The PhysWiki Dynamic Textbook Project
The PhysWiki is one of seven integral components of the STEMWiki Dynamic Textbook Project (DTP), a multi-institutional collaborative venture to develop the next generation of open-access textbooks to improve STEM education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) at all levels of higher learning. The central aim of the DTP is to develop and disseminate free, virtual, customizable textbooks that will substitute for current, commercial paper texts in multiple courses at post-secondary institutions across the nation. All are licensed Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike. All seven textbooks in the STEMWiki DTP have been linked together under the direction of Professor Delmar Larsen of the University of California at Davis and include: the ChemWiki (the forefather), the BioWiki, the MathWiki, the StatWiki, the PhysWiki, the GeoWiki, and the SolarWiki.
The goal of this project is to seed the PhysWiki with an open-source, calculus-based textbook, in an effort to expand access and usage of this segment of the STEMWiki. Working with both Professor Delmar Larsen (founder of the STEMWiki DTP) and Professor Paul D’Assandris, Monroe Community College, Rochester, NY (author of Spiral Physics), physics students at South Florida Community College are seeding the PhysWiki with Spiral Physics textbook. Spiral Physics is an OER physics textbook that is currently in use by over 40 two-year colleges nationwide. Spiral Physics comes in three variants (calculus-based, algebra-based, and modern physics) and provides a research-based introductory physics curriculum along with an integrated textbook and workbook activities. Using a restricted equation set, Spiral Physics provides a unique approach to building student success by providing repeated exposure (i.e., spiral) to concepts with increased complexity. It includes alternative problem types, including goal-less problem statements, ranking tasks, and critical analysis tasks which have been research-proven to help students develop conceptual understanding.
Although implementation of this project has not kept up with the desired schedule, things are moving forward and usage of the PhysWiki continues to grow as shown in the most recent Google Analytics Report.
Once completed, this project should not only help to expand usage of the PhysWiki segment of the STEMWiki, but also enable Spiral Physics to be used as a living etextbook, whereby faculty and students, can expand and augment the online textbook with supplemental information. I am excited to be able to use this site as the host for my etextbook for next semester.
Erik Christensen | South Florida Community College
Dr. Tim Lenz and I have been working on editing the textbook and identifying students to work on the text over the summer.
Using information from surveys and informal feedback from students, along with feedback from faculty members who have used the text, we have identified several areas that need work in the text. For example, students are interested in accessing information in the text directly from their laptops, tablets, and phones, so we need to ensure that links work with multiple types of devices.
Additionally, students are very interested in linking video and audio content, so we are working on finding and linking to those files. As an example, the image on the left of the Tea Party protest links to a video about the event and a slideshow of images from the protest, allowing the students to emerge themselves in the content.
Dr. Lenz and I have also presented the text twice in our university’s Teaching with Technology showcases, pictured below. We have gotten a lot of very good feedback through these presentations and (hopefully) inspired others to also create open textbooks!
Faculty in the Mathematics Department at Scottsdale Community College have been working hard this year to create, revise, and organize materials for our OER project in several of our courses. This is exciting for all of us!
Our goal is to offer all of our MAT 09x Introductory Algebra, MAT 12x Intermediate Algebra, and MAT 150 College Algebra courses using OER materials starting this Fall 2012. During the 2011-2012 academic year, we have pilot tested our materials, formed a learning community of very talented mathematics faculty, and collaborated with each other to further refine the OER textbook, student support materials, and online homework assignments. This summer, several faculty (Bill Meacham, Judy Sutor, Jenifer Bohart, Donna Guhse, and Linda Knop) will be working hard to take what we have learned from our spring pilot and, once again, refine these materials. The exciting part of the refinement process is that we have complete control over the quality of what we adopt to support our classes! We love this!
Recently, our OER team received the SCC Innovation of the Year Award. Only 1 team per college in the Maricopa Community College District receives this award. As a result, we were invited to give a presentation in hopes of receiving the widely sought-after District Innovation of the Year Award. The presentation slides are available at: OER Innovation of the Year. Wish us luck that we are awarded our District IOTY Award very soon!
As part of our OER project, our learning community has restructured the course so that we provide meaningful support for students, both inside and outside of the classroom. Before class, students can complete a “mini-lesson” to help prepare them for the next class session. During class, they receive instruction and engage in paired board work. After class, they use iMathAS and problem solving activities to support their learning. The next class session then allows for more active learning and engagement with the mathematics. Outside of the classroom, students’ learning is supported by the OER textbook and video tutorials created by MathIsPower4U’s James Sousa, as well as the Khan Academy.
Students have been appreciative of our efforts to use free (or nearly free!) materials for their mathematics courses. In fact, feel free to watch a couple of student testimonials about their experience in an OER math class. It’s exciting to hear that they are using technology — their smartphone, their tablet, etc. — to complete online homework and to access the textbook.
It’s a wonderful time to be teaching college mathematics!
by Andy Oram
The worlds of both education and publishing will be tugged from opposing directions, perhaps to the breaking point, by two recent trends. One is Apple’s well-publicized entry into the textbook market with its iBooks Author app, tied by license to its iBooks store. The other is the movement for open textbooks, on which the state of California recently placed its bets (for the second time).
But let’s slow down for a minute. The iPad, as an entertainment platform, will not morph easily into an educational tool, whereas developing open textbooks raises difficulties beyond the ones that open source software have encountered and surmounted. I recently discussed these topics with Open Doors Group’s Jacky Hood. She is part of a team trying to respond to the California open textbook challenge.
Empowerment versus entertainment
To evaluate Apple’s textbook strategy, compare it to the goals of the “One Laptop Per Child” initiative. The biggest problem with the Apple initiative–missed by most commentators—is that the iPad is an entertainment device, and has many interesting ways to interact with content but not to create it. In contrast, OLPC’s XO system was planned from the start to let children create and share text, video, and other content. It is an empowerment device. (Google claims that its Chromebooks are similarly empowering.)
The same reasoning drove the OLPC decision to distribute all free software on the XO. The use of free software promotes learning and exploration. Numerous other considerations (lower cost, rugged design, and orientation to underdeveloped regions with limited capabilities) also separate the XO from the iPad.
Now the iPad is obviously a beautiful product, so we can assume that its qualities will be put to good use by textbook authors. But authors will need help creating an effective user interface for their own textbooks.
If school districts respond positively to Apple’s textbook initiative, I hope they relinquish some of their zeal for aesthetically superior, expensive hardware and license some cheap device (several options are available) for student use.
The Limits of Open
Do open textbooks present as robust an alternative to the Apple model as open source presents to the Microsoft’s of the software industry? Not in practice. The development model used by Open Doors isn’t as radical as you’d expect when you hear of open textbooks.
Textbooks are extraordinarily detailed and have high standards for correctness in all those details. Good writing values–pacing, selection, the introduction of topics–all have to be top-notch too. Textbooks may be criticized as bland or timid, but they make their points without the nuanced ambiguity that authors can get away with in other settings.
Numerous open source activities exist in education, but they tend to deal not with textbooks but a broader set of material known as “open courseware.” (A survey of available courseware can be found in the appendix of UNESCO’s A Basic Guide to Open Educational Resources). It may turn out that, in a collaborative and action-oriented classroom, textbooks will turn out to be an obsolete concept and the pastiche of other courseware will be all that is needed. But this article starts with the premise that a textbook is still useful.
Of all the weapons that free software can wield in its battle for world domination, the heaviest guns are the ease of making and distributing derivative works. But textbooks are not used in a community the same way software is. Textbooks are designed for courses, and are chosen by instructors. Most instructors would need strong assurance that any derivative work was superior to the original before using it.
When I look at the demands made by students and instructors, and the constraints placed on textbook production–whether the Apple model or the open model–I sense there is a place for both and a place for expert authors and publishers to create the experiences that modern educational environments require.
To read more about my viewpoint on these initiatives, look at my in-depth article on O”Reilly Radar.
ABOUT ANDY ORAM:
He is an editor at O’Reilly Media. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source technologies and software engineering. His work for O’Reilly includes the first books ever released by a U.S. publisher on Linux, the 2001 title Peer-to-Peer, and the 2007 best-seller Beautiful Code. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Mentor Cloud and Open Doors Group / College Open Textbooks Partner to
Facilitate Sharing Best Practices Among the Open Education Community
New Community to Share Best Practices and Facilitate Mentoring in Open Education
Cupertino, CA, January 26, 2012 — In honor of National Mentoring Day, Mentor Cloud and Open Doors Group/College Open Textbooks announced today the availability of an education community that allows 24×7 discussion threads and broadcast email messages to all members by all members. Generally all members will be both mentors and mentees in keeping with 21st century models of learning communities.
Education in the 21st Century faces an enormous challenge:
Education in the 21st Century is afforded three important opportunities to meet the above challenge:
Collaboration tools are needed in at least three areas of open education:
OpenDoorsGroup.MentorCloud.com, powered by Mentor Cloud, is the tool that allows for all three of the above. During the beta period, OpenDoorsGroup.MentorCloud.com will be free of cost to individuals who are thought leaders and contributors in open education. Invitations will be sent starting in early February. There may be a fee for organizations that sign up 5 or more individuals as well as organizations looking to tap into the open education community. There will also be a fee for organizations that are looking for facilitators to drive conversations on certain topics and areas.
“There is absolutely a need for a central place for those in the open education community to share best practices” says Mitchell Levy, Co-Director, College Open Textbooks, who emphasizes that Mentor Cloud is a great tool to provide this level of service.
Regardless of your opinion of Apple’s textbook announcement, plenty of good can come when the world’s second largest (or perhaps largest) for-profit company by market capitalization turns its attention to this tiny market. For starters, it generated a lively discussion in the College Open Textbooks community, which you are welcome to join. With Steve Jobs gone, we do not know if he would have called this announcement “insanely great,” the phrase he used with many other Apple products, and I will withhold judgment myself until I learn more. But with the extraordinary potential for technology to accelerate the adoption of Open Educational Resources, I am ready to declare this an insanely great week.
I hope to write about other aspects of the announcement later, but for now I would like to turn to a critical topic: Apple’s commercial and licensing terms. The following is my understanding; if you think I am wrong on anything, I encourage you to comment.
A number of comments in the announcement discussion pointed out that what you produce with iBook Author cannot be used on non-Apple devices. This is definitely a concern, although in fairness nothing prevents you from using other means to create other versions of your textbook for use on any device (including Apple devices).
Apple is a master at negotiating with content providers, and they did not disappoint. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill and Pearson joined the announcement, saying they “will deliver educational titles on the iBookstore with most priced at $14.99 or less.” For those like me who have paid up to $200 for a single textbook, this is electrifying. But watch out for the fine print; the publishers intend this to be a per-student charge. At one student per year for, say, five years, a typical lifespan of a physical textbook, that is a cost of $75. Viewed this way, you are not saving much. But for someone buying a new textbook, it is a big drop. And unlike the used textbook market, you are getting the latest version.
Apple keeps 30% of the price, which bothers some people, although I frankly doubt traditional publishers would offer more attractive terms. The main way Apple aspires to make money, in my opinion, is on iPads, iPhones and the like.
From an Open Educational Resources perspective, here is the most important part. Apple iBook Author is free, and you can set whatever price you want for the textbook you produce. If you set a price of zero, students do not pay anything, the author does not pay anything, and, outside of the sale of devices, Apple does not get paid. I cannot argue with that.
I am convinced there is more to come, from Apple, its competitors and other players. There has been a lot of encouraging things happening in Open Educational Resources, and it is about to get a lot more exciting!