Ahnuld to California: Open Our TextbooksAhnuld to California: Open Our Textbooks
I haven't been all that impressed with Arnold Schwarzenegger's record as governator -- er, governor -- of California. But he's eyeing a plan that could have major implications for education and open content if it takes off: a state-supported repository of digital textbooks.</p>
May 11, 2009
I haven't been all that impressed with Arnold Schwarzenegger's record as governator -- er, governor -- of California. But he's eyeing a plan that could have major implications for education and open content if it takes off: a state-supported repository of digital textbooks.
Ars Technica's take on the story mostly revolved around the fact that California's textbook-vetting process is arduous and overtly politically correct:
This also reflects the reasons why the 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.
It's the antithesis, in a way, of the Wiki approach. There, the overriding guidelines are neutrality, avoiding independent research, and allowing the broadest possible participation in the content process. Textbooks also need to be neutral, but they rarely are -- and they do need to be created or at least overseen by people who can speak authoritatively on their chosen subject.
What's crucial, though, is the idea of a core set of texts for knowledge that do not require you to pay for access -- that the knowledge and the way that knowledge is put forward should both be free. It makes no sense to charge $75 for a calculus textbook, year after year, with the only really new material being the teacher's guide (the profs get stiffed, too) and the questions -- most of which could even be randomly generated for a subject like that.
The desire is clearly there, and we even have some extant delivery mechanisms -- the Kindle, the Sony Reader, the omnipresent netbook / notebook / desktop PC. The hard part is getting the real-world, "meat and paper" hurdles jumped, with state textbook requirements only being one of the biggest andmost obvious.
For that reason, I suspect digital textbooks aren't going to come from the top down. They're going to start on the classroom and even the student level, in an ad hoc fashion, and work their way up from there. The easiest places for them to get a toehold would be technical and scientific courses -- places where the course material is mostly factual, not analytical, and has not changed in any significant way for decades, if not centuries. Then we can get to work making rules for adopting their use more broadly ... and in courses where the course material itself is something to argue about.
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