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Boundless unveils free resources for teachers

Brian Balfour (left) and Aaron White helped found Boundless Learning, a start-up that offers “open-source’’ textbooks.
Brian Balfour (left) and Aaron White helped found Boundless Learning, a start-up that offers “open-source’’ textbooks.Credit: JONATHAN WIGGS/GLOBE STAFF

After two years of providing low-cost digital textbooks to students, Boundless is expanding to a key element of the education world: teachers.

The Boundless Teaching Platform, which rolls out today, is a free tool for educators who want to use the Boston-based startup’s textbooks in their curricula. The platform allows teachers to customize Boundless content to their syllabi and view statistics on how students are engaging with course materials. It also includes teaching materials such as lecture slides and quizzes.

Boundless was founded in 2011 as a more flexibly-priced alternative to conventional paper textbooks, with content “matched” with the website’s own editions.

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In the two years since its inception, Boundless has grown a user base that now exceeds 2 million students, according to the company. It has also drawn the ire of several major publishers, who sued the startup in April 2012. The publishers alleged that the design and layout of some “Boundless alternative” textbooks – products designed and marketed specifically as substitutes for commonly-assigned paper textbooks – were similar enough to theirs to constitute copyright infringement.

As of this August, Boundless and the publishers are reportedly in settlement talks.

Also in August, Boundless introduced its first paid products, priced at $19.99. Boundless premium textbooks ale fuller advantage of the dynamic possibilities of digital media: instead of merely presenting the information in a linear fashion, like a paper book, Boundless premium textbooks incorporate interactive elements – specifically active recall and spaced repetition – to help cement the information in students’ long-term memories.

Before the debut of Boundless’s premium products, all their offerings were free, and the business was financed through venture funding. As of April 2012, they had raised $8 million in two rounds.

Boundless founder and CEO Ariel Diaz is highly optimistic about the low-cost, digital textbook paradigm that his company has helped create. He predicts that, within five to ten years, paper textbooks will command less than 50 percent of the market.

As for copyright, he says that, although it certainly has its uses, “what it shouldn’t do is protect obsolete business models.”

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