Boundless wants to do to textbooks what Wikipedia did to encyclopedias

(GRACIA LAM via BostonGlobe.com)
(GRACIA LAM via BostonGlobe.com)

This morning, Boundless, the Boston-based ed tech company that has shaken up the college textbook industry by offering electronic textbook alternatives at a lower cost, announced that it is launching a cloud-based platform to make educational content more widely accessible.

More access to information — sound familiar? Isn’t that what Wikipedia is built on? 

As one of the viable insurgents to the education establishment, Boundless has a secret weapon that the collaboratively edited online encyclopedia lacks — academic experts to supply and edit its content, making sure that the standards of quality are acceptable for higher education.

Boundless, however, is not looking to take on Wikipedia. The company actually has its sights set on a different target: the multi-billion dollar college textbook industry.

“In five to 10 years, I think people will look back at textbooks the way we look back at encyclopedias,” Ariel Diaz, chief executive and co-founder of Boundless, said. “The notion of carrying around this antiquated textbook will become very quaint, very quickly.”

The Boundless “Cloud Powered Education” platform is an attempt to continue fulfilling the company’s mantra that “universal access to education is a right,” by creating a cloud-based resource for educators to collaborate and contribute academic content.

Diaz said that Boundless is taking the content it currently has from more than 20 college level subjects as well as the platform it has built for students and teachers to engage with that material, and opening up the technology, processes, and learning tools the company has developed for educators to add or update online content themselves.

Educators can assign existing textbook content or customize their own titles; use pre-made PowerPoint slides and thousands of assessment questions; track student engagement with study materials; and contribute, edit, and share content on Boundless.

Currently, Boundless offers an array of open-sourced college subject resources for free on its website. Additionally, the company has course-specific e-textbooks with study resources available for $19.99, a much lower cost than comparable textbooks. The new platform will work in parallel with the existing pay structure but will allow for more engagement between students and teachers.

The main benefit of the new platform is to allow the textbook content on its site to continue to be open sourced but have the added authority of the academic community.

Boundless has already faced down a lawsuit from the powers that be in the world of textbooks. In December, the company settled with Cengage Learning, Macmillan, and Pearson Education for copyright infringement.

Judging from Diaz’s statements about a future with no textbooks, the company doesn’t seem to be backing down from its mission of universal access to education.

“Nothing out there gives educators this much control over the content and resources that we have,” he said. “That’s probably by design — everything else is locked down or under copyright.”

The bottom line: Boundless is making a push to both redefine our notion of what a textbook is, while also empowering educators and students. “That’s what we are driving toward,” Diaz said, “and this platform is a huge step in that direction.”

Dennis Keohane was a Senior Staff Writer for BetaBoston.
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