PEMBROKE — Dr. Paul Flowers, who authors a free, open source textbook called “Chemistry,” says his book could change textbook publishing models.
Flowers has joined a revolution in academia that would change the way textbooks are published and delivered to students, drastically changing — or eliminating — expensive textbooks, which can cost more than $200.
A 26-year veteran of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s Department of Chemistry and Physics, Flowers is lead author, or “content lead,” of the textbook “Chemistry,” which was published in March by OpenStax College. OpenStax is a nonprofit project of Rice University whose mission is to provide high-quality college texts in electronic format at no cost to students.
“Chemistry” boasts three senior contributors and 12 other contributors. It is a general chemistry textbook designed for a traditional two-semester introductory college course. OpenStax offers numerous other textbooks in what appears to be a growing national movement.
According to an NBC News report, college textbook prices have gone up more than 1,000 percent since 1977. The research was extracted from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In recent testimony before a U.S. Senate committee, OpenStax founder Richard Baraniuk testified: “We created OpenStax College to directly address the issue of affordability and access. In the short time they have been available, our books have been used millions of times online and at more than 360 institutions.”
“Chemistry” provides core concepts and real world applications. As an open source textbook, it is customizable for instructors, who may wish to add their own best practices.
“I was already familiar with OpenStax and was very impressed with the organization’s mission and the quality of its textbooks, so the decision to accept an offer to serve as content lead was an easy one for me,” said Flowers, who is a long-time proponent of open source products.
Flowers does not hesitate to call this project and the OpenStax model a breakthrough in many ways, including the way the book came together with so many authors. OpenStax contracted with a third party, Words & Numbers, to coordinate and edit the content.
“I think the text development process is primarily responsible for the high quality of this text,” he said. “Coordinated by dozens of professionals, the content of this text was developed with input from roughly 70 chemistry academicians, with each chapter proceeding through multiple cycles of revision and review.”
Flowers is pleased with the results. He says that he has always tried to give his students affordable and high-quality literature by collecting public works and writing supplemental resources as well as negotiating text book prices with publishers.
Faculty, including at UNCP, are becoming aware of textbooks from publishers like OpenStax. They are not in use at UNCP yet, but Flowers teaches general chemistry, including an online version. A physics course adopted an OpenStax textbook and “Chemistry” was adopted by UNC Chapel Hill and UC Santa Barbara.
The new rules of open source textbook publishing also apply to compensation for authors. Flowers worked as a contractor on the book, which took about 18 months to complete. He took a flat fee with no royalties, further reducing costs.
Scott Bigelow is the public information officer for The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.