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[seul-edu] Doug, ab't Open textbooks (kinda long)

> -----Original Message-----
> From: owner-seul-edu@seul.org [mailto:owner-seul-edu@seul.org]On Behalf
> > ----- Original Message -----
> > From: Chris Hedemark <hedemark@bops.com>


> > > The only real problem that I see is getting qualified people
> > to write &>
> > maintain the texts. What is the incentive?
> > >
> I've been thinking about this topic a bit.  I think we actually
> have two related topics here.  The first is content creation.
> How do we get people to write educationally useful textbooks and
> make them available for free?  This is something that has little
> to do with the technology behind things.

[etc... snip for brevity]

Ho-kay... this is what I saw in my wee journey through Open Documentation
thus far. This was done in the State of Utah, in the US... I can only
guarantee that your headaches will either be larger or they will be smaller,
depending on where you live/work/teach:

The toughest part I found about my little packet was finding a way to
copyleft it without making the USOE angry (USOE = Utah State Office of
Education.) In a full blown commercially saleable textbook, this
tightrope-walk would only be compounded. I can see a way for professors and
other full-time educators to copyleft even entire books, but I know from
personal experience that it will take the equivalent of tooth-pulling just
to get it done. The biggest part of the problem involves educating the
ultimate copyright authority (in my case the USOE) on how Open Source works,
and how one can apply it to documentation without risking outright plagarism
from outside parties. In my case, it took a few phone calls and coordination
between the school board, the USOE, and even the Utah Attorney General's
office just to get the ball rolling...

Why? Because anything I write here at school is subject to copyright not
only by me, but by the school (DATC), and ultimately the State school
authority (like I said, this is applicable in Utah - things may be different
where you work or teach, so you may want to peek about a bit before
proceeding :)

The funniest part of it all is that (in Utah anyway) two words can make for
an almost acceptable substitute: Peer Review. This is what most school
authorities will pressure you to use, I can almost guarantee it. Why?
because this is something they understand already... GNU is a huge mystery
to them. This 'perpetual peer review' is exactly what was suggested by the
AG's office (and my own school's administration) early on, but Peer Review
status has too many limitations in it to be called Open Documentation (I
eventually left the words in there anyway, but modified it heavily so that
some form of Open Documentation can still be implemented freely. "Peer
Review" here in Utah is the equivalent of Sun Microsystems' EULA.... ick.)

The Copyleft statement on my packet is convoluted (and somewhat
restrictive), but as you read it, you'll find out why - "Cliff's Notes"
could be applied to a textbook, so as to render any tests you may give as
obsolete - under strict GNU guidelines, a student can legally take your
textbook, add answers to the tests that he or she saw (as well as answer
keys to any labs of quizzes you may have written into the textbook), and
*poof* - you have a dead test or a worthless part of the book, reducing its
value both to the student and anyone else who wants to use it.

Richard Stallman had once written a draft of something that was directly
called Open Documentation, and was geared specifically towards published
documents, as opposed to mere software. I lost my e-mail stored copy of it,
but I do have it printed on paper if anyone wants a copy of it mailed to
them (I really don't feel much like transcribing that many pages back onto a
data file, though I could probably get another copy if I needed it :) I do
suspect that something of that order may be on the GNU site by now anyway,
though I haven't looked recently.

As for textbooks made commercially? I sincerely doubt that a commercial
publisher would allow it for one reason: Profit motive. Finding a way to
write copylefted books on a commercial basis would be tough to say the
least. Most of the problem would be to form an Open Source publishing model
that eliminated outright plagarism, kept enterprising students (or anyone
else) from ruining your test banks and labs, but still delivered content
worth paying that particular publisher for it.

The biggest difference I see (and the hardest logical wall) is the fact that
documentation isn't software, and therefore the quality of documentation is
two-dimensional instead of three - I buy Red Hat products form Red Hat
because I know that there are hackers who would love to sell me a 'trojaned'
version of RH software. If I buy, say, a "Linux Gaming Made Easy" book
series from XYZ Publishing or a copy of it from ABC Publishing, it makes no
real difference - the same information (or a very close approximation) would
still be safely had from either source. Of course, an argument can be made
that the other source may just as well insert incorrect or even misleading
information, but anyone with the most basic proofreading skills could suss
this out immediately, and do so without worrying about the immediate
concerns of, say, system security or system integrity.

All of the above assumes either outright print or electronic/CD/etc content
delivery, BTW.

> The second topic is content delivery.  This is where I think we
> will have our greatest role to play.  Writing open source texts
> is all well and good, but if each student needs a computer to
> get at those texts, how is that going to help impoverished
> schools?

This is a sticky question, depending especially on locale. In the US, anyone
can get to a public library and print off what they need (usually at a cost)
from the library web terminals. Internationally, this may be more difficult.
However, if the material being taughtinvolves computers or anything like it,
there will most likely be (at base) a computer and printer that can print
off the content.

> I think that we need to set up a process where open
> source texts are written and then made available as HTML (for
> online use), PostScript or LaTeX (for downloading and printing),
> and PDF (for use from a CD-ROM) at the very least.

Did that already (with the gracious help of a lot of patient people,
including the fine folks here on this mailing list :)

>  That way,
> the same text could be used directly off the internet, locally
> from a CD-ROM server, or printed and duplicated for use offline.
>  I see the printing as the most cost-effective version of the
> text in that only the portion the teacher actually intends to
> use needs to be printed.  If we do set up something like this,
> it will be important that we not update the "canonical" text
> constantly.  I doubt that a teacher could teach effectively with
> a text that changes from week to week.  We'd have to have some
> policy of announcing updates well in advance and making them
> only between semesters (if that will work with an international
> audience).

You could modularize it, that way only bits and pieces need to be updated at
a time, but the problem lies in not violating the continuity (ie: teaching
vi in a module, but the next module relies on pure emacs to be of any use,
and there wasn't any emacs instruction up to that point.)

I like the idea of spacing out the updates and announcing them on a
semester/phase/term/<insert school time period here> basis.

One caveat: Right now, both DATC (here) and Weber State University (our
partner in MCSE training) are going through pure hell in trying to update
and synchronize the Microsoft Win2k MCP/MCSE certification upheaval. I
suspect that there will be times where massive changes are necessary (though
not as blatant since we're primarily talking about Unix here), but major
changes also mean major curriculum updates, something that no one likes,
especially a school's bureaucracy ;) Of course, this has nothing to do with
Open Source per se, but it is a consideration that may need to be addressed
just the same.

[brevity sneck]

> I know there are a number of educators on this mailing list.
> Here's my requests of them: if you've written a text that you've
> found useful in teaching any of your subjects, consider
> submitting it as an open text.

See above, waaay above - it's gonna be a nightmare for awhile, at least
until school authorities (read: bureaucrats) catch onto Open Source and GNU.

TJ Miller jr
Comp. Tech. Instructor
Davis Applied Technology Center
"we live in an Einsteinian universe dictated by Newtonian physics, but it is
one ruled by men with Frankensteinian politics."