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The Saylor Foundation’s Open Textbook Challenge


Calling all academic authors! The Saylor Foundation's Open Textbook Challenge is expanding, and awarding $20,000 for accepted textbooks that align with eligible Saylor courses and are licensed through Creative Commons (CC-BY).

The Saylor Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization currently offering over 200 open, online courses in 12 disciplines and a general education program covering topics from art history and biology to mechanical engineering and psychology. The courses are created with the help of credentialed faculty using open education resources to help students meet the same kinds of learning objectives they would find in traditional programs. The new project hopes to add free, open textbooks to each of these courses.

I recently had the opportunity to meet with Jeff Davidson, strategic initiatives manager for Saylor, and Charlie Adair, project coordinator, to find out more about what they are looking for and how you can get involved in the process.

What are the goals?

"Saving students money," says Davidson, is a priority of this project that aims to provide cost-free alternatives to traditional college textbooks. Adair adds that the project is "not trying to reinvent the wheel. We are looking for texts that cover previously unaddressed topics." As a part of the wider open education resources community, Saylor intends for the textbooks created through the Open Textbook Challenge to be available not only to their learners, but also to any student who needs a textbook and instructors who need a textbook for their courses.

The first wave of the challenge has already taken place and resulted in four open textbooks. These texts are presented as PDFs, but Davidson indicates that "we are of course open to interactive and multimedia options."

How does it work?

Criteria have been established for those interested in participating in the challenge. If you have a Ph.D. and experience teaching one of Saylor's eligible courses, you can proceed in one of two ways:

  • Existing textbook: If you already have a completed textbook, for which you own the copyright, you can choose to include it in this project. There is a submission and review process that begins online.
  • New textbook proposals: Apply online to begin the initial review of your qualifications and expertise in the subject area and courses for which you are interested in developing texts. If accepted, you will be invited to submit a Request for Proposal form that includes a proposed outline and sample chapter.

Individual authors or groups of authors can participate in the challenge, and will retain copyright to their work, but it must be offered with the CC-BY license. This allows others to use the book, or parts of it, without having to get special permission as long as the author(s) are recognized and attributed with the work.

What's next?

The Open Textbook Challenge is ongoing and will continue to review submissions from individual authors; however, Davidson said that plans are in the works for a "vetted crowdsourced option" that would enhance existing peer review and editing components of the current publication process. The Saylor team is exploring possible platforms for this kind of collaboration. Adair also noted that the team is "working to create EPUB formats of existing and upcoming textbooks resulting from the challenge." This format option would allow students and instructors to easily access and view the books on devices, such as smartphones and tablet computers.

Textbooks developed through the Open Textbook Challenge have the potential to reach a large group of learners. Saylor recently announced a new partnership with StraighterLine that will help students learning with open educational resources to receive credit for their work and course completion. Students enrolled in Saylor's classes can seek assessments through StraigherLine and StraighterLine's students will have access to Saylor's course materials in their learning environment.

If you think you might be interested, take a closer look at the tips provided on the Open Textbook Challenge website and contact the project coordinators at otc @ saylor.org with any questions you may have. Be sure to watch for updates in the coming months!

May 22nd, 2012 written by Staff Writers

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