If we build them . . .; if we collect them. . .

Wikibooks are coming. We’re not exactly there yet. But we are on the cusp of a growing movement particularly hot in the education blogs– perhaps as a reaction to the homogenization, the slow publication and adoption processes, and the need for political correctness in textbook publishing, perhaps as a response to the costs of buying, distributing, and replacing textbooks.

Wikis are by nature editable, collaborative, freely licensed online projects. Imagine your textbook in a new way. Imagine a book that grows as knowledge grows. Imagine teachers teaching the same content contributing their collective knowledge, as well as their best learning activities, self-created media, and their favorite supplementary resources—responsible for keeping the book fresh and up to date. Imagine scholars outside the field of education contributing their relevant research. Imagine textbooks customized to meet the needs of different locations with different standards, or more importantly the needs of different learners.

With a shrinking digital divide in schools, Wikitexts may provide an equitable solution for the millions of students around the world with limited access to print texts.

A whole lot of planning is going on Education Bridges http://educationbridges.org/ where ed tech experts are engaged in a series of strategic chats and webcasts. The educators have varied visions for funding and platform, who should contribute to the projects, and the levels of control and validation necessary, and it is quite possible that several models may develop for this new educational resource. One model suggested included a core of standards-based uneditable, validate content around which other content would grow. This model would likely solicit the support of grants. Another suggested a freely developed wiki, with teachers and learners freely contributing and editing and making their own judgments regarding quality and relevance.

I don’t necessarily see wikibooks supplanting traditional textbooks, I see them significantly supplementing and enriching existing texts. When I studied a programming language last summer, the wikitexts I found on the Web, were as useful as those print texts I purchased, and some were customized to address my truly ignorant status.

One of my very favorite teachers, a true fan of resource-based learning, was seriously disappointed with the limited way his text covered 20th century American history. He gave his students the following assignment. Pick a chapter in our text and rewrite it. Figure out what is missing, for instance in the ten-page section on the Great Depression and add authoritative content, critical primary sources, links to relevant online materials. Have multiple perspectives have been ignored? (What were women doing?) The student projects, though not posted online for sharing, would have been fine additions to a larger project—a student-created wikitext. A wikitext on U.S. history, with no page length limitations, would be richly linked and capable of leading students to materials of specific local interest.

The Wikimedia Foundation hosts the Wikibooks project http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Main_Page, a growing collection of open-content textbooks, with nearly 12,000 submissions in various stages of development. Another seed wikitextbook project is the FHSST: Info Free High School Science Texts http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/FHSST_Physics, an initiative to develop and distribute free science textbooks to 11th and 12 grade students in South Africa. Work is underway to build physics, biology, computer literacy, and chemistry texts. Among the project’s objectives are: “to provide a free resource, that can be used alone or in conjunction with other education initiatives in South Africa, to all learners and teachers. To provide a quality, accurate and interesting text that adheres to the South African school curriculum and the outcomes-based education system. To make all developed content available internationally to support Education on the largest possible scale.”

The entire South African national curriculum is now wikified http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/South_African_Curriculum and organizers hope the teaching community will contribute their best free course materials. California has an open source textbook project in the works http://www.opensourcetext.org/.

On the university level, MIT’s Open Courseware http://ocw.mit.edu/index.html is a free and open educational resource for faculty, students, and self-learners around the world. OCW supports MIT’s mission to advance knowledge and education, and serve the world in the 21st century. It is true to MIT’s values of excellence, innovation, and leadership.” Michigan State offers a Virtual Textbook of Organic Chemistry http://www.cem.msu.edu/~reusch/VirtualText/intro1.htm. And the blog Textbook Revolution http://textbookrevolution.org/links/ points to a variety of examples of online academic texts and open courseware.

In our rich information landscape, most serious teachers move well beyond their static and often aging textbooks. Most seek quality resources to enhance the experience of their learners. There is no reason why groups of K12 professional educators could not begin their own resource-rich wikibook projects.

I believe librarians can take a central role in selecting and organizing these emerging online collections. We can collect the best of the texts for our websites, those that make most sense for the users we serve. We can even learn to establish wiki structures to facility sharing for our teachers and our learners.

3 thoughts on “If we build them . . .; if we collect them. . .

  1. Joyce: I think that you have just given us the first draft of our vision statement – thanks 🙂

    “Imagine a book that grows as knowledge grows. Imagine teachers teaching the same content contributing their collective knowledge, as well as their best learning activities, self-created media, and their favorite supplementary resources—responsible for keeping the book fresh and up to date. Imagine scholars outside the field of education contributing their relevant research. Imagine textbooks customized to meet the needs of different locations with different standards, or more importantly the needs of different learners.”

  2. Thanks, Harold. I’ve been thinking a lot about this. I’ve also been worried about the danger of the project being taken over (perhaps branded) by noneducators, although it would be important that noneducators contribute.

    Here is a copy of an email I just shared with Dave Cormier:

    I was thinking about this wikibook thing a little this morning and wondering if we need to expand our thinking. Space is infinite, why limit? Just as our textbooks come with complementary “accessories”–workbooks, teachers’ guides, media kits, why couldn’t we build a three or four or five part model?

    1. So the core would be have an index-type frame with numbers and letters corresponding to standards, chock full of the content knowledge we would like learners to master. This could be monitored for reliability.

    2. Then the teachers’ guide would correspond to that structure and teachers could use that frame to build something creative and wonderful in true wiki style–best lessons, primary sources, activities, etc.

    3. And a student “workbook,” following the same index structure, could bust open the concept of “workbook” to showcase the types of products we want students to create building on the content knowledge, and it could become a place for students discourse as they respond to what they are learning.

    4. ?????? A teacher discussion space?

  3. Excellent idea! Perhaps a tagging system that becomes a user-driven metadata structure as various organisations adopt parts of the wikibook. Yes, let the users decide which parts they want to use and just make it easier to classify and assemble.