Flat World Knowledge

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Flat World Knowledge
Type Private
Industry Education
Founded 2007
Headquarters Washington, D.C., USA
Area served Global
Key people Christopher Etesse, CEO; James Rianhard, President
Products Textbooks
Website Flat World Knowledge

Flat World Knowledge is a publisher of college-level textbooks and educational supplements[1] founded in 2007 by Eric Frank and Jeff Shelstad.[2] Its company headquarters are in Washington, DC. The company originally offered every textbook published for free using online delivery under the open content paradigm,[3][4] but in November 2012, the company announced that it will no longer offer a free version citing financial concerns as the reason for the change.[5] Educator teaching supplements and materials consistent with industry norms are available at no charge.[6][7]

Company history[edit]

2007[edit]

Flat World Knowledge was founded in 2007 by Jeff Shelstad and Eric Frank in Nyack, New York.[8]

2008[edit]

Flat World Knowledge began alpha testing of their platform and business model spring of 2008.[9] Two alpha phases involved faculty and one alpha phase involved students. The company then moved to small-scale private beta testing in 27 classes.[10] Based on results from these studies, the business model was determined viable and the company moved toward preparing for a public beta launch in January 2009.[11]

2009[edit]

During spring of 2009, 30 colleges adopted Flat World open textbooks in public beta bringing the company their first 1,000 users. Eight textbooks were published at the time.[12] By August 2009, Flat World textbooks had been adopted at 400 colleges for use by 40,000 students.[13][14]

The company also published a graphic novel, Atlas Black: Managing to Succeed in August.

2010[edit]

Flat World Knowledge moved from Nyack, New York to Irvington, New York to accommodate company growth.[15]

Cerritos College selected Flat World Knowledge as their partner for an Open Textbook Initiative implemented in the school's Business Administration Department. Cerritos College evaluated the program and determined it a "tremendous success" according to a 2010 article published in Community College Week.[16] Specific items evaluated and commented on are:

  • Positive feedback from faculty and students on textbook content, quality, and price
  • Course retention rate of 90.2% after implementation (+10.0% to +15.0%)
  • No price barrier to course material access
  • Accessible format availability
  • Improved grade point average

Flat World Knowledge entered into a unique licensing agreement with Virginia State University in 2010. For eight core business courses, students gained access to all electronic formats of select textbooks including study aids. Unlike traditional licensing models, students retain access to course materials and study aids indefinitely through their Flat World student account. Audio textbook versions and ePub files similarly do not expire. The price for this universal digital access license is cited as $20 per student by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.[17]

The Virginia State University program is featured in the BizEd article "Digital at the Core." Virginia State University is using the agreement as part of a university effort to "save money, save the environment, improve student retention, and prepare business graduates for the complex working world."[18]

As of August 2010, the number of colleges and universities using Flat World open textbooks doubled to 800 higher education institutions. Student users more than tripled with 150,000 students using 24 published titles.

During fall semester 2010, 50 additional titles were announced as in the publication pipeline.[19] 2010 also marked crossing the threshold of having 100 authors signed to write open textbooks for publication by Flat World Knowledge.[20]

Flat World Knowledge claimed that in its second full academic year of operation, they would save[21] 150,000 college students $12 million in textbook costs in the 2010–2011 school year after adoptions by more than 1,300 educators as of August 2010.[22]

In December 2010, Outsell Inc. named Flat World Knowledge as one of "30 to Watch" for 2011 among innovators and disruptors who were selected for "shaking up their respective marketplaces."[23][24]

2011[edit]

Early in 2011, a Series B round of venture capital funding was completed successfully. Funding sources included significant venture capital firms and funding from the world's largest publisher of trade books, Random House.

In March 2011, the University System of Ohio announced the system will be providing 1,000 students free access to Flat World electronic format textbooks and study aids as part of a research project focused on student learning. Flat World Knowledge open textbooks are already in use at multiple system institutions. Research results from this program are intended to assist the system in driving textbook costs down and making college more affordable. These goals are part of the University System of Ohio's 10-year Strategic Plan for Higher Education. A site-licensing agreement with the university system will facilitate student access to the full breadth of course materials available for titles selected for the program.[25][26][27] The partnership was renewed and expanded after demonstrating the program made "textbooks more affordable and enhance[d] access and learning outcomes for college students."[28]

Flat World Knowledge reported adoptions at over 2,000 colleges and universities for use by over 300,000 students in August, 2011. Nine site licensing agreements were reported as of fall semester, including an expansion to 3,000 seats at Virginia State University and an initial 1,000 seats at University System of Ohio campuses. Virginia State University reported early positive impacts for course retention rates and academic performance in classes using the seat license model during the 2010-2011 academic year. The company reported forming a new division focused on marketing site license agreements.[29][30]

The Indiana University system released a report summarizing two years of research studying e-text use in the university system. Studied were 22 courses with approximately 1,800 students. Evaluated was "how students chose to use their e-textbooks, how they felt about them, and what the impact they had on learning."[31] Some students studied used titles from Flat World Knowledge which have been broadly available in the system since 2010.[32] General study findings were:

  • 87% of students abandoned paper and chose to read their books on a digital device (mostly laptops)
  • Most students preferred e-texts to paper (60% average - Range: 84–36%)
    • Highest preference was where instructors used the book; low approval ratings (36%) noted where instructors did not use the book for readings or assignments
  • Preferences for e-textbooks increased 11% the second semester a student used an e-text
  • Students ranked ability of instructors to annotate text as most important reason to select e-text - 84% found annotations helpful
  • Improved sustainability of e-texts was the second most important reason to select the format
  • Cost was the third most important reason

In September, 2011, Indiana University announced a system-wide agreement with Flat World Knowledge and three additional publishers making e-texts available at all campuses for the Spring 2012 semester.[33] A site-license agreement similar to the model first implemented at Virginia State University is being used.[34]

2012[edit]

MIT announced a partnership with Flat World Knowledge for three MIT OpenCourseWare offerings.[35]

The University of Minnesota created the Open Academics textbook catalog,[36] the first of its kind at a major research institution.[37] A significant number of Flat World titles in published subjects have been admitted to the catalog.

The University System of Ohio extended and expanded their agreement with Flat World after an initial study period, making the entire Flat World catalog available under a seat license agreement throughout the Ohio higher education system.[28]

University of Windsor, Windsor, Ontario, Canada, entered into a site-licensing agreement with Flat World Knowledge as part of a pilot program studying etextbooks for the 2012/2013 academic year. The agreement represents the first of its kind in Canada and has a stated aim of lowering costs while increasing textbook access.[38]

Flat World Knowledge announced that it will no longer provide free access to their textbook content citing financial concerns as the reason for this change.[5]

Investments[edit]

Flat World Knowledge secured $11.5 million in investments through 2010, including an initial $700k angel investment.[39][40][41][42]

In January 2011, $15 million in Series B funding led by Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments (BDMI), a wholly owned subsidiary of Bertelsmann AG, and Bessemer Venture Partners was announced. Returning investors for Series B funding include Valhalla Partners, GSA Venture Partners (formerly Greenhill SAVP),[43] High Peaks Venture Partners and several angel investors.[44][45][46]

Random House announced an investment in Flat World Knowledge in April, 2011.[47] Random House is the world's largest publisher of commercial trade books. Random House chairman and CEO Markus Dohle states Flat World Knowledge is a “transformative company in higher-education publishing” and said, “We [at Random House] share a strong drive to make high-quality academically-oriented content widely available and affordable for students and educators, and we welcome the opportunity to invest in Flat World's growth."[48]

International[edit]

A Canadian representation agreement was announced in March 2011 with Northrose Associates of Whitby, Ontario, Canada. The Canadian higher education system faces challenges similar to U.S. higher education providers from the ever escalating costs of traditional college textbooks. Open textbooks from Flat World Knowledge will be actively marketed by the firm to educators and higher education administrators across Canada.[49][50]

In addition to use in Canada, worldwide learners are accessing Flat World Knowledge textbooks regularly. Adoptions have been reported in 44 countries. The company actively promotes use of their free and open textbook delivery platform to advance education internationally.[51] The most frequent international access originates in India, China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Egypt, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Romania, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Germany. International usage is growing rapidly. In March 2011 alone traffic increased enough in four countries to be added to the cited Alexa Internet traffic ranking report.[52] The "Make it Your Own" (MIYO) feature of the company's publishing platform allows for customization and annotation of published titles in English and other languages.[53]

Recognition[edit]

The company was featured in Chris Anderson's Free: The Future of a Radical Price in 2008.[54]

In 2009, bNet recognized Flat World Knowledge as an industry innovator for introducing an abundance-based disruptive business model[55] to the college textbook industry.[56] That same year, Flat World Knowledge and Bookshare were jointly recognized as publishing industry innovators of 2009.[57]

Flat World Knowledge was identified in a 2010 report by Nicole Allen of The Student PIRGs A Cover to Cover Solution: How Open Textbooks are the Path to Textbook Affordability[58] and the New Media Consortium's 2010 Horizon Report as a contributor to the rapidly progressing adoption of open content in higher education.[59]

In December 2010, the American Library Association's Business Reference Sources Committee of RUSA's Business Reference and Services Section (BRASS) selected Flat World Knowledge's Business and Economics open textbooks for their 2010 list of "outstanding business reference sources."[60] Specific criteria used by the American Library Association BRASS when evaluating texts for selection were:

"A resource compiled specifically to supply information on a certain subject or group of subjects in a form that will facilitate its ease of use. The works are examined for authority and reputation of the publisher, author, or editor; accuracy; appropriate bibliography; organization, comprehensiveness, and value of the content; currency and unique addition to the field; ease of use for intended purpose; quality and accuracy of indexing; and quality and usefulness of graphics and illustrations. Each year more electronic reference titles are published, and additional criteria by which these resources are evaluated include search features, stability of content, graphic design quality, and accuracy of links. Works selected are intended to be suitable for medium to large academic and public libraries."

Organizational Behavior Cover

The Flat World Knowledge open textbook Organizational Behavior[61] by Talya Bauer and Berrin Erdogan was recognized by the Text and Academic Author's Association with a Textbook Excellence Award ("Texty") in March 2011. "This is the first time that an open textbook has won a Texty," notes Richard Hull, TAA’s executive director, "and signals the emergence of a new publishing model."[62] Winners are determined by a panel of veteran academic authors. The award seeks to "recognize works for their excellence in the areas of content, presentation, appeal, and teachability."[63]

In March 2012, Flat World Knowledge titles won two "Texty" awards. "Information Systems: A Manager’s Guide to Harnessing Technology," 2nd ed. by John Gallaugher won best new textbook of the year for the College, Accounting/Business/Economics/Management category. "Sociology: Understanding and Changing the Social World" by Steve Barkan won best new textbook of the year for the category College, Humanities/Social Sciences.[64]

Accessibility and regulatory issues[edit]

Accessibility[edit]

Flat World Knowledge textbooks are developed for accessible publishing natively to facilitate compliance with expectations placed on educators for assuring student accessibility to course materials set forth in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). For students with text, vision, vision and hearing, or physical disabilities, Flat World Knowledge has partnered with Bookshare to provide no-charge accessible digital books including an electronic Braille format. Bookshare members with qualifying disabilities have immediate access to course and reference materials online as opposed to having to request materials direct from the publisher by mail or through another intermediary. According to Jim Fruchterman, CEO of Benetech, the non-profit organization that operates Bookshare, "Without the cooperation of a publisher such as Flat World, students often wait for weeks to get textbooks in accessible formats and, in some cases, are forced to drop courses[65] due to lack of accessible books. Flat World is the first postsecondary textbook publisher to recognize and alleviate this problem."[66]

Price disclosure and edition availability[edit]

Flat World Knowledge claims to make compliance with the recent Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) simple as the basic price for their textbooks is free and once published, any edition number remains available online at no charge or available for order in print by students, educators, and bookstores on-demand; educators change versions only when they wish and book versions are never "out of print."[67][68][69]

Sustainability[edit]

Digital textbook and course material formats offer sustainability advantages over traditional paper textbooks.[70][71] According to a publishing industry study, an estimated "net [carbon] emission of 8.85 pounds per book [is created for each paper book] sold to consumers."[72] The net carbon emission for textbooks is much higher as the industry average includes high volume small paperbacks, children's books, and many other small form factors popular with consumers.

In 2010-2011, approximately 57.5% of students using Flat World texts opted for entirely digital delivery. As of fall 2011, 70% of students opt for digital formats,[73] significantly reducing the ecologic footprint from textbook use when compared to the historic paper textbook format.[74][75] Demand for free internet, ePub, .MOBI (Kindle), and PDF format books and materials is growing rapidly. Flat World Knowledge is "far ahead of the industry curve" for digital format use.[76]

For the approximately 30% of students who choose a print version over a digital one, Flat World Knowledge uses just-in-time centralized and local print on demand in their business model.[74][77]

Local print on demand of licensed content offers environmental benefits by saving the need to produce, store, and ship books from a central location — saving energy, natural resources, and cost. Eliminating the need for shipping alone eliminates at least 12.7% of the carbon footprint for paper books.[72]

Flat World Knowledge offers local booksellers the opportunity to license open textbook content for on-demand printing by the Espresso Book Machine[78] and similar equipment, removing the need for shipping and warehouse inventory, bulk receiving, and stocking shelves. Local print on demand is an emerging trend that will help reduce environmental and financial costs of textbooks as the technology is adopted to serve educators and learners who desire print format books.[79][80][81][82]

Some students use accessible and audio formats. Though Braille embossers print on paper, it is essential to provide access to educational materials in the format of choice to students regardless of disability. The same electronic file that is provided for a Braille embosser by Bookshare for Flat World Knowledge open textbooks is also compatible with many refreshable Braille displays.

Other accessible and audio mp3 formats are very sustainable as they are electronic.

Formats[edit]

Free[edit]

Until November 2012,[5] Flat World open textbooks were available to read for free through the Flat World Knowledge website in an e-reader like format. Any user with access to the Internet was able to read the entire textbook catalog for free. This option has since been eliminated because too many students were taking advantage of this option and the FWK business model was becoming unsustainable without increased revenue from the other options.

Accessible formats of published works for people with qualifying disabilities are available at no charge through Bookshare.

[edit]

Textbooks in formats including print, individual PDF chapters, ePub, .MOBI (Kindle), audio mp3, abridged audio study mp3, and optional study tools are available for purchase by students direct, through bookstores,[83] and via select online providers. No use of a paid format is required to access Flat World textbooks.[84]

For users that desire note taking, highlighting, flash cards, or access to a condensed study view of textbooks through their online account, a paid study pass purchase is required.

Derivative works[edit]

Derivative works created through the Flat World publishing engine are available online at no charge in the two formats described earlier or for purchase in print format direct or through bookstores by ISBN. An ISBN is generated for all derivative work publications developed through the Flat World Knowledge publishing engine as is a Creative Commons license compatible with the original work.[85] Accessible derivative work versions of Flat World Knowledge titles are made available for students with disabilities through Bookshare upon request.

Compatible devices[edit]

The company produces textbooks in a device-agnostic manner[86] to facilitate use of electronic publication formats on all major platforms including iPad, iPhone, Amazon Kindle, Nook, EnTourage eDGe, Sony Reader, and Android devices.

No Internet browser preference is stated for general access to free online reading over the Internet. Flat World Knowledge textbooks can be viewed on all major browsers and platforms.

Content management systems[edit]

Flat World Knowledge textbook content can be integrated directly into a learning management system such as Blackboard Learning System, ANGEL, Moodle, WebCT,or Desire2Learn.[87] Direct linking is available to Flat World textbooks, sections, and individual pages so other means of accumulating content in containers for group access to course learning materials are also supported. This addresses a controversy over time limitations placed on access to course content held by academic period based learning management systems.[88]

Flat World Knowledge provides instructor resources including test banks and lecture slides to registered and verified educators at no charge. Instructor testing and quiz materials are suitable for import into learning management systems. Specifically cited formats include[Blackboard Learning System, ANGEL, Moodle, and WebCT plus a Respondus Neutral Personality file suitable for import to compatible systems.[89] Compatible systems cited by Respondus include those previously listed plus Desire2Learn and eCollege.[90]

Online homework and assessment[edit]

Flat World Knowledge provides an online homework and assessment product called FLYX for select textbook titles. Homework and assessment tools are integrated into educator accounts and may be customized. Students see content as assigned by an educator. These homework and assessment tools are customized and developed for Flat World Knowledge textbooks to help students engage with and learn course concepts interactively. For independent learners, full access to homework and assessment tools is available.

FLYX content is developed by Lyryx Learning Inc. under a content-specific license agreement with Flat World Knowledge. FLYX is a paid supplement option but purchase is not required to access the associated textbook title.

Open-licensed textbook permissions[edit]

Non-commercial use[edit]

Usage permissions granted automatically under the Creative Commons license assigned to Flat World textbooks lets users remix, annotate, and build upon the publication non-commercially[91] as long as users give credit to the original author(s) and license their new creations under identical (share-alike) terms.[92][93] Translations are also automatically permissible under these licenses, either complete or as embedded content within the English or other language text. Educators are allowed to edit, add their own content, or insert annotations in a self-service manner using the Flat World Knowledge publishing engine available over the Internet.[94]

Commercial use[edit]

Commercial use of published works requires an arrangement with the company and respective authors. Authors and the company are entitled to royalties from commercial use "in any manner that is primarily intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation" according to license terms.[95][96]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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