Open-source chemistry textbook to give students free option in fall

Chemistry professor Edward Neth has decided to use an open source textbook for his introductory chemistry course in the fall. The textbook will be free online and $55 to print. (Mei Buzzell/Daily Campus)

Almost two years ago, the University of Connecticut’s Undergraduate Student Government spent $20,000 to help an open-source chemistry textbook make its way into classrooms.

During the upcoming fall semester, Edward Neth, a professor in chemistry, said introductory chemistry courses will use this open-source. The textbook will be free to students electronically and cost $55 printed.

“I’ve put in more time than I care to think about,” Neth said. “This is not just for UConn, but for anyone else who wants to adopt it in their courses.”

Neth took an existing textbook created by WiseWire, a non-profit publishing startup, and modified it for introductory chemistry courses, including chemistry 1124Q, 1125Q, 1126Q, 1127Q and 1128Q. He finished the first version of the textbook last semester and is now finishing the second version. Both versions will be used in two different sequences of introductory chemistry courses that students have the option of taking.

“We are on the stage of finishing it up and getting it released,” Neth said. “This provides a high quality textbook to students at a very low cost.”

Traditionally, the textbooks for chemistry courses, like many other introductory courses, cost as much as $200. Open-source textbooks give students the option of spending the money to get the textbook printed for a lower price or downloading it for free in PDF format on their electronic devices. 

I’ve put in more time than I care to think about...This is not just for UConn, but for anyone else who wants to adopt it in their courses.
— Edward Neth, professor of chemistry

Introductory courses are ideal for open-sources, Neth said, because academic fields like chemistry or math don’t change as rapidly as others. This means that an open-source textbook for introductory courses doesn’t have to continually be modified and rereleased. Many textbook publishers regularly rerelease textbooks with slight modifications, but at much higher prices. 

When it comes to traditional textbooks and open-sources, Neth said there is no difference in the effort it takes to publish them. He was able to succeed in creating an open-source textbook for UConn chemistry because WiseWire had already released an open-source chemistry book just a year before Neth began adapting it for his course. He said it would not have been so easy to write a textbook from scratch, but there are many open-source books already available online. 

After hundreds of emails with developers and peer-reviewers, his open-source book will be ready for use at UConn. Neth began planning for the second version of the book in January and the project has taken more than four months. He said the peer-reviews helped in deciding how to order material within the textbook and checking for accuracy.

“In an introductory course like chemistry or calculus, textbooks are needed,” Neth said. “To ask a student to look at a complex subject without a textbook is just impractical.”

Textbooks keep everyone on the same page, he said, and build the foundation students need to do well in their courses.

As part of a movement to kick-start the introduction of open-source at UConn, the USG unanimously voted to form a committee to explore options. The committee is led by UConn’s Vice Provost for Libraries Martha Bedard and UConnPIRG Textbooks Coordinator Toyin Akinnusotu.

Neth said open-source textbooks are just getting started at UConn, but he has heard much interest by professors who are concerned about the high cost of textbooks.


Diler Haji is a staff writer for The Daily Campus and can be reached via email at diler.haji@uconn.edu.