed/improved this bit", avoiding multi-year gatekeeping delays.

    A decade or two back, NSF almost funded a national science education wikipedia... but didn't. Each common misconception might have had pages of literature overview, discussion, remedies. Is there an alternate timeline where science education content has dramatically improved?

    • ivan_ah 9 days ago
      > How might OER creation be restructured to work better? [...] support for easily combining patch-sets [...]

      I think bringing in some of the tools and workflows from open source software development could go a long way. Many OER authors already publish their books on github, and use github issues to receive feedback (and sometimes even PRs).

      Unfortunately, many of the teachers (and students) are not technically proficient (at least not enough to know about git, github, and PRs) so that is probably the current limiting factor. I've thought a lot about this, and one of my best ideas for a possible solution was to create a simplified-git where the command names match the domain terminology (save, share, publish, suggestedits, etc.). You can see a sketch of that idea here:

      I totally agree in general, if there were tools around OER creation and updates, the OER books will be able to improve much faster than any commercial textbook, and with print-on-demand students would be getting the latest edition with all the fixes each year for something like $20-$30 in print, and free eBooks online.

      • mncharity 18 hours ago
        Hmm, I don't quickly see an "awesome-oer" gh project list... I wonder...
    • hanche 9 days ago
      Sorry, could you (or someone else) tell me what OER and SER mean?
      • ectopod 9 days ago
        Open Educational Resource. And maybe Sold Educational Resource?
        • mncharity 9 days ago
          Science education research. Sorry - my fuzzy recollection of failure mode was thinking "abbreviation is ok, as the full phrase is so close, making an appended '(SER)' excessive"... and then edits broke close. There's physics education research, chemistry, biology, etc, with SER being the superset, and crosscutting. "PER", CER, BER, ...
    • zozbot234 9 days ago
      > Has anyone tried creating deliberative infrastructure in support of crafting better OER?

      The Wikiversity project could easily host that kind of stuff. It's a bit of a "catchall" partner project to Wikipedia for all kinds of educational content (in a broad sense) other than simple media files (that's what Wikimedia Commons is for) and newly-written textbooks (that's Wikibooks).

  • bacheaul 10 days ago
    My wife has the Chemistry 2e books for her uni courses. She absolutely raves about them. Yes, compared to her other Chem books, the printing feels a bit cheap, and the typesetting feels like it could use some work, but in terms of content, they seem to hit the mark.
  • gaetgu 10 days ago
    I’ve just come here to say that while I am sure that these are useful in some way to someone, they are really bad textbooks. I would rather cough up the ~$250 for a calculus textbook than use the OpenStax one. I know that the rest of my class felt this way and if you read the Amazon reviews similar sentiments (see: I want to buy a copy just to burn it) are stated.
    • acidioxide 10 days ago
      I have different observations. I am a polish high school student and I've been using openstax physics for college for a long time. Maybe the reason is that textbooks in Poland are very poor, but I use openstax in studying to final exams and competitions, and so far, they served me well. Foreign textbooks are so much better.
      • BossingAround 10 days ago
        > Foreign textbooks are so much better

        It is amazing how much better English textbooks tend to be compared to the textbooks in my country as well.

    • SiriusLi 10 days ago
      If you look up the review scores on Amazon, they mostly get 4+ stars. Other interest might be in play. This is a direct challenge to the textbook rent seeking behavior by some professors, e.g. write new edition each year to destroy the second hand market, use digital logins for exercise materials and so on.
    • wisty 10 days ago
      I've used them. They're pretty comparable to the average textbook. Maybe a few more typos than some 31st edition (which fixes a few typos and swaps the order of a few common homework questions so you can't buy the last edition) but it's ... fine.

      There's some textbooks that have more personality. But the OpenStax books are pretty much the same as any other mainstream book (the kind that are assigned to most classes).

      Maybe the calculus class was just boring? The textbook is there as a baseline to cover the derivations, example problems, and how to do them. I can think of plenty of reasons why a calculus class is just boring (too hard, too easy, or it's taught in a boring way).

    • Lutger 10 days ago
      Being this disproportionately negative makes me think you have an interest in keeping the expensive-textbook business model from being disrupted.
  • avipars 9 days ago
    Really great books and resources!
  • kardianos 10 days ago
    • detaro 9 days ago
      Can you please quote the section that claims gender identity is "involved in sex"? The only mention of gender I can find in the relevant chapters is one clarifying that it talks sex, not gender:

      > People often use the words "female" and "male" to describe two different concepts: our sense of gender identity, and our biological sex as determined by our X/Y chromosomes, hormones, sex organs, and other physical characteristics. For some people, gender identity is different from biological sex or their sex assigned at birth. In this chapter and the next chapter, "female" and "male" refer to sex only, and the typical reproductive anatomy of XX and XY individuals is discussed.

    • wolfgang42 9 days ago
      I don’t actually see any mention of gender identity other than a bit in the introduction that says they’re going to ignore it?

      Anyway, science has always been political, and will continue to be for as long as it’s carried out by humans. (The least charged [hah!] example that immediately comes to mind is Millikan’s measurements of the electron.) Comparing this to Lysenko seems a bit of a stretch, though; this is more akin to the euphemism treadmill, where scientists find that they must select their words very carefully to tiptoe through a thicket of popular opinion.

      The problem is that, because gender has become a hot-button political issue, textbook authors have to take the Standard Scientific Asterisk (“things are complicated, boundaries are fuzzy, this is a simplification”) and write it out in excruciating detail to prevent their textbook from being cited as ‘proof’ by biological essentialists using it to further their agenda.

      Eventually the march of progress will (hopefully) relegate all this to a footnote again, but for the moment it’s visible as a lump in the text: a metaphorical callous developed from constant prodding.

      • kardianos 9 days ago
        • wolfgang42 9 days ago
          (I encountered Marx very briefly in school; the impression I get of his theories is “history has been happening for ages; it will do what I think for exactly one more cycle and then stop” but that’s about the extent of my knowledge on the topic.)

          At any rate, I was using “march of progress” in the colloquial sense: I intended that “(hopefully)” to indicate that I don’t view it as inevitable; but the scientific method has, historically, tended to converge on reality, albeit often in fits and starts.

          > We must proceed with care and for great respect for the reality that is.

          Indeed, which is why the textbooks have become encrusted with such scar tissue: the authors are trying to preclude the present wave of reactionary activism which is impetuously twisting things to fit their conclusion.

        • pessimizer 9 days ago
          The famous Marxian gender essays.
          • elefanten 9 days ago
            No, gp is referring to 1) Marx's claim that social institutions (such as "the scientific community") are part of a superstructure that reinforces and maintains the base mode of production, and 2) Marx's historical materialist position that history unfolds on a set path.
          • kardianos 9 days ago
            Yes, many radical gender theorists are self proclaimed Marxists.