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
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.
Tom Caswell, Program Manager for the Open Course Library, reported 10, 000 visitors to their site since its official launch of the first 42 courses on October 31, 2011. He sums up the project which will contain 81 open courses targeted at the highest-enrolled general education classes for lower division college students as thus:
“The Open Course Library is a collection of expertly developed educational materials designed by faculty and openly shared with the world. It includes textbooks, syllabi, course activities, readings, and assessments for 81 high-enrollment college courses.”
“42 courses have been completed so far, providing faculty with a high-quality, affordable option that will cost students no more than $30 for course materials.”
“Faculty (anywhere) can modify and build on some or all of the course materials. There are no strings attached. We only ask that faculty cite the Open Course Library in their course and fill out our short adoption form.”
Image Credit: Timothy Valentine & Leo Reynolds CC-BY-NC-SA
It is with great pleasure that I announce the 8 winners of our Adopter Communities’ Small Grant program. Each community proposed an outstanding project that uses open textbooks or open educational resources to improve teaching and learning for their students. Disciplines ranged from the highly enrolled general education subjects of Chemistry, Physics, and Math to American Government and Developmental Reading & Composition. Professional and career disciplines were also represented with Business Communications, Advanced Water Mathematics, and pre-teacher Educational Psychology. Overall 27 faculty members are participating from 17 colleges and 4 universities with approximately 3200 students anticipated to be positively impacted during the grant period alone.
For the purpose of this program, an adopter community had to contain at least two college or university instructors who have adopted or commit to adopting an open textbook(s) or open educational resources as the primary text for a course they teach or plan to teach in the 2011-2012 timeframe. Collaboration between multiple colleges and inclusion of peer reviewers, staff, and students as community members was highly encouraged. In addition, all enhancements, new materials, and ancillaries produced by the community in the grant period (2011-2012) must be made available to other educators using a Creative Commons license that allows further modifications such as CC-BY.
A huge thanks goes to our panel of judges who read all 17 grant application and finalized their results with conference call on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Using a rubric to help ensure inter-rater reliability, the panel included a community college dean, a higher education program manager, and the technology director for a large OER project.
Finally, I want to commend all the adopter communities who applied for their thoughtful projects that used open textbooks and open educational resources to improve teaching and student learning at their colleges. In the end, we were limited by our overall budget and not the inspiring visions of all of the applicants.
Please check out our College Open Textbooks community site for more details on these amazing Adopter Communities and to watch their progress over the next year. Webinar with grantees scheduled for November 17 at 1:00 PM (Pacific).
Image:Some rights reserved (CC-BY-NC) by EpicFireworks