Saturday, August 27, 2011

Levelling the Learning Paying Field

Whenever it comes time to assign a textbook for a course, I get the jitters. It's the price tag that always gets to me! And if it gets to me, then surely it must result in gasps of disbelief from the students (and parents) who are affected by my choices.

Often, I can (and do) make sure that the one text I assign can be used for two back-to-back courses. Hopefully, that helps a bit.

However, the cost of textbooks can still be a sizeable burden. Then, when students go to re-sell their texts the following year, they discover that those pesky publishing houses have churned out new editions! Guess what that does to the re-sale value of last year's purchase?

Playing fields (or paying fields in this case) would be level if the world were flat. Right? Right! Ideally, flat and at a height of zero. Zero dollars! That's exactly what Flat World Knowledge is all about.

If you haven't come across this company, here's what it offers: textbooks that are free, online, to students. That's refreshing!

What does this really mean? Well, it means that certain peer-reviewed texts that are published by Flat World Knowledge (FWK) are indeed free (online). If a student wants to download all or part of the book in pdf format they can do so, for very reasonable price.

Want the full book, soft-bound? No problem - they print on demand. (If you really want to, you can get your friendly campus book-store to stock copies.)

There's lots more - take a look at their site. For example, they use an Open Commons agreement, so authors retain copyright of their original material. In addition, other instructors can "customize" an existing book (by deleting chapters or even adding new material) to suit their specific needs.

Authors get a royalty that is a fixed percentage of all sales of everything. That includes downloaded pdf files, printed copies of the book, e-books, and all of the teaching/learning "extras" that we've come to expect with textbooks.

It's the "extras" that generate a cash-flow for FWK themselves.

So, what's the catch? Basically there isn't one, except that right now there are only 43 "Business & Economics" texts available from FWK. However, their authors include some well-known names, and I'll bet there are more on the way.

As of today, there are no econometrics or "economic statistics" texts in the FWK catalogue, but for all I know there may be some in the planning or writing stages. I guess I should ask them.

If you've had any experience using FWK books in your courses, either as an instructor, or as a student, I'd love to hear about it.

© 2011, David E. Giles

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