Thursday, April 16, 2009

Challenges in creating open source textbooks

I decided to leave the TCC conference for a bit to attend an Elluminate session. The seminar is being delivered by a faculty member who teaches American Government.

It is important to remember that, although the session is titled Open Source Textbooks, the current term for it is "open educational resources" (OER). So he is actually talking about a collection of websites with good information, not really stuff that students are printing out and reading like a book. For example, he sends people to to see original source material that one cannot usually get in a textbook.

Problems to overcome:
* Risk: faculty are risk averse and not particularly willing to try this type of new thing.
* Faculty come from a book reading culture and feel like sending people to websites is undermining the book culture. The presenter argues that it does not diminish the reading, but rather changes the type of reading that the student does. He thinks that the websites do a good job of the "information dispensing" task of a textbook. If folks want to keep a book reading, one should have a topical or subject matter book rather than a textbook.
* Academic Freedom - His department is moving toward an e-text and some faculty feel that a department selection impinges on their academic freedom.
* Few Incentives - he didn't get a lot of support at his college, no weight for tenure or promotion
* may be an impression of less depth and richness in the material
* students might not value the content because it is free
* lack of teachers guides and test banks

Problems from the student perspective:
* Taking away their security blanket - students worry about what material they are responsible for, it removes certainty that students have relied upon.
* Website content changes - If you rely on materials created by others, they may not be there next week or next quarter.
* active and interactive learning does not happen automatically. Students may need some instruction on how to interpret and work with digital content.

The workshop raised more questions than it answered, but was still useful. I think I would like to have a summer institute or something similar on this topic in summer quarter.


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