Open books: a powerful though little-used educational tool


Open books are free and repositories grow day by day; with them, teachers can enrich their teaching practice and at the same time provide their students with material tailored to their needs.

By Kenneth Bauer

One of the main issues affecting the educational experience, regardless of whether you are a teacher or a student, is access to books. It is not easy for teachers to ask their students to buy more than one textbook to study a subject in greater depth. The reality for many university students, in Mexico and other countries, is that they have to choose between eating and buying books. In many educational institutions, access to libraries is restricted or, in the worst of circumstances, non-existent. On the other hand, always using the same textbooks is not educationally beneficial. A math book from the seventies is still an invaluable source, but we need to complement it with current sources in order to address present-day challenges. So, what can teachers do to face up to this challenge? One alternative is open books. They are an excellent tool that few teachers appreciate and, unfortunately, hardly any students ever use.

In many educational institutions access to libraries is restricted or in the worst of circumstances non-existent.

What are open books?

The concept of open books emerged from the open-access and open-source software or code movement, whose philosophy is to permit the dissemination of information free of restrictions, copyrights or patents. Anyone can use, transform or mix these resources. In Mexico, the definition of open access is described in Article 65 of the Science and Technology Law:

“Open access means access through a digital platform, without subscription, registration or payment requirements, to research work and educational, academic, scientific, technological and innovation materials, financed with public resources or that have used public infrastructure in their execution, without prejudice to the provisions on patents, intellectual or industrial property protection, national security and copyright, among others, as well as information that, given its nature or at the decision of the author, is confidential or reserved”.

Open books are a phenomenal tool that has been taking root on the Internet but that we have overlooked for far too long.

Internationally, Copyright (C) protects authors’ works and allows them to choose the conditions under which they will be reproduced and distributed. Moreover, the digital universe incorporated Creative Commons (CC) licenses, which are a simple, standardized model that offers authors the opportunity to give the general public permission to share and use their creations. At present, countless institutions and independent creators share their work under the CC licenses, including literary works, videos, photographs, audio, scientific research, and academic courses. Under these statutes, anyone can use and transform the shared resources as they see fit, for non-profit-making purposes and giving attribution to the respective authors.

Benefits of open books for the educational experience

  • Open books are free, with the number of repositories growing day by day.  Even though faculty have access to their institution’s publications archive, obtaining new or difficult-to-access titles can be expensive and complicated.
  • The majority of licenses allow teachers to edit or mix these free publications to create a new book focused specifically on their subject. In other words, teachers can use a few chapters from one book and paragraphs from another, as required.
  • Faculty enrich their teaching, while providing students with effective material tailored to their needs.
  • Students can integrate diverse sources in their research, eliminating the restriction of having just one text available and enabling them to compare innumerable resources on a specific topic.
  • Significant savings.
  • In formats that target digital readers (ePub, the standard format of eReaders), teachers and students can make notes on the text.
  • Elimination of heavy backpacks.

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  • A non-profit organization of Rice University, in which books are examined and approved by faculty or specialists, according to their subject matter.
  • Repository with 40 different fields of study, with the philosophy of inviting educators to find, adopt and adapt free textbooks.
  • Free repository of reference books, whose licenses of use depend on each author’s decision. 

Open books are a colossal tool that has been taking root on the Internet, but that we have overlooked for far too long. I would like to invite you to explore in greater depth the benefits of using open books in your class, compare different sources and tailor your class to your students’ needs. Let's share knowledge and our experience.

About the author
Ken Bauer ( is a professor in the Computer Science Department at Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Guadalajara. His interests include open pedagogy, flipped learning, connectivism and software engineering. Ken has offered international presentations on these topics and is currently the board chair of the Flipped Learning Network.