Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching - MERLOT
Eighth International Conference

MERLOT: Still Blazing the Trail and Meeting New Challenges in the Digital Age

7-10 August 2008
Hilton Minneapolis Hotel
Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA


August 8,2008 Friday, 10:00 am to 10:15 am     Mini Session (15 minutes):

The Online Textbook: A Student-Faculty Collaboration
Adopting, Adapting, and Authoring Digital Learning Resources

Presenter: Philip A.  Pecorino
, Ph.D.

Queensborough Community College, CUNY

School of Professional Studies, CUNY

Nassau and Suffolk County Community Colleges, SUNY

 Online textbooks are a student centered approach to the course textbook making text available anywhere and at anytime via computers including hand held devices. They contain the works of scholars and academics placed online under toll or open access. Some add the work of the instructor and the works of students in a single online textbook designed for students.  For learners online textbooks are economically advantageous and convenient and can contain materials at a level that can be adjusted to that of the learner.  For the instructor they can be easily revised following user feedback and can include student work.  Sample listing of five such works now in use by the presenter at

 What is an online textbook?

There are a variety of entities that can be described as online textbooks and their number may grow larger. 

1. Publisher supplied online version of a print textbook 

2. Publisher supplied enhanced online version of print textbook 

3-4. Publisher supplied textbook that exists only online and intended for downloading or exclusively online 

5-6.Instructor edited textbook that exists only online and intended for downloading or exclusively online 

7-8. Instructor authored textbook that exists only online and intended for downloading or exclusively online 

9. Instructor and student authored textbook that exists only online and intended for downloading.

10. Instructor and student authored textbook that exists only online and intended for use exclusively online

11.  Open Access Online books authored by an entire communities at wikibooks established in 2003.

Driving Forces 

  1. High Cost of Published Texts
  2. Varied learning styles
  3. Varied academic preparation of learners
  4. Varied levels of learner’s Reading Comprehension
  5. New Information and Knowledge
  6. New techniques for presentation
  7. Learner use of convenience technologies

Enabling Factors

  1. Internet
  2. Open Access Publication Paradigm
  3. Open Access Texts  (Open Source) – online content
  4. Social Networking
  5. Lower cost of technology- vanishing “digital divides”
  6. Learner familiarity with technology
  7. Learner preferences for technology

 There is a campaign Make Textbooks Affordable by Student Public Interest Research Groups to increase the number of such texts that has over 1,200 instructors endorsing its  Open Textbooks Statement of Intent

As faculty members, we affirm that it is our prerogative and responsibility to select course materials that are pedagogically most appropriate for our classes. We also affirm that it is consistent with this principle to seek affordable and accessible course materials for our classes whenever possible. This includes “open textbooks,” which are textbooks offered online to students at no cost.

Open textbooks and other open educational resources present an affordable, comparable and flexible alternative to commercial course materials:

  • Open textbooks are available online at no cost to students, and they can be printed for a low cost in various formats. This ensures all students have equal access to the content, while still preserving the option to use a conventional textbook format.
  • Open textbooks that are of comparable quality to commercial textbooks are already available. An example of an open textbook is Caltech Professor R. Preston McAfee’s Introduction to Economic Analysis, which has been adopted at NYU and Harvard.
  • Open textbooks are flexible. Instructors are free to use a particular edition indefinitely or customize content if desired.

Therefore, we the undersigned declare our intent to:

  • Seek and consider open textbooks and other open educational resources when choosing course materials.
  • Give preference to a low or no cost educational resource such as an open textbook over an expensive, commercial textbook if it best fits the needs of a class.
  • Encourage institutions to develop support for the use of open textbooks and other open educational resources.


Recent News 

A New York Times Editorial April 26, 2008 “That Book Costs How Much?”  notes the economic concerns driving much of this trend and possible legislative actions intended to address the mounting costs of textbooks and then adds 

 “Schools are beginning to balk at outrageous pricing. Rice University offers textbooks for some classes free online and charges a nominal fee for the printed version. A new company called Flat World Knowledge, based in Nyack, N.Y., plans to offer online textbooks free and hopes to make its profit by selling supplemental materials like study guides and hard copies printed on demand.” 

On April 29, 2008 the Chronicle of Higher Education printed “Community College Open-Textbook Project Gets Under Way”  

At the meeting, representatives of institutions around the country will start reviewing open-textbook models for “quality, usability, accessibility, and sustainability,” according to a news release. They will initially review four providers of free online educational resources: Connexions, run by Rice University; Flat World Knowledge, a commercial digital-textbook publisher that will begin offering free textbooks online next year; the University of California’s UC College Prep Online, which offers Advanced Placement and other courses online; and the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources, which was founded by the Foothill-De Anza Community College District and the League for Innovation in the Community College.

The Wall Street Journal, July 10, 2008  carried the item “As Textbooks Go 'Custom,' Students Pay”  indicating a variety of issues with regard to the increasing price of textbooks and efforts to deal with that and recent efforts to provide free alternatives and custom textbooks with payments going to instructors, departments and institutions. 

USA Today , July 10, 2008, updates its article Online 'open textbooks' save students cash”

Reporting on the growth in the variety and number of online textbooks.  It reports that former executive at Pearson Education Publications 

“ [Eric] Frank and his business partner, Jeff Shelstad, in January plan to launch Flat World Knowledge, the first commercial open textbook publisher. It will offer free online textbooks that can be printed and bound, for about $25 for black and white and $35-$39 for full-color copies. The average price of a traditional textbook varies by subject; many new textbooks cost about $150, Allen says.   Instructors will be able to modify the content, and authors will be compensated "at least as well as the traditional model." Frank is recruiting authors, who will receive royalties for texts and supplementary materials such as study guides. 

From the online version of Inside Higher Education on April 29, 2008 there is a report that with a grant from the William and Flora Hewlet foundation the Foothill-De Anza Community College District in California has a project to train instructors in the use of open resources with a goal to have them produce open access textbooks. 

On July 10, 2008 the Society for University and College Planning reported in Online 'Textbooks' See College Doors Opening

We've been watching this trend for quite some time. It's now clearly in an exponential growth curve and could well be mainstream in less that a decade:

As textbook prices skyrocket, college students and faculty seeking more affordable options increasingly are turning to "open textbooks" as an alternative.
Open textbooks are free textbooks available online that are licensed to allow users to download, customize and print any part of the text. Professors can change content to fit their teaching styles. Some authors offer a print-on-demand service that produces professionally bound copies for $10 to $20.
Textbook prices have outpaced inflation 2-to-1 in the past two decades, says a 2005 report by the Government Accountability Office. They account for 26% of tuition and fees at four-year public universities and nearly three-quarters of costs at community colleges, the GAO says.

Listings for online textbooks 

Textbook Revolution Textbook Revolution is the web’s source for free educational materials

Online Books Page   listing by the University of Pennsylvania 

MERLOT  MERLOT is a leading edge, user-centered, searchable collection of peer reviewed and selected higher education, online learning materials, catalogued by registered members and a set of faculty development support services. 

Project Gutenberg   There are over 25,000 free books in the Project Gutenberg 

Questia   Questia is the first online library that provides 24/7 access to the world's largest online collection of books and journal articles in the humanities and social sciences, plus magazine and newspaper articles. 

World Public Library    This collection hosts more than 500,000+ PDF eBooks and eDocuments. 

Connexions   is an online repository of free educational content that uses a Creative

Commons license (see  

Assayor  Links to full text versions of more than 1,000 titles in various subject areas. 

Online Library of Liberty  Contains full text of many books in economics, history, politics, music, art, and other subject areas. 

Free Books 4 Doctors Includes links to the full text of more than 650 medical books

Student Boook World  Includes hundreds of textbooks in various subject areas. 

Tech Books for Free Includes full textbooks in computer and technology subject areas. 

Textbook Solutions  Lower-cost textbooks available for download in a variety of subject areas.

Focus of this presentation 

Example #10  of an online textbook:  Instructor and student authored textbook that exists only online and intended for use exclusively online. 

These textbooks are the result of faculty-student collaborations. 

What is the student-faculty collaboration

  • Faculty organize and author text
  • Students, users, readers supply critiques and suggestions
  • Faculty accept critiques and make revisions
  • Under faculty supervision and editing, students supply text

 Examples of student supplied text: 

1) A summary of an article:

Software Ownership and Natural Rights Volkman, R.

Summary by Kimberly Beuther (CUNY, 2006) 

2) An article

Malpractice organized by Sara Cerrone  (NCC, 2005) 

3) Case Presentations

The Birth of Gene Therapy      prepared and written by Mark Riddagh (SCCC, 2006) 

4) Reflections on important points;

Information Technologies and Accountability by Chris Murphy, CUNY, SPS, 2007 

5) A presentation

Stages of Grief by Nancy Weitzman , CUNY, 2003 

My examples are available in my online textbooks  at this location 

Introduction to Philosophy. 2001

Philosophy of Religion.  2002

Perspectives on Death and Dying  2003

Ethics. with Stephen O'Sullivan 2002.

Medical Ethics. 2004

Computers, Information Technologies, the Internet, Ethics, Society and Human Values 2006

Pro’s and Con’s of using online textbooks for students and instructors 

There may be some general observations of advantages and disadvantages common to all varieties of online textbooks ( e.g., cheaper, user friendly, etc…)  but as the range of such works is so great (e.g., online only and downloadable)  those observations are likely to be less than useful.  Any valued listing would need to be related to the particular variety of online textbook being discussed of the eleven different types listed above.  There are such observations as the listing of 30 Benefits of Ebooks by Michael Pastore available.   There are also efforts underway that will attempt to measure the outcomes as compared to the use of traditional texts. 

For online textbook model number ten, the Instructor and student authored textbook that exists only online and intended for use exclusively online, what I offer here are some simple observations on my own experiences.   


Learner Centered 

·         Little or no cost for the text

·         Text may contain multiple presentations of the same points at different reading levels or in different ways

·         Some text authored by peers

·         Opportunity to have text revised while still using it

·         Opportunity to contribute to the text as critic or author

 Instructor Centered 

·         Text customized to needs of learners

·         Text easily revisable

·         Text may include multi-media Items and features 


             Learner Centered 

·         Not traditional

·         Not physical text to hold and mark 

Instructor Centered 

·         Need to revise

·         Need to maintain links

For more information on the texts or the process contact presenter:

Philip A. Pecorino, Ph.D.