Free textbooks

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Open Text Book

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Free High School Science Texts

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A book shelf project.
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Image courtesy of striatic

This is a starter page for the Free Textbooks group that came together during the iCommons Summit in Dubrovnik, Croatia in June 2007. The group's focus is on developing free textbooks (also by using public domain books and other other materials). We seek both to find ways to work together and also to find best practices when working apart.

We have a mailing list - please, join us!

THE QUESTION

How to run a successful free textbook project?

THE TASK

Create a knowledge base which will help educators from all over the world starting and running Free Textbook project. We also aim at creating a program for a future FT conference.

THE PROBLEMS

  1. There are not enough consistent volunteers to write free high school text books
  2. Writing free textbooks is different from other free education initiatives, and therefore our approaches to dealing with issues may need to be different.
  3. Potential contributors don't have the skills and tools that are needed e.g. wiki skills
  4. Potential contributors e.g. teachers, may be afraid to contribute out of fear of criticism

APPROACHES THAT HAVE ALREADY BEEN USED

  • Some projects e.g. FHSST, have tried marketing, competitions and 'hackathons'. A hackathon gathers a group of volunteers in a particular place and time with a specific objective. This has been quite successfull.
  • Other projects have tried to forge stronger links with a variety of institutions including publishers

SOLUTION IDEAS

  • Online contributions are not enough. There needs to be an element of face-to-face interaction so that volunteers can receive support and encouragement. This may take the form of something similar to a hackathon. IF recruiting new volunteers, there should always be some baseline amount of content available for volunteers to view as this is easier than starting from scratch. Ideally, some individuals who have already written books, could be approached to contribute that material. Two projects: global texts project (Richard Watson - aim to develop 200 university textbooks. began by contributing his own book) bring more books - if I have an idea about a book, I should send a proposal.
  • Teachers may have problems using mailing lists. You can try using forum for discussion.
  • Potential contributors need to be equipped with the relevant skills e.g. how to use a wiki. A philosophy of sharing also needs to be developed so that teachers are not afraid to share their content.
  • Textbook projects need a figurehead or some person with authority and a good reputation to give credibility to the project.
  • Volunteers should receive some form of recognition for their efforts e.g. a certificate or written acknowledgement of their contribution so that they can use this for CV purposes. This may serve as an incentive to contribute.
  • University students should be targeted to contribute. This could take the form of a semester credit course, where students are required as part of their course work to write a section or a chapter of the book. This could be particularly useful in the training of teachers themselves so that the writing exercise becomes part of their learning experience
  • Involve a wide variety of people including publishers. This has been tried in the Netherlands and has worked well. Publishers may not coordinate the project, but may contribute content, or may help to keep final costs down. 15% of licensing costs can be the difference between success and failure of a project. There need to be incentives for publishers to be involved.
  • Ensure that the project is broken down into manageable chunks so that volunteers are not intimidated.
  • Funding is needed to ensure proper coordination of the book, and the production of a high quality and specific end product.

GENERAL COMMENTS

Textbooks are seriously underutilised. We need to revisit our concept of the textbook as a static medium. Ideally, the end users should be involved and the final product should be flexible so that users can amend and adapt the material to suit their specific needs.

I think we should try and replace textbooks with free learning material from the Internet.

Existing Free Textbooks

Please, add unlisted FT projects here

Ideas for projects

Research links

  • Sales impact of publisehd books when providing free digital versions -- Research study by John Hilton