Open textbooks (Image credit: Alfonso Sintjago)

When you think of the term “open textbook,” what comes to mind? If you are thinking of the literal definition of a textbook that is open to a certain page, you aren’t thinking of what this really means.

Open textbooks are textbooks that are “open” to anyone in most cases. This means they are free to access to the public or to a specified group of individuals, such as college students who are using textbooks authored by their professors. licensed using a method to grant a certain amount of rights to readers. These rights are much less restricting compared to a typical copyright. The author of the book must use a certain license or clearly identify a list of permissions for the material in order for it to be considered “open.”

In most cases, open textbooks can be used for free without paying the author. The book can also be changed into a different format and distributed in a non-commercial fashion. It may be copied as well, as long as proper citation is given to the author. In other special cases, the author will give readers of the book permission to add, remove, or change certain content in the book. Certain open books can also be distributed without the need of citing the author in a commercial fashion.

The Community College Open Textbook Collaborative, which is a leading organization in the open textbook industry, has come up with a list of general parameters under which most open textbooks should fall. These include the fact that the books must be free or very inexpensive; easy to utilize and acquire, in a form that can be edited by its author, in a format that can be printed in hard copies, and accessible so that students with disabilities can easily access them.

Examples of open textbooks that are freely available on the Internet include:

Business Communication for Success by Scott McLean (Arizona Western College)

Introduction to Matrix Algebra by Aurar K Kaw (University of South Florida)

Educational Psychology by Kevin Seifert and Rosemary Sutton (University of Manitoba and Cleveland State)

Although many textbooks are available online for general consumption, many professors will take steps to restrict access to their own open textbooks to only their students enrolled in certain courses at certain times.

The main reason for these books is to help students pay less on textbooks that can be very expensive. There has also been a push to have more open-source material available online, which is exactly what Wikipedia provides since its articles can be edited by authorized users for the sake of sharing as much knowledge and information as possible. With an increased number of open textbooks being made available over time, students could one day primarily use these kinds of books rather than spending hundreds of dollars each semester on traditional textbooks.