ED MAP: The End of Textbooks

ED MAP LogoEditors Note: This guest post is written by Max Mark: the founder and CEO of ED MAP, a Course Materials Management company, whose services and technology simplifies the discovery, adoption, management, and delivery of quality educational content. You can follow him on Twitter @athensmax.

Hats off to Ariel Diaz and Boundless for his insightful analysis here on Educelerate and for his company’s efforts to provide low cost digital textbooks. As a company, ED MAP has been in the textbook distribution industry for over a decade.  We concur with his market profile and the facts, figures, and sentiments about the textbook industry. And while we agree with his argument and his premises, particularly as it pertains to digital and low cost access of information, we wind up in a different place with slightly different conclusions.

I know this is hard to believe, but when I began to drive at the age of 16, gasoline was no more than twenty-five cents per gallon.  I could use my parent’s car, put a dollars worth of gas in it, and drive around all evening with a group of friends cruising the streets and do the kinds of edgy things that high school boys do.  Fast forward, nearly five decades later and little has changed except the price.  Cars still consume gasoline, climate change is upon us, China emerges as a significant user of fossil fuel and other market factors simply drive the cost of gasoline up and up.  Hybrid cars are on the scene, electric cars may be around the corner, and variations on personal transportation and/or mass transit seem to be on the cusp of significant change.

While it is not a perfect analogy, it puts me in mind of the textbook industry and the many insights provided by Mr. Diaz.  But when all is said and done, a digital textbook is still a textbook.  Not unlike a car is still a car.  We have seen low cost and no cost textbooks emerge, but admittedly a no cost business model is a tough way to make money!  Ask those that have tried.

So while the efforts of Boundless and other erstwhile companies are to be applauded, they conclude that the answer is a low cost book consumed via a different methodology, i.e. digital.  At ED MAP we have a very different emphasis, even though we are still deeply immersed in distributing print books and e-textbooks.  We believe less in the product and more in the process.  We believe in the centricity of the faculty member and through our own products, services, and software aim to help learning in the classroom take advantage of the best that’s out there.

A few years ago, we stopped using the term textbook, which takes me to the heart of the issue.  We like to point out that we distribute course materials today, which of course may be inclusive of textbooks both print and digital.  But that is indicative of where our sentiment lies now and has been for many years.  The answer is not in the product, but is in the learning process.  The answer is in the classroom, physical or virtual.  The end consumer of course materials is of course the student, but the tools and the decisions critical to the process rest with the faculty and/or course designer.

In the past when we think about the “tools” needed to assist a faculty member to effectively teach, we thought of the textbook.   But as Mr. Diaz begins to suggest, there is so much more information out there, one does not need a “textbook” from the big five publishers.  He cites OER as a rich resource.  We like to get beyond that.  We like to think about faculty generated material, and all the rich resources available on line.

The real problem that we are attempting to tackle is how do we get the user, in this case the faculty member, to understand what is out there and how can we assist them in finding and curating that information.

At ED MAP we consult with schools, help them manage the change from print to digital classroom resources.  In that process it is essential we provide faculty with information about how to assemble course materials to fit learning objectives.  It is a fascinating process to watch, as those who are slow to adapt and adopt begin to struggle with the individualized challenge of what do I teach, why do I teach it this way, what do I hope to accomplish and what can I use to help students get to where I think they should be.  Once they begin to break down the learning environment and the classroom dynamics they have become accustomed to, they are quick to understand the value of the unique products coming to market from companies like Boundless.

But for ED MAP, the user is the faculty member and the challenge is teaching the teacher or the course designer. Tradition suggests courses should be taught around the textbooks that are available, and that is how the big five achieved market dominance.  Our approach is holistic and starts with the faculty versus the material and what they want or need to be an effective instructor.

My favorite example to use when working with faculty is to ask them what resources they might find useful in teaching a course on the history of World War II.  There are so many resources if one decides from the beginning that a textbook is not the way to go.  There are PDF’s of treaties, black and white newsreels, audio files of great radio speeches, old photos of battle scenes or military equipment, interviews with veterans, and the list can go on and on limited only by imagination.

In this course on World War II, finding and curating is essential.  What one does with the discovery of the materials becomes a secondary decision.  Shall I create a low cost OER book/file, or should the material be embedded in the institution’s LMS, or should the faculty choose their own alternative on how to present the material.  The genius is in the learning process, not the product.  And as long as the traditional teaching model of one to many exists there needs to be consistency on what to put in front of the learner for consumption, and for education.

As we continue to consult with schools and assist them in moving in to new ways to utilize course materials we are constantly amazed by the excitement and the creativity of faculty.  As a company we still sell millions of dollars worth of print books, new and used, rentals and e-books but we are emerging in to the new eco-system as a company at the heart of the learning process, where faculty, student, technology, and information all come together.

To paraphrase an old expression which typifies the textbook industry, there is great chaos under heaven and the situation is excellent.

As I began this piece so will I end it, hats off to Boundless and all the other companies we rely on to bring new and innovative ideas to our constituency.

Creative Commons: an Educational Primer

Over the past few weeks, I have been posting (herehere, and here)  regarding copyright and the need for educators and students to learn more about creative commons licensed material. However, many have asked:

“What IS creative commons licensing anyway?  Can’t students just provide attribution, like in standard research papers… why seek out creative commons licensed work? What is the difference?”

While the internet has opened amazing avenues for education and research, as well as providing an overall shared cultural experience, it has also come face to face with international copyright laws. For the most part, the “openness” of the internet is diametrically opposed to the explicitly closed nature of copyright laws.

The default setting of copyright law requires all of these actions to have explicit permission, granted in advance, whether you’re an artist, teacher, scientist, librarian, policymaker, or just a regular user. To achieve the vision of universal access, someone needed to provide a free, public, and standardized infrastructure that creates a balance between the reality of the Internet and the reality of copyright laws. That someone is Creative Commons. -From CreativeCommons.org About

Why the need for Creative Commons?

Copyright law in the United States as well as elsewhere in the world is extremely well established and quite historic in nature. By default, it requires that any use of material (other than by the creator) needs to be granted explicitly AND prior to use by a 3rd party. However, the Internet with its abundance of information elicits the overwhelming desire to interact in some way with that information: save, copy, add to, mashup, share, embed, repost, mixup, and more. From a legal standpoint, those information interactions could not happen without the express permission of the creator… That said, from a practical standpoint, how does one know WHO the actual creator is? How do you contact those individuals? Heaven forbid, gaining the use of long tail material that even many creators have forgotten they posted… the creator has changed contact information… the creator has passed from this world… or corporate mergers, acquisitions, or businesses folding… Creative Commons creates a happy medium between copyright and the internet.

How does it all work?

[Creative Commons(1) provides everyone from] individual creators to large companies and institutions a simple, standardized way to keep their copyright while allowing certain uses of their work — a “some rights reserved” approach to copyright — which makes their creative, educational, and scientific content instantly more compatible with the full potential of the internet. – From CreativeCommons.org About

Basically, creative commons licensing provides the creator with a way to from from an “all rights reserved” model to a “some rights reserved” model on copyrighted material. This way the creator of information – text, music, photos, videos, etc. – can designate (in perpetuity) how any future (unknown) user might be able to interact with the information or material they have created. Currently there are six creative commons licenses(2):

  • Attribution (CC BY) – This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation.
  • Attribution-Share-Alike (CC BY-SA) – This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use.
  • Attribution-NoDerivs (CC BY-ND) – This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC) – This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA) – This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND) – This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

For educators and students, understanding the differences between “All Rights Reserved” and creative commons licensing is really key to safely walking the fine line of copyright. To take that statement further, students and teacher should treat ANY material they find on the internet as the exclusive property of the owner unless they find that it is held under a creative commons license.(3)

On one hand, any material on the internet that does not explicitly represent that it is covered by creative commons licensing should be treated as “All Rights Reserved” by the owner / creator of that material (meaning keeps your mouses and copy/paste off it), while on the other, not all creative commons licensing is created alike… All creative commons licensed material requires attribution to the original author, works that carry a form of the NoDerivs license must be used in their original format. They cannot be cut-up, mashed up, or altered in any way. Similarly, any material that is created from a work that carries a form of the ShareAlike license must itself be re-licensed under identical terms. Finally, any work that carries a form on NonCommercial license (itself or a derivative) cannot be placed for sale.

One last point needs to be made about creative commons licensed material. Earlier in this post, I glossed over the fact that works licensed under creative commons hold that license in perpetuity. I cannot stress this enough. Creative Commons licenses are non-revokable. That does not mean an owner / creator cannot change the licensing terms of a work at some point in the future. It is his or her work to license as he or she wishes… However:

Creative Commons licenses are non-revocable. This means that you cannot stop someone, who has obtained your work under a Creative Commons license, from using the work according to that license. You can stop distributing your work under a Creative Commons license at any time you wish; but this will not withdraw any copies of your work that already exist under a Creative Commons license from circulation, be they verbatim copies, copies included in collective works and/or adaptations of your work. – from CreativeCommons.org FAQ

The Creative Commons organization is truly an amazing international group continuously working to foster and promote the use of creative commons work. The organizations also supports the Open Education Resources movement that EdReach has also provided information about in previously. The site also contains multimedia information that can help educate students in creative commons. Additionally, one of the unique features built into creativecommons.org is a powerful search engine that locates works that hold creative commons licensing from: Google, Google Images, Flickr, Blip.tv (video), Jamendo (music), spinXpress (music), and Wikimedia Commons (media). Give it a try at: http://search.creativecommons.org/

Creative Commons Search

For more information on Creative Commons take a browser trip over to creativecommons.org.


(1) Creative Commons(.org) is the organization promoting, funding, supporting, and creating the legal frameworks for creative commons licenses. Creative Commons Licensing is often synonymous with CreativeCommons.org.

(2) All information and wording regarding creative commons licensing comes directly from CreativeCommons.org

(3) I hate disclaimers, however, I feel compelled to point out that I am not a copyright lawyer. Should you have a specific concern about works you have used in the past, please seek the counsel of a qualified attorney.

Image Credit: Creative.Commons.org