Open Textbooks and ePub

A new convergence of technology has survived the early stages of Gartner’s hype cycle1. It has survived the peak of inflated expectations and the trough of disillusionment. It is slowly ascending the slope of enlightenment and will soon achieve the plateau of productivity, bringing benefit to schools and their students.

I am writing about the convergence of the open textbook and the interactive eBook (i.e. ePub specification 3.0).

Open textbooks have been around for a while. The original inspiration, according to Richard Baraniuk, a computer science professor at Rice University, came from the open source software movement. But in the early days, the scale of the open textbook movement was understandably small. Professors in any discipline had to look long and hard for a quality textbook that could be re-purposed for their students. Today, however, the promise of open textbooks shines brighter than ever. Open textbooks are ascending the slope of enlightenment. OpenStax ( alone has more than fifteen hundred books representing six broad curricular areas. Closer to home, the University of Minnesota Open Textbook Library ( carries more than 200 open books.

In a speech to the Minnesota eLearning Summit in 2013, Creative Commons’ Cable Green reported that in the last thirty years, textbooks have increased in cost by 800%. Today, to offset the high cost of college textbooks, students have multiple options: They can rent or purchase used books. They can purchase digital versions directly from companies such as Boundless Textbooks, which provides alternatives to expensive textbooks. They may be given yet another option — the open textbook. The largest disruptor in my view is the open textbook.

One visit to will tell you why. Richard Baraniuk founded Connexions at Rice University in 1999 to provide students with free educational materials. Connexions is now rebranded as OpenStax. At the conclusion of this article, you will find several resources. One of them is a TED talk delivered by Dr. Baraniuk on the subject of open source material.

In a nut shell, Dr. Baraniuk likens textbook pages to learning objects or Lego™ blocks. Textbook pages can be reassembled and organized and blended with new material to serve the different needs of students. Several years ago, I scanned the list of available books. Perhaps I fell into the trough of disillusionment. Today, I am utterly astounded by the breadth and quality of materials. And all for free. At least (in the digital form)  to students.

This is all happening at a time when a new eBook specification has emerged. The specification is called ePub. ePub has been around since 2007 in its initial form. Until now, eBooks were available but not widely adopted.   Only 28% of people, polled by Pew Research, claimed that they have read at least one eBook.   That statistic is about to change.

Today, the latest specification is ePub 3 and it is a game changer. ePub 3 is the convergence of text, audio, accessibility, imagery, video, MathML and interactivity in a digital book.

OpenStax resources are available as ePubs, as well as PDF and HTML. ePubs play beautifully across a wide variety of eBook readers. ePub 3 books play well on iPads using either the iBooks reader or the Gitden reader.

In support of this technology, LodeStar Learning has just released a beta version of ePub3Maker. The LodeStar 7 workflow that instructors use to create learning objects for learning management systems like Moodle, D2L and Blackboard can now be used to create interactive eBooks that follow the ePub 3 specification.

Its an exciting time — because it is a time when so many great technologies are converging.  (I hope to cover the specifics of that convergence in a future article.)

Screenshot of iBooks library

Screenshot of iBooks library

For now, here are two simple examples of eBooks created with LodeStar. Both examples are for demonstration purposes only. Download iBooks (or Gitden) into your iPad from the Apple Store.  iBooks supports ePub 3.  Then click on the links below from your iPad.

The first eBook combines text, imagery, questions and video.

The second is a demonstration of OpenStax content blended with interactive questions. Precalculus.epub



 Ted Talk


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