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RE: [seul-edu] open textbooks

I am not involved in education and won't pretend to understand the politics
or motivations.  By profession I am a sysadmin for a company that designs
DSP cores for MIPS or ARM SOC's.

That said, as an outsider, and as a taxpayer and hopefully a future parent,
I am very interested in seeing public (and private) schools move into the
21st century with the rest of us to prepare our next generation.  I've been
out of high school now for 8 years, and my memory of the experience is that
the textbooks we used were remarkably old, heavy, littered with errata, and
simply not effective.

As a taxpayer, I feel that they are not cost effective.  The first year that
kids get them, they might be close to up-to-date.  With some subjects the
subject material doesn't really change from year to year.  But how do you
teach geography today with a 10 year old book?  Or computer science?
Biology?  All of these subjects are constantly changing.  By the time a book
hits print, is is already dated material.  The only way to try to keep up
with the latest developments is electronic texts.

This is also important for the teachers.  How can a teacher be expected to
properly prepare students to understand practical applications of computer
science if the text books are 5 years old?

It sounds like you have some idea of how to motivate qualified people to
write.  And it sounds like there is already a home to centrally distribute
these books from.  Combine that with Project Gutenberg and there is already
part of a foundation to build upon.

-----Original Message-----
From: Doug Loss [mailto:dloss@suscom.net]
Sent: Tuesday, October 17, 2000 10:03 AM
To: seul-edu@seul.org
Subject: Re: [seul-edu] open textbooks

Chris Hedemark wrote:

> Here's what I am thinking.  If textbooks were developed in an Open Source
> fashion, it could be more effective for schools to distribute laptops
> instead of textbooks.  Every year an updated version of the text can be
> distributed to students at no cost to the school.
> The only real problem that I see is getting qualified people to write &
> maintain the texts.  What is the incentive?

Jeffrey Elkner has started a project to do just this.  He and his students
been working on a computer science text.  The project has recently changing
servers and domains, so the link on our projects page isn't active, but the
home is here:


As you say, however, the problem will be getting people to create and
the texts.  What's the incentive for regular textbook writers?  I doubt it's
profit-oriented, as I can't conceive of a best-selling 2nd year world
text.  Still, people write them.  Does it have to do with academic
and the "publish or perish" mindset?  If so, our best bet would be to
the idea at educational conferences both as a way to make up-to-date texts
inexpensively available to financially-strapped (as they pretty much all
schools, and as a way to enhance an educator's prestige within the
community by writing a widely-used text that takes advantage of all the

Doug Loss                 God is a comedian playing
Data Network Coordinator  to an audience too afraid
Bloomsburg University     to laugh.
dloss@bloomu.edu                Voltaire