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Open Source Textbooks For California 201

Posted by kdawson
from the byzantine-doesn't-begin-to-describe dept.
T-1000, appropriately enough, lets us know about a California initiative to compile open source science and math textbooks for the state, in the hopes of saving money. The effort is spearheaded by Gov. Schwarzenegger. "The effort seems very promising, but the state's complex standards and arduous textbook evaluation process will pose major challenges. ... The governator will surely be able to stop the digital textbooks from gaining sentience and subjugating humanity, but there are trickier challenges that will be even tougher to defeat than the impending Skynet apocalypse. Textbooks are a surprisingly controversial issue in California and there is a lot of political baggage and bureaucratic red tape that will make an open source textbook plan especially troublesome. ... [T]he traditional wiki approach is untenable for California teaching material. Individual changes to textbooks can become a source of fierce debate and there are a multitude of special interest groups battling over what the textbooks should say and how they should say it. It would take the concept of Wikipedia edit wars to a whole new level."
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Open Source Textbooks For California

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  • Re:Backfeed (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 10, 2009 @04:08PM (#27899119)

    Ooops! I can't believe I did that. You can bind my textbook here [wordpress.com].

  • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @04:09PM (#27899125) Journal

    Textbooks are a surprisingly controversial issue in California and there is a lot of political baggage and bureaucratic red tape that will make an open source textbook plan especially troublesome.

    No kidding. It's called "bribery", "corruption", and "bureaucratic naivete".

    See the seventh chapter of part 5 of Richard P. Feynman's book _"Surely you're Joking, Mr. Feynman!"_, which is titled "Judging Books by Their Covers" for a descripton of the process as of the year he let himself be dragged into it.

    (The title comes from an incident where some members of the board submitted ratings for volumes of a textbook set which hadn't yet been completed and so were supplied with the full cover but blank pages.)

  • More seriously, for a checked version of Wikipedia that's been compiled specially for use in schools:

    http://schools-wikipedia.org/ [schools-wikipedia.org]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 10, 2009 @04:23PM (#27899245)

    See the seventh chapter of part 5 of Richard P. Feynman's book _"Surely you're Joking, Mr. Feynman!"_, which is titled "Judging Books by Their Covers" for a descripton of the process as of the year he let himself be dragged into it.

    If you're not able to get a copy easily, it is online here [textbookleague.org]

  • by langelgjm (860756) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @04:31PM (#27899297) Journal
    Yeah, I think the more descriptive term would be "open access." [wikipedia.org] The article does talk about "digital" textbooks, whatever that means... in which case "open source" should mean not using a DRMed digital format.
  • by HashDefine (590370) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @04:45PM (#27899381) Homepage

    I've been saying for years that it would be a great idea for public schools to invest in the production of open-source-style licensed textbooks.

    This is very similar to how it is done in India. The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) is charged with the task of creating texts for grades 1 to 12. I remember the books as being fairly high quality in terms of content but a bit dry as compared to the "imported" text books. You can download pdf's of the most of the books from NCERT's web site [ncert.nic.in].

  • Re:Open source ? (Score:5, Informative)

    by BrokenSegue (895288) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @04:47PM (#27899391) Homepage

    No, you're mistaken. Here's what happened. We used to call projects like this "free" (as in speech) or libre. The problem was that (lay)people confused that concept with gratis (as in beer).

    The phrase "open source" was created to solve that problem. Since libre software usually implies that the source is public. The concept was then extended to everything. Now open source really just means available under an open source license, which is defined by the OSI.

    You're making the same point RMS made when the phrase "open source" was coined (iirc) in 1998 Netscape went open source. He claims, rightly, that being free is more than having open source.

    Not wrong terminology, changing terminology.

  • by mdwh2 (535323) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @06:57PM (#27900263) Journal

    1. http://schools-wikipedia.org/wp/b/Battle_of_the_Somme.htm [schools-wikipedia.org] clearly states it was in WW1. I'm not sure why that shows up in their WW2 list, but that looks to be some kind of index, possibly based on the fact that WW2 is mentioned as a "related" subject. Even if it is a blooper, it's an indexing mistake, and it's incorrect to claim they "have the Battle of the Somme taking place during World War II" when the article explicitly does not state that.

    2,3. Not covering everything you consider important makes it total crap? (Wikipedia does have an article on it - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Kursk [wikipedia.org] - FWIW, not sure why they didn't select it too.)

    4. Again, that it doesn't cover everything doesn't equate to "total crap" to me. And issues such as relative importance of what should be covered, and factors in WW2, sound very much to be something that there will be differing opinions. Why should I take the opinion of an anonymous poster on Slashdot as authoritative? I mean:

    The great American lesson of WWII is that self reliant industrial capacity wins wars and if any lesson about the war is relevant to the USA today, it is that one.

    Is it? Says who? (Also remember that Wikipedia is an international project, so it is not solely concerned with looking at things from an American viewpoint - though I admit that may be something that is disliked, because people tend to prefer teaching versions focused on their own country. Similarly here in the UK, where the history that is taught is almost entirely focused on British history.)

    5. Whatever the sexuality of certain Nazis (sources?), there is plenty of evidence regarding their treatment of homosexuals, e.g., in concentration camps (which bit are you referring to when you say "the argument that the Nazis were more anti-gay than anti-jewish").

    Possibly you mean "Wikischools is total crap, because of one indexing blooper, and the rest of it doesn't fit into my personal viewpoint of what I think is important".

  • by bcrowell (177657) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @08:45PM (#27900881) Homepage

    The timeline is really goofy. This [ca.gov] press release from last week appears to be the request by the government for content, and they say they want it for fall 2009. Huh!?!? The press release refers to "free, open-source digital textbooks for high school students" and says the government will "develop a state approved list of standards-aligned, open-source digital textbooks for high school math and science." Textbook publishers with books already on the market obviously aren't going to make their books free and open source. Individuals clearly can't start writing new ones and get them done by fall 2009. So the only possibility left is apparently to look for free books that already exist. That's fine (see my sig for a catalog of free books), but I think it's extremely unlikely that there are any preexisting free books that meet the state standards, which, as the Ars article points out, are insanely difficult to comply with.

    I teach physics at a community college in California, and I'm the author of some open-source physics textbooks [lightandmatter.com]. They're intended for the college level, but I do get quite a few of my adoptions from high schools (see the list on that page). So far, however, zero of my adoptions have been from California public high schools. I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to understand why: California's textbook selection system makes it impossible. Actually most of my high school users are at private religious schools. I assume that's because private schools aren't regulated by their state governments in terms of textbook adoption, and they also usually operate on a shoestring, so free textbooks sound like a good deal to them.

    Re the wiki approach, it's a dismal failure at producing useful textbooks. If you look at the catalog linked to from my sig, there are hundreds of textbooks in it, and very few of them were made via wikis. Wikibooks' original goal was to revolutionize education; in reality it seems like the killer app for Wikibooks is video game guides. Plenty of people are writing free books. They're just not doing it using wikis. A textbook is an entirely different kind of project than an encyclopedia.

  • by Manywele (679470) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @11:31PM (#27901999)
    As a California high school physics teacher I agree that your text will never be adopted by a public California high school. You have a picture of a beer for one, obviously encouraging underaged drinking. Plus it's not aligned to the state standards [ca.gov] (you're missing thermo). Also every physics teacher has to agree on a single textbook in case a physics student transfers mid-year. That hasn't happened in the 4 years I've been teaching here so why we're catering to the random data point is beyond me. But the standards are the main problem. You see, the school board has to ensure that the book meets the state standards. They're not going to actually read the standards and the book and see if they match up (and they're really not qualified to determine that). But the major publishers also publish helpful guides that link all the standards to specific pages in the text so all the board members have to do is look at the guide and say "Yup, it's standards complient" or more precisely verify the existence of such a guide and deem that necessary and sufficient. Since you don't have such a guide the board can not legally adopt your text. I'm pretty sure the picture of a beer would prevent me from even getting it approved as a supplementary text (were I to ask rather than just use it.)
  • by Bloater (12932) on Monday May 11, 2009 @06:22PM (#27914389) Homepage Journal

    It is impossible to calculate a decimal expansion that depends on the value of pi without rounding the value of pi.

    therefore

    forall e such that member-of(everybody, e) : (calculating-decimal-expansion-depending-on-pi(e) --> rounds-pi(e))

"There are things that are so serious that you can only joke about them" - Heisenberg

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