1. It should be open-source or available on your nearest "App Store" for a REASONABLE price
2. It should be interactive. If I have a history textbook describing a battle, I want to be able to watch the battle unfold (even if it's just a diagram). If I am reading a chemistry textbook, let me play with the molecule. When I need to learn about the D3 group in Abstract Algebra, show me a triangle rotating and flipping as the group operations fade in and then drop to the bottom in a chain illustrating a composition. Let me swipe over to the Cayley table and touch a composition cell and watch the triangle dance. Whatever.
3. Textbooks should share a common ontology that can be extended for each book. But if I have two textbooks on my device and each has registered its ontology, I should then be able to cross reference concepts from one book to the other, or to appropriate entries in Wikipedia, for example.
4. All Chapters, headings, subheadings, and definitions should link to global, school, and class-level discussion forums about the topic where everyone can ask questions and have good answers upvoted in a stackexchange-like manner. These discussion nodes should be linked to the ontology, rather than the brand of book. That way ANY textbook with a section on "Limit Points in Rn" or "The Three Branches of US Government" would link to the same discussion node.
5. When appropriate, texts should be constantly updated, classes should always use the "latest stable version", and that update should be free after initial purchase (like an App).
A more innovative approach, I think, would be for the government to buy out leading textbooks at a premium and after holding an auction to determine the fair price. This gives you the best of both worlds -- rewards for individuals' efforts but the ability to use the published material in an unrestricted way in the future. Plus you avoid the loss associated with monopoly rights granted via copyright and wasted duplicative textbook efforts.
This ideas has been proposed more broadly for patents by Prof. Michael Kremer of Harvard. Its logic is pretty compelling:
Engelhaupt, 31, was one of three district math teachers who spent about 100 hours each developing the lessons, which cost the district about $175,000 less than buying new textbooks."
here's the link to the book:
I am entirely certain the average parent of a kid in our school would be able to turn out better material, to say nothing of all the professors and leading experts in California who would love to contribute directly to their kids' education.
The question in my mind is how to construct this. The law seems like a last resort. Maybe some YCers can work on this cracking this nut.
I agree, but crowdsourcing would be handy for fixing errors or improving clarity. If a bunch of people highlight a passage that they think is confusing, and give reasons, that gives the author (or others) an opportunity to clarify.
Yes, that is something that teachers could be doing, but why not make the books as good as they could be?
Yep, subsidies never go wrong.
I hope that open source curriculum takes off - IMO there are fact-based topics that translate easily to software learning, where a child's mastery can be measured accurately to provide a useful custom teaching plan.
I've had an open source text up for more than a decade http://joshua.smcvt.edu/linearalgebra . It is easy to find; if you google "linear algebra" today then it is the third item. But although I have said on the page that I welcome contributions, I have had very few, and those few mostly bug reports-- which I am glad to get but they are not what I imagined I would get when I first put it up. (I will be putting it up soon in a public version control repository but let me note before I get emails that for most of the life of this project the best option really was to offer a .zip of the LaTeX source.)
The text if fine but I could in a minute list many shortcomings. For instance, it could use with a graphic designer, it could use with the skills of a person who can do illustrations, I would be delighted to get ways to interact with Sage, I would be glad to get tests from people who have taught the course, I would be glad to get help with e-readers (I don't own one myself). Etc.
I am currently doing an update that has taken my between-semesters break, and that threatens to spread into next semester. So offering such a thing is a lot of work. Some of it I am qualified to do but some of it I really am not. However, to this point, I have seen very little evidence that others will help so if it is to be done then I have to do it.
In short, more productive than listing the failings of others may be to pick a promising project of interest to you, and contribute a solution.
To make this a reality, I'd consider building a platform that serves as a centralized repository for open information/knowledge and gives the information some structure (Ontology). With that in place, people can build applications on top of the open information (interactive apps/charts, etc)
To encourage qualified people to contribute, edit, and update the repositories, consider layering in a Quora/StackOverflow type voting/reputation system with a Kickstarter crowd funding component to fund qualified folks and allow them to dedicate significant time to the project.
Then, if the ecosystem hits critical mass, it won't be too long before some professors and teachers start saying "wait... why are we making students use this crappy book again?"
I'm aware that the last part is a bit naive, but I think it's REALLY naive to think that we will see a massive legislature-driven transition to "the right thing" anytime before the sun goes dark.
Flexbook is a project working on this, the few books I've looked at are cc-by-nc-sa. www.ck12.org/flexbook/
276 RS < $6 US
The publishers don't want to risk shaking up big profits to sell near cost to the low end. If you sell cheaply to the poor schools, what prevents the poor schools from reselling the books to the rich schools 20 miles away?
It would be awesome to see a non-profit started which provided a repository for textbook content, a platform for mixing and matching content to meet the curriculum of a particular district, and a toolchain to produce digital copies of the books in the format used by the district - all open source and released under broadly permissive licenses.
If even a handful of school districts funded a project like this instead of purchasing moore textbooks, I would imagine this could be sustainable.
This would be awesome indeed, but there are some problems.
From the things that i have seen so far, (ex: cnx.org), the content is predominantly of low quality. Simply put, ask the average person to explain something to you and he/she won't do a very good job.
The other thing is that modularization completely brakes the flow of narration, and narration is a big thing to keep the reader engaged (story telling instinct).
In my work, I try to have two kinds of "nodes" -- one is generic lesson node where the explanation of some concept happens and the other are linker nodes where narration happens. Despite being a single author, and using
space-age tools (dokuwiki with the include plugin;), I still find it hard to make things modular and easily composable.
I would venture to say that a small number of authors would be better at writing a book rather than a whole collective.
For corrections/feedback/exercises... BRING ON THE CROWD!
I skimmed through some of the CK12 content. While some of it might be good (I am not qualified to determine whether or not the content is high quality or affective) - the presentation is really poor. In addition to authors, I think you need designers who will present the information in an attractive and engaging way.
If you're interested in learning more, contributing, or giving feedback please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org I'd love to hear from you (or anyone else). Thanks.
One-up contract? Write me a book for $100k (one year's worth of work) and keep it updated every year for $20k with typo fixes and new exercises?
This would create the right incentives, since 100k is probably more than any textbook publisher will give you -- even if you make it big, and your book is used in many universities.
I found out that people were not interested in using it.
This is what I had made so far:
Interestingly enough, I posted this info on Slashdot and it was removed almost right away.
I started working on it but realized that I might put in hundreds of hours of work only to have nobody use it at all.
The basic economics of why school textbooks are so expensive is dead simple: The teachers and the schools grant publishers a cartel by forcing kids to purchase their specific new editions every year. Why anybody is suprised that prices are so high is beyond me.
They do this now. They recommend (require in fact) their OWN books.
The problem is it's a requirement and they often test directly from the book because it removes effort from teaching to the test.
FTA: "In some ways these guys are looking outdated. File-sharing as a means to pirate content is becoming yesterday's technology,"
Instead of pirating games, you can use the OnLive Play Pack. Don't even need a powerful computer anymore. Instead of pirating music, get the Zune Pass or Spotify. TV shows are on Hulu, movies are on Netflix. The legitimate reasons to pirate are still there in some niche markets, but overall those reasons are disappearing.
The system works because (at least at my university) all lectures and recitations videos are available online. Good luck doing that in K-12.
Open-Source Textbooks ARE a good idea. However, just like Wikipedia didn't need the government to get started ... this gem doesn't require the government either. It'll happen once eBooks become more prevalent and there is nothing the government should do to help or stop it from happening.
The state of California spends millions on buying text books, think of all the money they'd save if they paid to develop open source text books instead.
Accelerating the rate at which humanity is educated is fundamentally more important than anything going on today, and it's always pushed back because the generation that's currently being educated doesn't have a fucking say in the matter.
Someone should take some of their money out of their hedge fund and drop it on this shit pronto.
A large school district could surely save a bundle, and improve the quality of its education besides, by paying a qualified individual to write a textbook just for them, then having it printed just for them. And they could give away the text to other interested districts if they wanted, saving the other districts even more money.
This has been true for decades. No internet, no computers or e-readers, and no fancy newfangled CC licenses would be required for such a plan.
Yet it mostly has not happened.
So there must be a reason. This infamous story by Richard Feynman suggests that it's a matter of an entrenched culture of laziness, lobbying, bribery, and in effect regulatory capture: