California Governor Jerry Brown gave his pen a workout yesterday. In addition to signing legislationprohibiting social network snooping by employers and colleges, he also signed off on a proposal for the state to fund 50 open source digital textbooks. He signed two bills, one to create the textbooksand the other to establish a California Digital Open Source Library to host them, at a meeting with students in Sacramento.
According to a legislative summary, the textbook bill would "require the California Open Education Resources Council to determine a list of 50 lower division courses in the public postsecondary segments for which high-quality, affordable, digital open source textbooks and related materials would be developed or acquired." The council is to solicit bids to produce these textbooks in 2013. The bill makes clear that the council has the option to use "existing high-quality digital open source textbooks and related materials" if those materials fit the requirements.
The law specifies that the textbooks must be placed under a Creative Commons license, allowing professors at universities outside of California to use the textbooks in their own classrooms. The textbooks must be encoded in XML, or "other appropriate successor format," to facilitate re-use of the materials.
"This is a massive win for California," said Timothy Vollmer of Creative Commons in a blog post. He called it "a most welcome example of open policy that aims to leverage open licensing to save money for California families and support the needs of teachers and students."
It will be interesting to see how good the resulting textbooks are. It seems unlikely that having the government issue an RFP would be a good way to develop, say, an open-source operating system. But the state's universities already have deep expertise selecting textbooks for their classes, so the project may produce some great educational materials.