Sign of the Times

It has got to be significant for higher education when the New York Times endorses open access textbook publishing. That is exactly what happened in yesterday’s editorial about a proposed discloser law for textbooks being considered in Washington state. The concern over textbook prices is not new, of course, but the attention the NY Times gives to an open access model surely is unusual. The editor moves from endorsing the proposed law to suggesting that disclosure is not enough; “creative solutions” like the Rice University Connexions project are required.

Connexions is an open-source and open content experiment at Rice, supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, that allows users to create and publish academic “modules” that others can locate, download and print for educational purposes. All of the content is offered under a Creative Commons license. The Times notes that one can print a 300 page textbook in electrical engineering from Connexions for a lot less money than it would cost to purchase a similar work, and right now users can also find featured course material for music and corporate governance at the site. In fact, there are almost 4,000 modules available on Connexions, browsably by subject area. With the NY Times getting on board, this may be a real harbinger of the future in higher education.