Print-on-demand Open Source Textbooks

Advances in digital technology have made open source textbooks possible, saving students significant money, and many faculty across the U.S. are using open source textbooks for their classes.

Lon Mitchell, Assistant Professor of Mathematics, and his colleagues in the Math & Applied Math Department have taken this a step further by starting a project to publish, through print-on-demand, copies of high-quality open source textbooks.

While students may like the cost of an open source textbook, 75 percent say they prefer a print format for their textbooks, according to a recently published Student PIRGs study.

Recognizing this, in the fall semester of 2008, Dr. Mitchell and Math & Applied Math faculty colleague Richard Hammack applied for and received a small grant from VCU’s Center for Teaching Excellence to publish the open source books they and colleagues were using in the Math & Applied Math Department.

“Using open-source professional mathematical typesetting software, we reformat the books, and then contract with a printer to produce print-on-demand paperback or hardback copies,” Dr. Mitchell said. “We also own a set of international standard book numbers (ISBNs), and thus our books are available for distribution nationwide.”

He estimates that “the almost $200 difference in price … saves an average class of 35 VCU students over $5,000 in textbook costs.”

At least three of the authors who have made open source textbooks available are faculty in VCU’s Math & Applied Math Department, including John Cain, Angela Reynolds, and Richard Hammack.

“Creating a free textbook takes not only a lot of time, but generosity as well,” Dr. Mitchell said. “There are very few free textbooks currently available that are of high quality, so it’s quite remarkable we have two from VCU.”

The Math & Applied Math Department currently has four books published; all four are in use this semester.  Two additional print editions of open-source books are in development, and all editions will soon feature a cover created by the VCU Design Center.

For more information:

Math Department publishing information

The Student PIRGs: New Report Finds Switching to Open Textbooks Saves Students