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Open Source Textbooks For California 201

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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  • I never knew... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by spiffmastercow ( 1001386 ) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @03:45PM (#27898953)
    I'm surprised that introductory algebra is such a politically polarized topic...
    I can only imagine the debates in calculus, what with the ongoing Newton/Leibniz war..
  • ...the printed books we had when I was in school were full of lies. Who cares if these are full of bullshit? So were the old ones. Let's get these kids using some free bullshit and save some money. Of course, instructors who knew the material could teach from Wikipedia, using versions of articles vetted for correctness — a process in which they could participate.

  • Open source ? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by smoker2 ( 750216 ) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @03:54PM (#27899021) Homepage Journal
    How is this open source ? You can already read what goes into a book, so the source isn't hidden. Maybe they meant community contributed and owned ? Copyright is the issue, not authorship.
  • by Kenja ( 541830 ) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @03:57PM (#27899047)
    Ok, I didn't do the whole degree thing. Part of the reason was that I felt what was being taught in the computer science classes was out of date and often flat out wrong.

    Whats more, the teachers over-priced book as required reading and I was given failing grades for correcting the errors in them.

    So long as teachers choose the subject mater, they can choose books that make them money.
  • Re:Open source ? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CSMatt ( 1175471 ) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @04:09PM (#27899123)

    Becuase "Open source" has become a buzzword, used to describe something even vaugely similar to the concept.

    That's not to say that this textbook initiative is a bad idea, but the terminology is flat out wrong.

  • by Glass Goldfish ( 1492293 ) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @04:10PM (#27899129)

    Open source is about the ability of the community to freely access and manipulate, as long as the changes are documented. Regulation is about the control of access and manipulation. Which special interest groups are allowed to look at it before the public? What idea offends which group? Does the example use gender neutral language? Restrictions, restrictions, restrictions...

    If it was creationists who were the special interests groups, it would be in the article. If creationists go anywhere near science there are people screaming about it. Which special interest groups do you think are involved? Maybe the Scientologists will be able to write the text book on psychology?

  • by FilterMapReduce ( 1296509 ) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @04:27PM (#27899265)

    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. As long as textbooks are being sold by traditional publishers, they get to charge a per-unit price for them. If you want ten million students to read some publishing house's version of Our Glossy History of America or what have you, then you have to pay ten million times n dollars. If you instead invest in having a new textbook written from scratch and placed under a Creative Commons license, then you pay an up-front cost (expensive, no doubt, but probably pretty cheap as line items on the state budget go) and then it can be issued to any arbitrary number of students for no more than the cost of having copies printed up by the lowest bidder. The publisher's markup, marketing costs, and distribution costs vanish from the price.

    There are external benefits, too. Some day it might be plausible for schools to save even more money by going all-digital; they wouldn't even have to pay to print the books. If the books are formatted in such a way that they can be printed paper-bound at your local Kinko's (the way most college readers are), students could cheaply have one or two extra copies as their private property—one to highlight and take notes in, or one copy for the locker and one for home. And free online textbooks would be a resource to autodidacts and other schools, not just in the state, but anywhere on the Internet.

    The analogy to open-source software is apt. These days, reproducing information costs next to nothing, as long as it was produced by someone who chooses not to charge a per-unit price. Public schools essentially pay rent on individual textbooks issued to students, not unlike the so-called Microsoft tax when you buy a PC. I have nothing against the textbook publishers' profit-seeking activities—they're free to try whatever business model they like—but philanthropists and volunteers really ought to be able to beat their prices.

  • I'm with ya. I endured public education through high school, and it taught me that education = boredom. And who knows how many false but socially useful ideas they installed in me. (e.g. grading on a curve = you lose if people are better than you = life is a zero sum game = nasty false idea)

    I sent my sons to private school until they were 8 and 10. I tried montessori and also an elite Lutheran school (despite its religiousness). This past year I switched my job to telecommuting and now I home-school them. They absorb the information like sponges, because kids these days have highly active minds due to the ocean of data that we all live in.

    This month is the end of our first year doing this. I didn't think I could do it, but I did, and it's not hard any more. We've covered sociology/history from the African jungle through the Macedonian empire, physics (all the basics), and information theory (including basic algol programming in C++/C#). I picked those topics because they actually dovetail at many interesting points... and I enjoy them enough to teach them passionately.

    My ex, who is of a different mind, teaches math, reading comprehension, writing, and biology. It's an excellent division of labor. And now my kids routinely ask me if we can learn about a certain topic in school tomorrow (last request was to learn how escalators work).

    I used to think homeschoolers were all religious nutjobs. In fact most of them are (the curricula sold at homeschool bookstores can only be described as 'wacky'), but homeschool can be as rational as the parents are. If I can do it, so can you. You'll have to study to do it, but that's not a bad thing.

    Now I look back on public school and it just seems like an impossible job: mass education that must proceed at the pace of the slowest child in the room, run by unionized teachers who reject performance criteria and do not care about your kids anyway, teaching a publicly approved curriculum where 'public' = a bunch of envirous religious dolts. Completely impossible. But we can opt out.

  • Re:I never knew... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by blahplusplus ( 757119 ) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @06:05PM (#27899857)

    How math is taught IS important. I've been doing research into how to teach math and I've learned over the years that the math most schools teach is ONE GROUP OF MEN's way of how to frame mathematics and numbers.

    When it comes down to it math is a language to systematize form and structure.

    There are numerous angles to teach concepts that are much better then traditional methods. One of the reasons kids find math hard is that they are not taught to DERIVE concepts from things everyone understands: Size, difference, distinction, ratio, motion. i.e. before you even open a textbook and start crunching numbers, you need to be taught how to observe and think conceptually, otherwise the symbols will just seem like jargon disconnected from why mathematical systems were 'invented' in the first place.

    What math heads who are good with symbolic computation and manipulation don't understand is that mathematics for most people is difficult without a conceptual framework that they can relate to. Just seeing a bunch of symbols and equations doesn't tell you HOW to think about a general framework and interpretation of concepts that come before "math".

    There's also a real cult around mathematics that turns a lot of people off math, since many people around mathematics tend to be rigid. One only has to look at how contemporaries of George Cantor in mathematics treated him when he came up with different ways of viewing numbers and mathematical concepts.

  • by golodh ( 893453 ) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @06:25PM (#27900013)
    I totally agree. Most "textbooks" on "Calculus" I've seen in the US seem to have been produced by people who are paid by the book's weight. They are full of are useless drivel that doesn't concern the actual mathematics, poor stabs at tutorial, and an extravagantly wasteful layout.

    A book based on the "lecture notes" principle which also tries to use the available space can typically cover the same subject matter in a clear and concise manner in a quarter of the size and weight.

    That would be something Open Source textbooks can address.

    I have only one plea: don't make e-books. E-books on laptops aren't as easy on the eyes as even poorly typeset hardcopies.

  • by Nyeerrmm ( 940927 ) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @07:23PM (#27900393)

    I think the idea with open textbooks is that you can use it in whatever format you like.

    For instance, while I definitely prefer a real copy for a textbook, having a digital version to keep on the computer or on my kindle would be really handy for traveling. I don't know how many times I've been somewhere and realized I really needed a book; being in grad school I'm running into topics which aren't covered well or at all online.

    Thus, a good bet would be to make the digital copy available, in a reflowable format, as well as at set sizes (Letter/A4) with PDFs. For K-12, presumably the school district would be able to place an order for how many they need, simply at the cost of printing them. College distribution is less obvious, although I have a had a few professors who make a set of class notes available in an inexpensive bound format at different copy shops around town.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 10, 2009 @08:09PM (#27900653)

    I sent my sons to private school until they were 8 and 10. ... This past year I switched my job to telecommuting and now I home-school them. ... This month is the end of our first year doing this. I didn't think I could do it, but I did, and it's not hard any more.

    Home schooling for grade school (K-8) is definitely doable with smart motivated parents. Grade school teachers are generally not specialists so it's common for parents to either know more, or be able to learn more, than grade school teachers.

    Home schooling for high school is another story entirely. In high school, the teachers are specialists with years of specialized training and years of teaching to learn their subject well. Despite the contempt that many parents have for high school teachers, very very few parents can teach all the major high school subjects at the level of even average high school teachers.

  • by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @09:04PM (#27901041) Homepage

    So here is a new point of study for you, the affect of lobbyists, PR/marketing, large publishing houses and greed upon the cost of free electronic textbooks. There are many people who derive large incomes from the old system and the greed combined with the intelligence will motivate them to do one particular thing over and over again. To become involved in free open electronic textbook projects and poison them, make the collapse in infighting and arguments, become buried in pointless arbitrary differences in technicalities, it other words do every deceitful pathetic thing they can do to keep the whole greater than $100 text book gravy train going.

    So the simple first step to doing it, is expecting that this will happen. The simplest solution is forcing the full declaration of all vested interests by any person or organisation that wishes to contribute and publicly shaming those who contributions are disingenuous and motivated by greed. So the initial effort must be focussed on creating a tightly governed process with set achievement points and firm guidelines, with a real focus on eliminating spoilers from the project. Failure to do this, will result in failure on the project, not because of it's lack of value or the achievability of the project (wikipedia is a good example) but, because of the unending greed and venality of a few asshats.

  • Re:I never knew... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by shutdown -p now ( 807394 ) on Monday May 11, 2009 @02:07AM (#27902909) Journal

    One of the best educational experiences of my life was when my (public) high school calculus and physics teachers coordinated together so that you would learn calculus we needed as we were learning physics (surely Newton would approve). That way you could learn integration one hour, and find out how to use integration to solve kinetics with velocity and acceleration in the next hour.

    I always thought that's how school should work, and it's great to hear that someone, somewhere, is actually doing it that way. Why isn't this more widespread though?

  • by JimFive ( 1064958 ) on Monday May 11, 2009 @11:19AM (#27907365)
    I'm not the original poster, but I have been considering the idea of Home Schooling for the same reasons as the GP. While thinking about it I have come up with these answers to your questions. The GP may have different, and perhaps better answers gained through experience.

    Where do your kids stay when you're out?

    With the other parent.

    How do your kids learn socialization skills?

    At the playground or in community sports or other groups. The environment within a school is nothing like any other environment you will ever be in (except, perhaps, the military or prison). The homogoneity of the students and the ultimate authority of the teacher are unequaled in even the most bureaucratic workplace. Socialization to that type of environment seems very overrated.

    How are your kids exposed to multiple points of view?

    Books. There is a decent set at our local library that I can't remember the name of right now where each volume is a collection of essays on differing sides of a given topic.

    Also, as long as you are teaching relatively mainstream stuff (No Jesus on dinosaurs) there isn't a lot of controversial stuff being taught in elementary school.

    Third is devils advocacy, either on your part or, for the older kids, get them to research the support for views that they (or you) disagree with.

    How do you deal with subjects that either are taught too dim in school or that have greatly evolved since then? (Genetics come to mind)

    Books again. There is nothing in the K-8 curriculum, except, perhaps, foreign language pronunciation, that a reasonably intelligent adult can't help their child learn. Even if you don't know the topic you can find reasonable reference materials and learn it along with your child. The hardest part of this seems to me to be not giving off the cuff answers but actually looking it up if you're not sure.

The party adjourned to a hot tub, yes. Fully clothed, I might add. -- IBM employee, testifying in California State Supreme Court