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Ohio System Teams with Flat World Knowledge on Freebie Digital Textbooks

The University System of Ohio is setting a spark under faculty members to encourage them to try out digital textbooks in the classroom with a new pilot program that will allow 1,000 Ohio students to receive the texts for free. The system is working with Flat World Knowledge, a company that publishes textbooks online and in other formats.

The deal made by the Ohio Board of Regents is just one of multiple digital book projects the university system is currently undertaking to encourage faculty to use digital resources in their courses. The goal is to drive down textbook costs for students and make college more affordable--a key strategy in Ohio's 10-year Strategic Plan for Higher Education.

So far, according to Ohio Digital Bookshelf estimates, 49,936 students have saved money with digital textbook options. Ohio Digital Bookshelf acts as a clearinghouse for sharing ideas and successes within the university system.

To participate in the newest pilot, a faculty member has to select Flat World textbooks for their courses and agree to participate in a research project focused on student learning.

Students in classes using Flat World books have the option of accessing the online edition for free or purchasing the same text in a different format. Formats include the free online version; e-books for the iPad, Kindle, and other e-readers; MP3 audiobooks; PDF chapter downloads; and interactive study aids. Printed editions have soft covers and come in black and white or color ink. Each format has a different price.

The deal with Ohio allows students to have free access to all the digital formats and study aids, including the online version, e-book, audiobook, PDF, and study aids. The purchase option applies if they want a soft cover print book.

Digital files are non-expiring and don't have digital rights management (DRM) copy-protection. That means students can transfer texts from device to device.

"The University System of Ohio works hard every day to provide students with low-cost options that promote student learning," said Chancellor Eric Fingerhut, who announced the new deal. "This innovative pilot will evaluate cost-effective options for Ohio college students and set the stage for significant system-wide savings."

The system reported plans to hold workshops to help faculty and students get up to speed on working with the new digital texts.

Flat World uses Creative Commons licenses for its materials and encourages faculty members to modify textbooks for their particular requirements. Customization is done through a tool that allows the instructor to rearrange chapters and sections with drag and drop and add or delete portions. Once the changes are made, the revised textbook is saved and a custom ISBN issued for use by college bookstores.

Currently, faculty at multiple Ohio institutions are using Flat World textbooks, including instructors at Miami University in Oxford and Columbus State Community College.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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