Flexbooks: What Can They Do For You?
December 15, 2010 by Luke Mueller
With the rising cost of tuition and traditional college textbooks, is there a way professors can help defray these costs for their students?Yes, by using flexbooks, said Brian Lindshield, assistant professor in the Department of Human Nutrition at Kansas State University, during his presentation at the 2010 Axio Learning Conference. What is a flexbook? Lindshield quoted the CK-12 foundation as “a flexbook being a free and open source textbook platform where one can build and edit collaborative textbooks”.
According to Lindshield, the cost of textbooks is increasing at seven percent per year and college tuition is increasing at nearly eight percent per year. Both of these are increasing more rapidly than medical costs and all other items, which is at six percent per year and four percent respectively. Since tuition costs are not easy to control, Lindshield said that decreasing textbook costs is a more feasible goal.
Lindshield said he creates his flexbooks using Google Docs (docs.google.com). With Google Docs, his flexbooks can:
- Be downloaded in a variety of formats such as .odt, .pdf, .rtf, .doc, text or html.
- Searched in real-time, which makes studying notes or finding an answer for an open-book test simple and efficient.
- Be organized and sorted by chapters, sections, and other customizable options.
The ability to embed web links within the flexbook is another advantage. With a traditional textbook, the only visual aspects it can offer are flat images. Lindshield said he frequently pastes links to videos, animations and other pleasing visuals in his flexbooks.
“I try to focus on figures and visuals rather than having huge amounts of text to be able to show them the process I want them to learn,” Lindshield said.
To satisfy copyright law when using outside information, educational figures, animations and images in his flexbooks, Lindshield uses Wikipedia (wikipedia.org) and YouTube (youtube.com) which are public domains. Instead of attributing the license of the information in his flexbooks, which would take unnecessary time and work, Lindshield said using the URL prevents legal repercussions and saves time.
“Flexbooks are great because they can evolve easily and are cost-efficent,” said Lindshield. Initially, Lindshield said his students may not be as familiar and comfortable as they would be with a traditional textbook, but he said his students’ experience with flexbooks has been well received.
After testing the flexbook out for the first time during the 2010 spring semester, he said that at least half of his students preferred flexbooks to traditional textbooks. Lindshield said he hopes to work with K-State Printing Services to offer a printed version of the flexbooks for those students that prefer hard copies and were concerned of the high personal printing costs.
What started out as a wiki for a nutrition course, has become a satisfying, yet timeconsuming project for Lindshield. When asked how long it took him to create the flexbook he is using for the current semester, he was very blunt.
“I would say hundreds of hours… I was doing it as I was developing the course as well. Since I was doing it without a textbook or PowerPoint slides, I spent a lot of time… I don’t want to downplay that at all. It was a lot of time and effort.”
But Lindshield feels doing this is a necessary step in helping students keep costs down. While flexbooks seem to be new and uncharted territory for students and teachers alike, Lindshield is confident that they offer numerous benefits for both parties.
**Watch Brian Lindshield’s presentation, “Flexbooks” on the conference website: axioconference.org/followup
Lindshield recommends the following sites for getting started with flexbooks:
CourseSmart digital course material provider coursemart.com
Flat World Knowledge free peer-reviewed textbooks flatworldknowledge.com
Textbook Revolution a student-run site that provides free educational materials textbookrevolutions.org
MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching) free peer-reviewed online teaching and learning materials merlot.org
Open Education Resources (OER) Commons free shared teaching and learning materials oercommons.org