OpenStax founder Baraniuk wins ‘Nobel Prize of education’

Rice prof awarded Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize for efforts to ease lives of students.

Richard Baraniuk

By Patrick Kurp
Special to the Rice News

Richard Baraniuk, the C. Sidney Burrus Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) and founding director of OpenStax, Rice University’s educational technology initiative, has received the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education.

Richard Baraniuk
Richard Baraniuk

Known informally as the “Nobel Prize of education,” the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Family Foundation and the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education bestows the annual award on “outstanding individuals whose accomplishments are making a difference in the lives of students.”

Baraniuk is among the founders of the open education movement promoting the use of free and open-source-licensed educational resources. OpenStax (formerly Connexions) is a nonprofit publishing project he founded in 1999 to bring textbooks and other learning materials into the digital age.

During the last academic year, free and open-source texts from OpenStax were used by 4.5 million students and 16,000 faculty at roughly 62% of U.S. colleges and universities. Since 2012, 14 million students have saved an estimated $1.2 billion. This academic year, the number of students benefiting from OpenStax publications already exceeds 5 million.

Baraniuk, who is also a professor of computer science and of statistics, joined the Rice ECE faculty in 1992. A native of Canada, he earned his Ph.D. in electrical engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1992.

Baraniuk’s research has focused on the development of digital signal processing, image processing and machine learning systems, with contributions to the theory of wavelets, compressive sensing and deep learning. His “single-pixel camera,” developed with Kevin Kelly, associate professor of ECE at Rice, was the first compressive imaging device.

He holds 35 U.S. and four foreign patents, six of which have been licensed to Siemens to accelerate MRI scans. Baraniuk is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Inventors, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

The McGraw Prize, given annually since 1988, is named for the late Harold McGraw Jr., chief executive officer of McGraw-Hill from 1975 to 1983.