It may still be a number of years away from common use, but some universities are experimenting with the implementation of open source textbooks as class materials. The advantage, of course, is that these would be much cheaper alternatives to the standard print texts, potentially saving students hundreds of dollars a year. I know for a couple of courses I took, this would have come in handy. I believe that for my English courses, I still would have acquired the official print texts for novels and poetic works, as well as Medieval Studies source, but any Math or Science texts in my first year or two would be fair game.
A stumbling block for this kind of open source resource is the requirement by many professors that students use the newest editions of texts, which makes it nearly impossible to acquire these through any means other than the conventional. Each new edition of a text also comes with additional reference materials that are important to educators and can provide extra benefits to students as well.
Then there’s always companies like Apple, who are planning to get involved in the text book and education markets.
Written by experts in their fields, open-source textbooks generally allow users to edit the texts or make “mash-ups” from several books.
Ernst is leading a new project at the University of Minnesota that will review open-source textbooks and collect the ones that pass muster in an online catalog. He said the project will concentrate first on the most widely taught courses, like introductory biology and math.