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Open Textbooks In California

Open Textbooks In California

Looking for cost saving measures during a time of severe budgetary pressure, California Governor Schwarzenegger announced in May 2009 that free open-source digital textbooks for high school math and science would be available by fall 2009. In the first-ever statewide initiative to bring open textbooks into classrooms, textbook developers were invited to submit their products for state review. Sixteen submissions in the areas of algebra II, biology/life science, calculus, chemistry, earth science, physics, and trigonometry were scrutinized for coverage of the relevant California content standards. Ten submissions were approved: Four met all relevant content standards and another six met 90% or more.

The governor estimated that the average high school textbook costs $100 and that the state could save $400 million by going to open source for all math and science textbooks for its 2 million high school students. Although the governor's action was stimulated by the need to find innovative ways to save costs, it reflected a conviction that digital materials are of high quality and have important advantages. The governor characterized print textbooks as outdated, heavy, and expensive. "This [digital textbook initiative] represents an important step toward embracing a more interactive learning environment that leverages technology to meet the changing academic needs of California's students," said Schwarzenegger.

Because they are available in digital format, the approved textbooks can be downloaded and used in a variety of ways. Students can view the textbooks on a computer, but the contents can also be projected on a screen, printed chapter by chapter, or bound in their entirety. Several of the approved texts are offered by a nonprofit foundation, whose website gives educators the option to remix or edit textbook components to meet the needs of their class (creating their own "Flexbook"). California's textbook reviews and links to the texts themselves can be found at

Skeptics point to the fact that not all students have computers to view digital text on and that the governor's initiative did not include training for educators in how to use the digital books effectively. But California is pleased enough with its digital textbook initiative that it plans to extend it to other subject areas. Other states, including Virginia, Florida, and Indiana, are launching digital textbook initiatives of their own.

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