Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Open Source Textbooks

There's been a progression of comments regarding the creation of a free, online Old Testament textbook. Here's the latest from Mark Goodacre, and you can track back from that post to AKMA. There is a parallel movement in the kindergarten to high school textbook field as well as described in a recent NY Times article, "$200 Textbook vs. Free. You Do the Math." Scott McNealy (of Sun Microsystems fame) is behind a nonprofit, online hub for free textbooks called Curriki. Some aspects of the discussion are the same, but there are differences as well. The article indicates that McNealy with others "shuns basic math textbooks as bloated monstrosities: their price keeps rising while the core information inside of them stays the same." So, from their perspective and with respect to the kind of textbooks they are interested in having, the information is static. It's the cost of textbooks that is the main problem. 

The discussion about a FOSSOTT (free, open source Old Testament textbook) has highlighted some of its advantages for fostering the possibility of including different viewpoints. I.e., we do not necessarily assume in the biblical studies field that all information is static. Further, as James McGrath has outlined, there are a number of potential different models for rethinking what we want in a 'textbook.' 

In response to the NY Times article, Mark Guzdial at the Computing Education Blog weighs in with some considerations regarding quality (in the process and in the material), innovation (Is it possible in an open source approach? Is the innovation in the approach or the textbook?), and sustainability. He is somewhat skeptical about the whole thing...

Personally, I'm thinking changes are not only needed but are inevitable. With the increase of portable reading devices (which still need to get a bit better to substitute for physical textbooks), I think we are headed to all digital. With Mark Goodacre, I would hope we move to something less "texty" and more open, interactive, connected, and social. (I.e., both teachers and students should be able to do more than 'use' a textbook. They should be able to note disagreement, questions, etc.) I've had something like this in mind on a small scale with my Parables of Jesus site, but it is still in its infancy. In any case, we are able to see a future which offers the possibility for some exciting options in creating more flexible (and hopefully also free or low-cost) 'textbooks.' 

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