Notes from the Overground

Illustration from the lecture notes for module 1, session 4, of 5.07 Biological Chemistry 1, showing how penicillin inhibits cell wall biosynthesis in bacteria by inhibiting the enzyme transpeptidase.

Illustration from the lecture notes for module 1, session 4, of 5.07 Biological Chemistry 1, showing how penicillin inhibits cell wall biosynthesis in bacteria by inhibiting the enzyme transpeptidase.

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

In the days of high resolution video, lecture notes may not seem like a flashy way to learn, but they represent one of OCW’s most valuable and portable learning resources.  Currently, almost 650 course sites in the OCW collection have complete lecture notes, and many other sites have selected notes. Another 67 courses have full online textbooks.

At their most robust, lecture notes can mimic textbooks, with clearly written prose, crisp mathematical notation, and graphs or illustrations.

A good way to zero in on class notes in a subject that interests you is to visit the Teaching Materials search on the OCW Educator portal. Here you can call up a specific subject area, and find all the courses within it that have lecture notes, complete or selected.

Teaching Materials Search

But see for yourself in this sampler of recently published courses with lecture notes:

This course discusses theoretical concepts and analysis of wave problems in science and engineering. Examples are chosen from elasticity, acoustics, geophysics, hydrodynamics, blood flow, nondestructive evaluation, and other applications.

This course examines the chemical and physical properties of the cell and its building blocks, with special emphasis on the structures of proteins and principles of catalysis.

This course provides students with the basic tools for analyzing experimental data, properly interpreting statistical reports in the literature, and reasoning under uncertain situations. Topics organized around three key theories: Probability, statistical, and the linear model.

This course studies information and contract theory, encompassing decision making under uncertainty, risk sharing, moral hazard, adverse selection, mechanism design, and incomplete contracting.

This course presents a computationally focused introduction to elliptic curves, with applications to number theory and cryptography. It works its way up to some fairly advanced material, including an overview of the proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem.

This is the first semester of a one year graduate course in number theory covering standard topics in algebraic and analytic number theory.

This course is the continuation of 18.785 Number Theory I. It begins with an analysis of the quadratic case of Class Field Theory via Hilbert symbols, in order to give a more hands-on introduction to the ideas of Class Field Theory.

Open Access Textbooks: Libraries Test a Model for Setting Monographs Free (Chronicle of Higher Ed)

Free online textbooks are among the most popular and highest impact open educational resources. (The overwhelming response to this list of OCW’s online textbooks has made that clear to us!)  The recently announced Knowledge Unlatched initiative brings some new participants into the fold through a novel collaborative business model.

Libraries Test a Model for Setting Monographs Free

Knowledge Unlatched hoped to recruit 200 libraries in time to unveil a pilot collection of open-access books at the end of February, but about 300 libraries signed up.

By Jennifer Howard | April 1, 2014

Librarians love to get free books into the hands of scholars and students who need them. Publishers love it when their books find readers—but they also need to cover the costs of turning an idea into a finished monograph. Now a nonprofit group called Knowledge Unlatched is trying out a new open-access model designed to make both librarians and publishers happy.

Here’s how the “unlatching” works: Participating libraries pick a list of scholarly books they want to make open access. They pool money to pay publishers a title fee for each of those books. The title fees are meant to cover the cost of publishing each book; publishers calculate what they think is fair and share those estimates with the Knowledge Unlatched group.

In return for the title fees, the publishers make Creative Commons-licensed, DRM-free PDFs of the selected books available for free download through the OAPEN digital platform (OAPEN stands for Open Access Publishing in European Networks), the HathiTrust digital repository, and eventually the British Library.

Authors and publishers decide which Creative Commons license they’re comfortable using. There’s no postpublication embargo period; the books will be available as soon as the publishers and Knowledge Unlatched can process and upload the PDFs. (Click here for a full list of the books selected for the pilot and whether they’ve been published and uploaded yet.)

Read more

Innovation, Access, and Open Education: The Business & Policy Case for OER

Cable Green, Director of Global Learning at Creative Commons, is the best in the business at making the policy case for Open Educational Resources. Here he is in action (via OLDaily and Jason Rhode):

Innovation, Access, and Open Education: The Business & Policy Case for OER

February 6, 2014 By Jason Rhode @jrhode

UPCEA has made freely available the recording of Cable Green’s general session presentation titled, “Innovation, Access, and Open Education: The Business & Policy Case for OER” at the recent Summit for Online Leadership and Strategy. While the slides are available here, the recording is now available here.

General Session Presentation by Cable Green

To view the rest of the Summit For Online Leadership and Strategy‘s program you can purchase the Online Pass.

– See more at:

Open Textbooks Could Help Students Financially and Academically (Chronicle of Higher Ed)

Open Textbooks Could Help Students Financially and Academically

January 28, 2014 by

As the price of college textbooks continues to increase, more students are opting to skip the books even if their grades suffer, a survey conducted by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group has found. In a report released on Monday, the group said open textbooks—written by faculty members, peer-reviewed, and available free online—could help make textbooks affordable again.

For the report, “Fixing the Broken Textbook Market,” more than 2,000 students at 156 college campuses in 33 states were surveyed during the fall of 2013. Sixty-five percent of the students said they were not buying all of their required textbooks because of the books’ cost, and 94 percent of those who didn’t buy the books reported being concerned about how that would affect their grades. About 48 percent said that the cost of textbooks had influenced their decisions about which and how many classes to take.

The research group estimates that each student could save about $100 per class by using open textbooks. Those are textbooks with open copyright licenses that are available free online, although students who want printed versions would pay modest fees.

The College Board estimates that the average student attending a four-year public college will spend $1,200 on books and supplies this year. According to a 2013 study by the Government Accountability Office, textbook prices have increased by 82 percent in a 10-year period, far more than consumer prices. Read more.

45 free and open textbooks from MIT OpenCourseWare

Here at MIT OpenCourseWare, we publish a lot of course materials.  Tens of thousands of lecture notes, assignments, exams and other documents.  It’s a huge amount of content in which many gems can hide. Open textbooks, in particular, have tended to get lost in the mix, but we’ve known for some time we have a good trove of them on the site.

Now we are able to present a list of over 45 open textbooks (and textbook-like resources) currently available on the MIT OpenCourseWare site, at the new OCW Online Textbooks page.

Dig in.  There’s a lot of reading to be done!

Screenshot of OCW online textbooks page.

Durbin, Franken introduce legislation to help make college textbooks more affordable

Press release from Senator Durbin’s office:

The cost of new textbooks has increased 82%, three times faster than inflation, over the last decade

[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Al Franken (D-MN) today introduced legislation designed to help students manage costs by making high quality textbooks easily accessible to students, professors and the public for free.  This bill, known as the Affordable College Textbook Act, would create a competitive grant program for institutions of higher education, working with professors and other organizations, to create and expand the use of textbooks that can be made available online and licensed under terms that grant the public the right to freely access, customize and distribute the material, also known as “open textbooks”.

“My home state of Illinois provides an example of how the bill I am introducing with Senator Franken can be successful,” said Durbin.  “Over three years ago, I worked to secure funding for the University of Illinois to complete an open textbook project.  The University, working with faculty, identified sustainability as the topic for the project and an area of study in need of such open resources. Since 2012, the textbook that was produced from this effort – Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation – has been in regular use at the University of Illinois campuses. The book has been used in a Massive Open Online Course that has been sampled by at least 60,000 students.  At least a dozen schools throughout the country have either contacted the University of Illinois about the text or are using it.  This bill can replicate and build on this success and help make the cost of attending college more affordable.”

“In the fight to make college more affordable and accessible for Minnesota families we can’t overlook the rising costs of textbooks,” said Franken. “I’m proud to introduce this bill with Senator Durbin because it will help provide cheaper alternatives to traditional textbooks and keep more money in students’ pockets where it belongs.”

Textbook costs are one of the most overlooked costs of going to college, but they can be substantial and can be a barrier to attaining a college education.  According to College Board, the average student budget for college books and supplies during the 2012-2013 academic year was $1,200.

“Students can’t afford to pay $250 for a single textbook. In fact, U.S. PIRG found that seven of ten current college students have skipped buying a textbook because it was too expensive. It’s clear that the current big-publisher system isn’t working for students, and needs to change,” said U.S. PIRG Higher Education Associate Ethan Senack.  “For students, the cost-saving potential of open textbooks is massive – around 80-100% compared to published textbooks. We thank Senators Durbin and Franken for championing this innovative solution to the high cost of textbooks.”

Today’s legislation expands on the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act which contained provisions from Durbin’s College Textbook Affordability Act that aimed to make more information available to students looking to manage college textbook costs.  Durbin introduced his bill after learning of troubling practices by the publishing industry to create new textbook editions with little new content to drive up costs and bundle additional and often unwanted materials to required texts at students’ expense.  The 2008 law required textbook publishers to disclose to faculty the cost of a textbooks to their students, required schools to publish textbook information in course catalogues when practicable, and required publishers to offer unbundled supplemental materials so students had choices.  The provisions took effect on July 1, 2010.

While a June 2013 GAO Report required by the law found that students had more information and publishers and schools were generally complying with the new disclosure requirements, it also found that the price of textbooks had continued to rise.

“Textbook prices are simply unaffordable and have become a barrier to academic success for too many students,” said Nicole Allen, Open Educational Resources Program Director for the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition.  “This bill would help more colleges leverage open educational resources to make higher education more affordable and accessible for all.”

“The dirty secret about textbooks is that they don’t have to be so expensive given the rise of technology. Even worse, if you put textbook debt in larger context with student debt, the affordability of college is becoming less and less tenable, and, as a result, the American dream is becoming more difficult for the next generation to attain,” said Matthew Segal, co-founder of

The limited federal investment in the creation and expanded use of a set of high-quality, introductory level college textbooks outlined in the Affordable College Textbook Act can improve learning, access, and affordability for all college students.  Making high-quality open textbooks freely available to the general public can significantly lower college textbook costs and increase accessibility to higher education.  Open textbooks can also improve learning and teaching through course materials that are more flexible, adaptable, and accessible for professors.

Specifically, the Affordable College Textbook Act:

  • Creates a grant program to support pilot programs at colleges and universities to create and expand the use of open textbooks with priority for those programs that will achieve the highest savings for students;
  • Ensures that any open textbooks or educational materials created using program funds will be freely and easily accessible to the public;
  • Requires entities who receive funds to complete a report on the effectiveness of the program in achieving savings for students;
  • Improves existing requirements for publishers to make all textbooks and other educational materials available for sale individually rather than as a bundle; and
  • Requires the Government Accountability Office to report to Congress by 2017 with an update on the price trends of college textbooks.

The Durbin-Franken Affordable College Textbook Act is supported by the following organizations: U.S. PIRG, the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition, American Association of Community Colleges, National Association of College Bookstores, National Association of Graduate and Professional Students, OUR TIME, Creative Commons and the OpenCourseWare Consortium.

Community College Consortium for OER (CCCOER) upcoming Webinar: OER and Open Textbook Adoption and Sustainability

Please join the Community College Consortium for Open EducationalFree the Textbook Resources (CCCOER) on Wed, Oct 30, noon Pacific, 3:00 pm EST for a webinar on how three statewide projects have established open education portals to expand student access and foster faculty innovation.  Leaders from California, Florida, and the province of British Columbia will share successful strategies and challenges to the continued growth and adoption of their OER and open textbook collections.

Gerry Hanley, Senior Director of Academic Technologies, California State University Office of the Chancellor and Executive Director, MERLOT will share the Affordable Learning Solutions project established in 2010 that supports students and faculty in their choices of high-quality, low-cost instructional materials.

Robin Donaldson Assistant Director, Instructional Resources & Support, Distance Learning & Student Services, Florida Virtual Campus will share statewide efforts to promote open and affordable learning materials through the Orange Grove repository and Open Access Textbook project.  This will include their annual faculty and student surveys on digital resources entering its fourth year.

Clint LaLonde Manager, Curriculum Services and Applied Research at BCcampus will share strategies and progress made on the British Columbia 40 Open Textbook project announced fall 2012.  The project is growing a collection of peer-reviewed open textbooks to be adopting in the highest enrolled post-secondary courses.

Participant Login Information:

No pre-registration is necessary. Please click on link below on the day of the webinar to login and listen.


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