Sunday, August 17, 2008

The California Open Source Textbook Project a year and a half later

A year ago January I wrote about the California Open Source Textbook Project, and was reminded to go back and take a look at it when Drew submitted a comment about it this past weekend:

Yes, it all sounds "brilliant" -- but I don't see any progress. They talk about replacing all their textbooks in 5 years. Come on. Someone is going to write all the books a state needs for K-12, and give them away? Sounds like this has pretty much stalled.

Drew is right. This project is dead-in-the water. It really is abysmal.

If you look at the project it appears that all of the elements for success were in place. This should have worked. So why did it fail? I think you can fix the blame on the California Curriculum Development & Supplemental Materials Commission. They are the body responsible for making the rules as to what passes for an acceptable textbook for use in California schools. These rules were an albatross around the neck of this project. I should have seen this last year when I declared the concept to be "brilliant!"

The showcase textbook selected for this project was: The California World History Project. It is languishing in relative obscurity. The last edits were done almost a year ago. At the same time, the WikiBooks World History project is thriving. This is basically the exact same book, but without the bureaucratic oversight. It's obvious that the rest of the world doesn't give a crap about what the California bureaucrats think makes for a quality textbook. They're writing their own.

What are the lessons to be learned here? Open beats closed. The California Open Source Textbook Project might have embraced open source technologies, but the requirements imposed by the the Commission in essence turned the entire project into a closed platform. Rather than write to the closed specifications of the Commission, the people chose to disintermediate the control-freaks by self-selecting into the more open effort.

This project shows that it doesn't take much to destroy the conditions by which open-content projects work. If California is truly serious about migrating to open-content textbooks then they need to be willing to let go of the rules of the past. You can't expect new and interesting things to happen while clinging to the rules of the last century.


DairyScienceMark said...

Does this remind you of any other agency that has great restrictions on projects/publications and is going up against Google Knol as a publishing forum for knowledge?

Peg Boyles said...

I'd look beyond the Commission and blame it on a fundamental paradigm clash.

In his 1970 Deschooling Society, Ivan Illich brilliantly challenged the idea that the modern paradigm of mandatory, aged-graded schooling, with its politically derived curriculum, could beget an educated citizenry or equal opportunity for all.

When you stop ponder the concept, "open source" learning/teaching opportunities abound in nearly any environment. "School" simply discards most of them as irrelevant.