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Old 05-08-2009, 03:48 PM   #1
Nate the great
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California to start using Open Source etextbooks

In a press release dated 6 May 2009,

Quote:
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today launched an initiative to make California the first state in the nation to offer schools free, open-source digital textbooks for high school students. The Governor directed his Secretary of Education Glen Thomas to ensure these resources are available for use in high school math and science classes by fall 2009, a critical first step in helping ensure digital textbooks are widely available to all California students.
----------

I've been waiting for something like this for over a year now. To be honest, I didn't expect to see such a huge step be taken this fast. It's May already, and CA has a goal of having math and science textbooks available for the coming fall. That's just over 3 months away, and I don't see how they will do it.

With California taking the lead, I expect this to spill over into college textbooks fairly soon. There is a good chance that by fall 2010 I'll be able to report on a school that has adopted an open source textbook.

I don't know about you, but I still have my college textbooks. I couldn't sell them back to the bookstore because a new edition comes out every 2 to 3 years. Publishers do this to hurt the used book market. They have to otherwise they won't make a profit.

I don't have a problem with their profit, but it galls me to see a new edition of a math, physics, chem, or bio textbook that contains the same information as the old. I look forward to the day when that won't happen.

P.S. I'd like to thank MR member shrimphead for telling me about the story.

[Ars Technica]

Last edited by Nate the great; 05-08-2009 at 04:13 PM.
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Old 05-08-2009, 04:03 PM   #2
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This is great!

I have a daughter who's entering high school this fall. (Now I suppose she'll have an excuse to insist on an ebook reader of some sort.)
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Old 05-08-2009, 04:49 PM   #3
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This would be awesome. It means I can easily pick up on old subjects, or learn things that I missed the last time.
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Old 05-08-2009, 05:24 PM   #4
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Interesting. Wonder how long it will be before the Text and Academic Authors start complaining.

From a personal point of view, I think it is a good idea to have open source freely available textbooks. I don't think a conventional "open source" model (as in Wikipedia) is necessarily appropriate. When it comes to textbooks, it's important that there be an overall editor who is an expert in the field. ("A person who is recognized as an expert authority often has greater experience and knowledge of their field than the average person, so their opinion is more likely than average to be correct." -- Wikipedia) Particularly in science subjects. If California were to adopt a truly "open source" model, with no expertise requirements for contributors, you'd likely have fights going between people who want to espouse one point of view and people who hold another. I'm more in favor of a Creative Commons license to textbooks that are prepared by acknowledged experts. The challenge is to motivate such experts to contribute to a Creative Commons textbook without expecting compensation. (Or maybe funding such development.)

By the way, MIT started an open courseware project several years ago. Their goal is to have the instructional materials -- syllabi, lecture notes, presentation charts, assignments, exams, etc. -- available online to be used by instructors at other universities and colleges. Home page for the project is at http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/web/home/home/index.htm

Browsing through the course catalog, I was attracted to a literature course "Medieval Literature: Medieval Women Writers". http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/Literature...Home/index.htm
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Old 05-08-2009, 06:12 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nate the great View Post

I don't know about you, but I still have my college textbooks. I couldn't sell them back to the bookstore because a new edition comes out every 2 to 3 years. Publishers do this to hurt the used book market. They have to otherwise they won't make a profit.

I don't have a problem with their profit, but it galls me to see a new edition of a math, physics, chem, or bio textbook that contains the same information as the old. [/url]]
Not that there isn't some truth to that, but it's also not entirely true. I'm speaking as someone whose brother is the coauthor of a psychology textbook now in its (I think) 5th edition. The authors, in fact, work very hard to incorporate new knowledge, and to rewrite and change emphasis on old knowledge according to feedback and what seems to work and not work.

Physics, chem, and bio in particular need to be updated regularly to account for changes in the fields.

I'm an advocate of electronic textbooks, but I do wonder how this will play out economically. I gather that my brother's publisher is running scared on the question, since they really don't know how to make it work.

I expect the transition, while inevitable, may be painful.
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Old 05-08-2009, 07:04 PM   #6
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cool!! should I ask for my cut of the pie?

http://www.mobileread.com/forums/sho...hlight=schools

hehehehe...but I love the idea. It's a nice long term concept and it saves cash not in terms of just the books, there is the overhead of buying more copies than needed for replacements, distribution and storage as well as oodles of other nagging little issues with physical text books.

I feel the business of education has become, at it's core, corrupt and in the pockets of the very companies that supply the schools. This solution moves in a very positive direction to address the issue. A solid well rounded education benefits every society and needs to be favored over almost all other expenses.
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Old 05-08-2009, 07:58 PM   #7
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I remember when I was in high school in Baltimore County (Maryland) we used text books from a Yale University project for some advanced math courses -- Algebra III & IV and Analytic Geometry. They were as close to a cooperative, open source text book you could get in the 1960s. They were also excellent.

California has the largest public school population in the US and along with Texas, New York, and Florida command the majority of the attention of the textbook publishers. Many other states just follow what these states adopt for textbooks.

Open source will also be a boon for the at home schooled children as they will now have access to approved textbooks without the high cost.

Coupled with the easy availability of the classic literature through PG (and our own download section), this is a great step forward.
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Old 05-08-2009, 08:13 PM   #8
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Seems to me that Wikipedia/Wikibooks already fulfils the prerequisites.

I predict the Californian project will fail because the bureaucrats in charge will insist on a top-down, planned model for creating the textbooks. Open-source is so successful and dynamic because it is an emergent phenomena. For every open-source project that succeeds I bet there are a hundred that fail and there is no way to foresee which will be successful.

That said, if the governator accepts that intellectual monopoly is not necessary to incentivise people to gather and summarise dispersed human knowledge into a form children can learn from, he could push for the elimination of copyright on children's textbooks (or advocate that copyright is granted only when it is proven necessary) and allow the free market to generate the outcomes he desires.
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Old 05-08-2009, 09:53 PM   #9
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What a bad idea.

I have a friend who is an education researcher for SRI International. She does large scale education research in the country. To date, she says, it has not been proven that giving each child a computer has actually improved learning at all.

To connect this to ebooks, I don't see how this is going to actually help anyone in learning. I personally don't find the ebook format very good for the way textbooks are used in school. The tactile and physical nature of the book enables quick flipping, mark ups, and usage of a person's spatial and tactile memory. None of this is available in digital books.

Another problem with digital books is that you have only one screen or essentially one page open at a time when with physical books you can have at least two pages open per book. Do we expect students to have as many digital readers as they have actual digital books? Probably not.

In sum, this is a silly and unproven idea. Digital books does have its place but it is definitely not yet ready for mass use in public schools. Reliance on this kind of digital technology is not always a good solution, if a solution at all.
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Old 05-08-2009, 09:54 PM   #10
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Seems to me that Wikipedia/Wikibooks already fulfils the prerequisites..
I teach at the college level and I tell my students that Wikipedia is not a reliable source of information for citing or quoting. Yes you could rely on it for some general information when you don't need a strong basis for research. But, it's a horrible source to do solid research and learning.
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Old 05-08-2009, 09:58 PM   #11
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By the way, MIT started an open courseware project several years ago. Their goal is to have the instructional materials -- syllabi, lecture notes, presentation charts, assignments, exams, etc. -- available online to be used by instructors at other universities and colleges. Home page for the project is at http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/web/home/home/index.htm

Browsing through the course catalog, I was attracted to a literature course "Medieval Literature: Medieval Women Writers". http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/Literature...Home/index.htm
Yes, I have in the past used that source to see what other anthropology courses are like and what other anthropology professors and lecturers are teaching. It's a good source for those of us who are teaching. I teach at the university level.
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Old 05-08-2009, 10:05 PM   #12
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Not that there isn't some truth to that, but it's also not entirely true. I'm speaking as someone whose brother is the coauthor of a psychology textbook now in its (I think) 5th edition. The authors, in fact, work very hard to incorporate new knowledge, and to rewrite and change emphasis on old knowledge according to feedback and what seems to work and not work.
I agree with you. I really don't think publishers are intentionally coming out with new editions of textbook IN ORDER TO make money. It's a very cynical and conspiratorial point of view. Smells suspicious to me. Perhaps there are a few cases of those but I don't think generally that is what goes on.

Indeed, textbook authors are often professors at various colleges and there is only so much writing they can crank out. Professors aren't writing machines cranking out a book every year.
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Old 05-08-2009, 11:10 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by thibaulthalpern View Post
I teach at the college level and I tell my students that Wikipedia is not a reliable source of information for citing or quoting. Yes you could rely on it for some general information when you don't need a strong basis for research. But, it's a horrible source to do solid research and learning.
However the wiki on this site is an exception

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Old 05-08-2009, 11:13 PM   #14
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I agree with you. I really don't think publishers are intentionally coming out with new editions of textbook IN ORDER TO make money. It's a very cynical and conspiratorial point of view. Smells suspicious to me. Perhaps there are a few cases of those but I don't think generally that is what goes on.

Indeed, textbook authors are often professors at various colleges and there is only so much writing they can crank out. Professors aren't writing machines cranking out a book every year.
However, I know when I went to college professors supplemented their income with text books. Every 3 or 4 years is more like it and the department heads were requiring some books in the syllabus that were never used. I don't say the publishers but the schools themselves (departments) were responsible.

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Old 05-08-2009, 11:37 PM   #15
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Also profs would require texts written by colleagues from other schools in return for them doing the same. That was often a way to deflect the complaints. Once the collusion was abstracted by more than 3-levels it was really hard to figure out. It was a great way to keep the income flowing collectively.
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