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panOpen shifts the textbook paradigm

By Alban Murtishi
On April 7, 2014

   With the advent of rapid information sharing, professors and students struggle with new textbooks going out of date before they hit the shelves. panOpen, the open educational resources (OER) library, has the solution; put those textbooks out of print and onto the internet. OERs, which are free alternatives to textbooks for various subjects online, are collected, organized and streamlined on

Peter O'Reilly, class of 2013, is a project manager for Partners in Publishing, a small company out of Glastonbury that is promoting the panOpen platform. His company is marketing the platform to professors for use in their classrooms, as well as conducting reviews with professors to verify high quality content for the libraries.

   "We're helping these publishers and younger companies find a foothold in the marketplace, and these technologies are changing the way courses are being taught," O'Reilly said.

  To actually make an impact with OERs, panOpen is forgoing the stagnate textbook and shifting to the manipulative web content format. A company called SumoPublishing, another client of Partners in Publishing, exemplifies this shift by using web text resources that can be edited from a professor's computer, and pluggable examples and quizzes can be added directly into the text.

   "I actually worked on one of their English courses ,and they worked with us to create content, I was working specifically on these embedded text questions for the readings," O'Reilly said. "It was really cool to see a process of how to integrate an interactive product like that."

  panOpen plans to integrate these advances moving forward, including in-text self-grading quizzes with the tools for professors to respond to scores directly in the text.

        OER and OER libraries like panOpen have been utilized for a while now on a smaller scale and by a few schools. However, what panOpen does is use professor reviews to find the most relevant and high quality information and compile that into organized OER. Before panOpen gets through them, many of these texts had utilized strange formatting, jargon and visually look like the notes of a student in class.

 These advances come from some surprising statistics regarding student interactions with textbooks.

"It's to revolutionize the otherwise stagnant publishing rules, only 9 percent of students buy brand new textbooks." O'Reilly said. "There's a company we want to work with called PackBackBooks that rents out textbooks for dollars a day because that found that many student only use their books for four days out of the semester!"

panOpen was started by Brian Jacobs, a Cornell graduate, who founded a similar online bookstore called Akademos. His experiences with Akademos led to his interest in OER content, which inspired him to create a good looking platform that centralizes only the best material.

As panOpen moves forward, they will eventually have to charge for this content which will end up costing between $15-30. That money will help fund customer support and analytics. The platform just went live two weeks ago, and they will be visiting campus Wednesday 12 to 3 p.m..

"There's a lot of OER content on the web but so many people don't know it's there, and they think it will be low quality because its free. We're trying to change that," O'Reilly said. 

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