Why Think Open

“Knowledge is open if anyone is free to access, use, modify, and share it — subject, at most, to measures that preserve provenance and openness.” (Open Knowledge International)

Open textbooks and open educational resources can significantly reduce student textbook costs while giving instructors the flexibility to reformat and customize their course material. Open licensing (like Creative Commons license) provides the two main benefits of open:

  1. The cost – it’s free!
  2. The permissions – you are free to retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute openly licensed content!

The Cost

(Note: These quotes are comments from U of I students made publicly on a Change.org petition created by the Associated Students of the University of Idaho. The petition and comments can be viewed here.)

“I can’t afford both books and food. I have to choose to either eat or pass my classes right now.”

Since 1985, textbook prices have risen at a higher rate than medical care and gas. At the University of Idaho we pride ourselves on the comparative affordability of a college education, but the commercial textbooks we adopt are just as expensive as everywhere else and University of Idaho students are expected to spend $1,214 each year on textbooks. In a recent study, 65% of college students surveyed had decided to go without their required textbooks due to cost, and nearly all expressed concern that their choice would impact their grades. Additionally, nearly half of students surveyed said that the cost of textbooks impacted how many classes they took each semester.

As tuition increases, lowering or removing textbook costs can have a powerful effect on the affordability of a college education and has the potential to improve retention and graduation rates.

“Reducing the cost of textbooks would save my life! I spend way too much on books and school itself. I am a single mom and it is so hard paying for school, paying for my daughters, food, living, and bills.”

The Permissions

The terms “open content” and “open educational resources” describe any copyrightable work (traditionally excluding software, which is described by other terms like “open source”) that is licensed in a manner that provides users with free and perpetual permissions to:

  • Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g. download, duplicate, store, and manage)
  • Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g. in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
  • Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g. translate the content into another language)
  • Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new (e.g. incorporate the content into a mashup)
  • Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g. give a copy of the content to a friend)

Retain and redistribute mean you can eliminate or greatly reduce the cost of learning materials for your students.

Revise and remix mean that you and your students can personalize and improve your learning materials, either individually or collaboratively, and that this collaboration can happen with people in the same class, same institution, or anywhere around the world.

Reuse means the original or improved materials can be used in class, online, in labs, in study groups, and in other formal and informal settings.


An open textbook is a textbook licensed under an open copyright license and made available online to be freely used by students, teachers, and members of the public. Open textbooks are a way to significantly reduce student textbook costs while giving instructors and flexibility to reformat and customize their course material. They are an affordable, flexible alternative to traditionally-published textbooks.

Some open textbooks:

Open textbooks are one type of open educational resource (OER). Examples of other OER can include media such as video or audio, courseware, quizes, or syllabi. OER are defined as “teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others” (Hewlett Foundation).

Open educational resources created collaboratively with students and faculty: