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Class Without Textbooks? Boundless.com Promises Free Textbook Replacement

Boundless, "the Free Textbook Replacement," is a revolutionary new service that is promising to completely redefine how students access information. "The future of educational content isn’t going to look anything like a textbook," says their website. Boundless collaborates with leading experts from Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, Berkeley and others to vet and research the best Open Educational Resources (OER) in the world.

For over 20 years, leading educators and institutions have been creating high quality, openly licensed and free content to be shared among the educational community for the benefit of students. All the information bound by cumbersome and expensive textbooks exists in other forms: It is out there for student use, but never before has it been gathered and presented to students in dynamic, accessible ways. Boundless curates the best OERs to connect students with the wealth of quality resources. They have created a free learning platform where students can access information tailored to their classes depending on the textbook they have been assigned.

Drawing from information provided by MIT Operncourseware, Connexions, Genome Project, Princeton and others, students can navigate easily through their personalized content, highlight and take notes, and save their materials forever. There is no time or space limit to how much information students access! The best part is, while they offer certain premium services, like SmartNotes (for $20 per course, you can receive detailed, intuitive chapter summaries), all the information is completely free --- saving students hundreds of dollars on textbooks per semester.

The Implications of Boundless

Because Boundless is free, personalized and allows students to access information from any device for as long as they want. It represents an important step in the advancement of how students learn and study. It is easy for educators to use, fun for students and will add another dimension to your lesson plans. Boundless goes beyond the textbook and expands upon the static PDF format of eBooks. The information on this learning platform is dynamic, interactive and utilizes various media to engage with students on multiple levels. While Boundless is currently aimed at higher education, they have many AP high school users and are looking to expand. Currently, their material covers biology, psychology, economics, physiology, American history, writing and sociology.

But because Boundless is free, it is also drawing some intense scrutiny from textbook publishers, who have "boundless disdain" for the startup, according to an Inside Higher Ed article by Doug Lederman. While students across a thousand colleges used the service last year alone, academic publishers are not on board with the accessibility of OERs. Copyright infringement is the primary concern, as Boundless not only presents information and content from existing textbooks, but it uses students' textbooks to tailor content specifically to replace them. In April, Pearson Education, Cengage Learning and MacMillan Higher Education filed a lawsuit against the company, saying in a letter:

"Notwithstanding its spin about being on the cutting edge, Boundless gets an ‘F' in originality for deliberately copying the creative, scholarly and aesthetic expression of plaintiffs and their authors. ... Boundless chose to bypass the creative process necessary to produce a legitimate textbook of its own by simply copying the original selection, arrangement and other protected expression that is the essence of plaintiffs’ textbooks. Such infringement by the defendant, along with its confusing and misleading marketing, damages plaintiffs’ businesses and investments in their copyrighted works."

Despite the lawsuit, Boundless will continue trying to engage students with Open Education Resources as the new school year begins.

So, what do you think? Is Boundless helping students by saving them money and providing free information or are they committing blatant copyright infringement that disrespects the efforts of the authors? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.