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June 2016
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iTextbooks? Continuing the dream – a commentary by Dean Florez, President of 20 Million Minds Foundation

With the passing of Steve Jobs, I had time to reflect on the painful lug of my then newly purchased Apple Macintosh around the UCLA campus during my senior finals week back in 1986. I remember shouting over a blasting boom-box about the futuristic power of personal computing as my classmates skeptically eyed me typing on the glowing box while they frantically hit return on their typewriters amidst bottles of whiteout on desks piled high with expensive textbooks.

Dean Florez

Today, I write this blog from an iPad the size of a composition book while listening to Pandora and watching my email annoyingly pop up as past college friends Tweet the latest gossip or post updates on Facebook. I think few realize that Steve Jobs gave us the future back in the 1980′s. But there is one constant relic that somehow persists as a reminder that we have yet to reach Steve Jobs’ vision for the future. THE EXPENSIVE COLLEGE TEXTBOOK. That book still sits on the desks of over 20 million college students today, right beside their iPods, iPads, and the plethora of e-devices glowing with the social rants pouring out of Facebook and Twitter.

Today we have the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, but what we really need is the iTextbook—and it should cost students under $30. Steve Jobs created NEXT, a great company, but today we need somebody to complete his vision for education by pushing every college and university to make the final transition into what I call the “NextBook” era, removing the unnecessary weight on the wallets and backs of our college students.

I left the California Legislature to head up a new non-profit, the 20 Million Minds Foundation (20MM). Our goal? To completely disrupt a complacent and lucrative textbook publishing industry by asking the simple question: do we really need bounded, heavy, overpriced copy-write protected books in today’s ebook, ibook, and Nextbook environment?

Just days ago, 20MM and powerhouse educational software company Kno, released our answer to that important question by announcing a new digitally enhanced NextBook for college students based on open content. We have our eyes set on producing open source NextBooks for the top 25 undergraduate courses in the nation, starting with general statistics. Why? Consider that in our California Community Colleges, nearly 120,000 students take general statistics EVERY year with an average new book price of $150—that is an estimated cost of $10 to $15 million per year for just one course!

Our next step at 20MM is to empower our faculty. Beyond offering professors NextBooks, 20MM will focus on the reusing, redistributing, revising and remixing capabilities of e-textbook material, utilizing faculty’s unique talents and expertise. Who wouldn’t take quality, customized, and student-centric material enhanced by the instructor over a high-cost, standardized, static, and closed publication?

Clearly, we understand that as we move toward this type of customization, the major issues will be quality and built-in assessment. Our statistics Web 2.0 NextBook is better than statistics books out on the market given it is specifically designed for college students to improve their learning experience and results with built in assessment capacities. We are partnering with assessment companies like BenchPrep so that every open source NextBook in our library of 25 has assessment as its lifeblood.

According to the latest report by the social learning platform Xplana, within the next five years digital textbook sales will surpass 25% of sales for the higher education and career education markets. But even with the changing winds, enhanced academic freedom, creative assessment tools, and a price point under $30, our major challenge remains.  Will faculty adopt these books for use in their classrooms?  We may have the best free and open general statistics e-book on the market, but will faculty place it on the syllabus the first day of class?

Much like those skeptical past college friends in 1986 who stared at the glowing box during finals week, I am confident that our faculty can get past the incertitude and finish the next chapter of the revolution Steve Jobs helped usher in decades ago. They just need to say yes to the future and embrace it as their own.

—Dean Florez

About 20 Million Minds Foundation
20MM Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to greatly reducing textbook costs. Headed by past California Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez, the foundation is currently leveraging leading edge technologies to create more affordable, engaging, and effective educational materials for college students throughout the nation.