Rice University-based nonprofit OpenStax, which is already changing the economics of higher education by providing free textbooks to more than 1 million college students per year, today launched a low-cost, personalized learning system called OpenStax Tutor Beta that studies how students learn to offer them individualized homework and tutoring.
OpenStax Tutor Beta, which has been in development for three years, will be available this fall for three courses: college physics, biology and sociology. Students don't need to download software to use the system. Instead, they log in to the OpenStax Tutor website to read their textbook and do homework.
While they study, OpenStax Tutor learns how they learn -- what they struggle with, what helps them most -- and it uses that information to tutor them. The system provides personalized assessment and spaced practice, helping students focus their studying efforts on their weak areas and remember what they learned earlier in the course.
"The ultimate goal at OpenStax is to provide students with the tools they need to achieve their educational goals," said Daniel Williamson, managing director at OpenStax. "We've made our name by providing free textbooks that are comparable to those costing hundreds of dollars. OpenStax Tutor Beta is the ideal technology to pair with that content because it's easy to use and it helps improve learning outcomes at very low cost.
OpenStax is working to integrate OpenStax Tutor Beta with popular learning management systems so that professors can easily adopt the system and students can access it with a single course login. OpenStax is also actively seeking philanthropic partners to fund a broader rollout of OpenStax Tutor Beta for other introductory courses.
OpenStax Tutor Beta costs $10 per student, a price that helps OpenStax offset the cost of maintaining the platform.
Ease of use has been a priority throughout the development of OpenStax Tutor Beta.
"With most courseware, instructors and students have to spend a lot of time learning the system before they can get much out of it," said Richard Baraniuk, founder and director of OpenStax and Rice's Victor E. Cameron Professor of Engineering. "OpenStax Tutor Beta isn't like that. We have intentionally made this exceptionally easy-to-use and set up because we want instructors to focus on teaching and students to focus on learning."
Launched in 2012, OpenStax is a unique publisher that uses philanthropic grants to produce high-quality, peer-reviewed textbooks that are free online and low-cost in print. OpenStax has titles for nearly 30 high-enrollment, introductory college courses. It measures success not in terms of books sold or revenue earned, but rather in dollars saved by students who do not have to buy expensive textbooks. OpenStax also partners with for-profit companies that integrate OpenStax with their technology, both to expand the impact of its books and to keep its titles up to date.
OpenStax is a nonprofit initiative of Rice University and is made possible by the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the 20 Million Minds Foundation, the Maxfield Foundation, the Calvin K. Kanzanjian Foundation and the Leon Lowenstein Foundation. For more information, visit http://openstax.org