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Discussing K12 Open Content Textbooks

EyeGary Stager posed some great questions in the comments of the K12 Open Content Textbooks post.

Do you really think that digital textbooks, open-source or not, represent progress?
Why would we use these powerful tools capable of liberating knowledge and providing access to primary sources and expertise merely as a way of reducing the cost of textbooks? Textbooks are undoubtedly the most destructive technology in the history of learning. Why would we help maintain their dominance in an age when they are clearly unnecessary?

You can’t find good examples of open-source textbooks because it’s a bad idea, as is Curricki. If teachers had the time, courage and imagination to reject curricular scripts prepared by anonymous committees with indeterminate expertise, they would. What makes you think they will now make the leap to being curriculum writers.

I often take graduate students to a local book store to demonstrate that there are better books on every subject at a variety of developmental levels available in paperback and written by experts. Books and other written artifacts written by thoughtful interesting experts are much more desirable than textbooks, digital, open-source or paper-bound.

I have been creating my own version of a textbook over my teaching career, gathering lessons and materials that have been successful, working to improve lessons that have been unsuccessful, and work through projects in order to help my students to succeed. I have always been a curriculum writer.

I can’t say that I ever divorced myself from textbooks in my teaching career, but I was a big advocate of project based learning. In a way, I have always been creating and drawing upon grade and subject specific resources for my students, I just never bothered to organize, share, and open all of this up in one place, as much as I feel I now can. Sharing my own learning and collaborating with my peers helps me to increase the quality of education that I can facilitate for my students. Saving the money from textbooks wasn’t really on my radar, but collaborating to create something better than what we currently have in Ontario “would be” one of those goals. I don’t think educators have to work in silos and replicate programs, services, and lessons over and over again. It makes me sick to see all the duplication that is going on in education. We share minimally between school districts, we barely share between schools, and we do only a little better between teachers in the same school. Yet, in Ontario at least, we all get paid from the same purse.

I recognize that there are many obstacles that are going to act as roadblocks to a process like this. Educators that know how to edit a wiki, copyright of resources, online scholarship to draw from … the list goes on. I don’t have any answers to these roadblocks, but still I am willing to try. I have learned over my teaching career that best practices are not always easy and sometimes look impossible, but the end product is so worth the journey.

Other roadblocks, like the one Dave mentions in the comments of the post are quite true, not only locally but at the distict level, but need to change.

“Local school admins aren’t interested in/can’t justify spending tax money on producing materials that benefit the -world-. There has to be explicit, undeniable benefit to the local education group, and I’m not sure how to convince my local education folks that open textbooks are the answer.”

If my career path takes me into administration, which it may someday, I hope that I am not one of those administrators. Why has Education taken on so many elements of a competitive business? Is it really necessary to be that competitive that we can’t even share what we are publishing in our schools with other schools? Instead, it is better that we duplicate our efforts – again, and again, and again – and not build on the successes of our peers.

K12 Open Content Textbooks

Open ContentOpen content according to wikipedia is coined by analogy with “open source”, describes any kind of creative work (including articles, pictures, audio, and video) or engineering work (i.e. open machine design) that is published in a format that explicitly allows the copying and the modifying of the information by anyone.

One area that I am interested exploring is the use of wikis as a central repository for subject knowledge for schools in the province of Ontario to match up with current curriculum expectations, in the creation of hypermedia texts with flexible content.

Funny enough, I recently heard a keynote speaker state that “Education publishers should be very scared of the California Open Source Textbook project” but after seeing the results of the project since its inception in 2002, I have to again question whether speakers who are not immersed in these environments should be keynote speakers at all. Stephen thinks that this view is too extreme. What do you think, perhaps demand would really out do supply and force people who speak about web 2.0 to actual be seen online?

Wikibooks and in particular the Education Bookshelf has a number of different examples of possible texts. I have been looking for other examples and have found a few of them, some are better than others. I was looking for K12 examples, but ended up with a few from Higher Ed.

  1. The California Open Source Textbook Project seems to have little activity on their World History Project wiki.
  2. Comp 1010 a Java Programming Textbook at the University of Manitoba.
  3. Canada’s First People Junior Textbook is a mixture of paid content and collaborative content. The licensing here confuses me, is it CC or isn’t it.
  4. The Bering Strait School District has an OpenContent Initiative which includes an open content textbook initiative.
  5. The Global Text Project’s goal is to create a free library of 1,000 electronic textbooks for students in the developing world that will cover the range of topics typically encountered in the first two years of a university’s undergraduate programs.

Do you know of any other K12 examples of Open Content Textbooks?

Good Copy Bad Copy

GOOD COPY BAD COPY is a documentary about the current state of copyright and culture. The trailer is included below. You can download the full documentary movie via bittorrent. (via Eric Steuer) And don’t be a torrent leech, seed this video.

Featuring, in order of appearance:

  • DR LAWRENCE FERRARA, Director of Music Department NYU
  • PAUL V LICALSI, Attorney Sonnenschein
  • JANE PETERER, Bridgeport Music
  • DANGER MOUSE, Producer
  • ANAKATA, The Pirate Bay
  • TIAMO, The Pirate Bay
  • RICK FALKVINGE, The Pirate Party
  • LAWRENCE LESSIG, Creative Commons
  • RONALDO LEMOS, Professor of Law FGV Brazil
  • CHARLES IGWE, Film Producer Lagos Nigeria
  • MAYO AYILARAN, Copyright Society of Nigeria
  • SHIRA PERLMUTTER, Head of Global Legal Policy IFPI
  • PETER JENNER, Sincere Management
  • JOHN BUCKMAN, Magnatune Records
  • BETO METRALHA, Producer Belem do Para, Brazil
  • DJ DINHO, Tupinamba Belem do Para, Brazil

Directed by:


Creative Commons – One Example

What is it?

The Creative Commons (CC) is a non-profit organization devoted to expanding the range of creative work available for others legally to build upon and share. It enables copyright holders to grant some of their rights to the public while retaining others through a variety of licensing and contract schemes including dedication to the public domain or open content licensing terms. The intention is to avoid the problems current copyright laws create for the sharing of information.

Why Use it?

The potentials of using a creative commons license when creating educational content and materials is remarkable. The only problem – we are not using it. In my opinion, if you are a publicly funded school board, you should have to share.

One Example:

I am going to focus on Ontario school boards for a minute. We have a Ministry of Education push on Literacy and Numeracy in the classroom. Just say that there are 79 school boards in Ontario all of them working as islands creating Literacy and Numeracy materials, all being financially supported by the same provincial government agency. (and me the taxpayer) What we end up with is 79 different programs for literacy and numeracy.

Here is the potential, if the Ontario Ministry of Education mandated that all school boards created material were made available using flexible copyright through Non-Commercial, Share-and Share-A-like we could build from each others knowledge and materials. Creating and using programs without duplicating. How many school boards spend millions of dollars on creating programs that have already been created by other school districts? It just doesn’t make sense in Ontario, when we are sharing money that comes from the same pot.

Ontario Ministry of Education should also lead by example. I’m happy to see all materials that are created by the ministry posted on the WWW for everyone to see and read, the next step, is to add the ability to build on these documents.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License.