Virginia has released a beta version of the nation’s first open source text book. The book is a collaboration by state departments of Technology and Education as well volunteer educators, engineers and scientists.
The book was developed using web based resources to quickly update information and aid in the collaboration effort. The tools include technologies such as Java, Django, Ajax and the Google Web tool kit. The book was produced using the FlexBook platform developed by the CK-12 Foundation of Palo Alto, Calif.
The Virginia Physics FlexBook is an effort to update educational material more quickly than can be done with traditional textbooks. The typical review and procurement cycle of states and school systems, coupled with the several years it can take for changes to make their way into published texts, means that students in even the best schools could be using material that is a decade or more out of date.
A typical textbook can be over a decade behind current technology and events. The procurement cycle coupled with the time it takes changes to make their way into published text causes obsolete material to become a part of a schools curriculum. The speed of information change and technology makes this unacceptable in preparing students for today’s workforce.
A team of scientists and engineers studied Virginia’s science education curriculum and concluded that it was inadequate to prepare students for the 21st century workforce. Given that it discussed such things as cathode ray tubes (CRT) and had no mention of LCD, LED or plasma for monitors and televisions it is easy to understand the conclusion. It also epitomises the need for a way of producing a textbook and curriculum quickly and at low cost to keep pace with the technology that students should be studying. Open source provided the correct vehicle to accomplish this end.
The team, lead by retired NASA research engineer Jim Batterson, recommended that teachers have access to an open-source platform that would let them develop and share their own course material in a cooperative environment, such as a wiki.
Beyond the obvious benefits that such a textbook provides American students I am happy to see the recognition of open source by our government and institutions of higher education and the cost-benefit ratio that it provides.
Read more about the project here.