Open-sourced ‘flexbook’ earns K-State educator national acclaim


A K-State assistant professor has received national attention for his work in implementing alternative textbooks for college classrooms.

Brian Lindshield, assistant professor of human nutrition and undergraduate nutritional sciences adviser, was one of three nominees for the People’s Choice Award in the “Most Open Resource” category. That attention culminated in a nationally syndicated Kansas City Star article that was published across the country.

“It was great just to be nominated,” Lindshield said. “While we didn’t win, the nomination and the flexbook have given [K-State] a lot of good attention.”

A “flexbook” is an open-source digital database of information, text, video and graphics, broken up into chapters like a traditional textbook. Unlike with a traditional textbook, professors can easily keep a flexbook up-to-date. And unlike a traditional textbook, the flexbook is free.

“It is nice that people seem to appreciate it,” Lindshield said.

Inspired by his own experience with purchasing expensive textbooks, many of which were only moderately utilized by instructors, Lindshield set out to give students an inexpensive alternative. He ended up developing a free one.

The price was something that did not go unnoticed by his students.

“Since the trend is that textbooks are moving toward digital versions anyway, I think the flexbook is a great, cheap alternative for professors willing to put the time into creating their own,” said Samantha Claassen, sophomore in dietetics and nutritional sciences.

Lindshield began trying out alternatives to traditional textbooks for his human nutrition course in 2009.

“Originally, I taught the class without any formal text at all,” Lindshield said. “The idea was to have students collaborate on notes and then bring them together in a wiki, but they didn’t like that very much, so I began developing the flexbook.”

Lindshield began developing the flexbook in the summer of 2009 and started using it for his classes in the spring 2010 semester.

“The first semester I used it, I would just post each section on Google docs,” Lindshield said. “By fall 2010, the entire book was available to students from the beginning [of the semester].”

Eventually, Lindshield’s updates and revisions made the flexbook into a tool tailored to cover exactly what he taught in his class.

“I think we pay a lot of money for traditional textbooks that contain a lot of extra material that you don’t really need to know or is not covered by professors,” said Kirti Gandhi, senior in nutritional sciences. “The flexbook cuts to the chase and is more effective in terms of highlighting the important information.”

Lindshield’s flexbook is also easy to access. It is available on K-State Online, published to the Web with its own URL and is also available in PDF format for students who would like to print the information and then read it on paper.

“We’ve done some research and it has shown that students are now using the online resources more than just printing out the PDFs,” Lindshield said.

Lindshield also said that at some point, students are using all three formats in the semester.

The versatility of the flexbook drew outside praise as well.

“It was cool that he was able to edit material in the book anytime he wanted and that I could have the book with me anywhere I went without having to haul another book around in my bag,” Claassen said.

Spring 2013 marks the start of the fourth year that Lindshield will be using the flexbook in his classes.

Lindshield said his flexbook is now in use at Merrimack College in Massachusetts. He said he found out recently that it is being used as the primary text in a massive open online course, a Web-based curriculum designed for people who want to learn about a subject on their own for free.