Open source textbooks and existing books

I haven’t made much progress in finding and/or adapting open-source material for my fundamentals of communication class. In the meantime, I ran across an article that addressed an issue concerning the larger project of possibly creating an open source textbook replacement recently though.

This was a post in the “Wired Campus” blog of the Chronicle of Higher Education. It discussed a lawsuit between textbook publishers and an open source book publisher called Boundless. The textbook publishers argue that Boundless is creating collections of open-source material that follow the organization and structure of their books too closely.
Some of the comments that follow the article are interesting, observing that the book companies borrow each other’s structure all the time. This is certainly the case in my field and in the course for which I would like to find/develop an open source alternative. Books for this course have gradually become homogeneous, with exactly 15 chapters, each covering the very similar material. I spoke to a textbook author a few years ago who had just published a new textbook for the course. He said publishers wouldn’t allow him to include certain topics because they needed the same structure as existing books to compete with them.

Part of the open source publisher’s argument is that you can’t copyright ideas and facts. This is a key issue in my thinking about how to create an open source textbooks for this course. The set of ideas has been gradually standardized for the sake of competition. The situation cries out for an open source solution, since the publishers themselves have limited the set of topics in this course, creating this standard set of ideas. Making materials engaging, or the treatment of the ideas, is something that should not be copied. This is the writer’s craft. But the set of ideas is clearly spelled out for this class. This could serve as a structure for a collection of open source material in a wiki-like structure.

The looooong process continues

I have been exploring what seems like lots of open sources – textbooks and videos mostly, and some applets. There is a LOT out there, and trying to sort through all the good and the not-so-good is a long process, while I am still trying to wrap my head around the idea of OERs and how I can best utilize them. The hard part is trying to find how all of these can come together into one course that I teach. I feel like I am trying to piece something together from several different sources and make it into a current course and replace the current textbook. I do not have much flexibility in what I cover since it is a part of the math curriculum flow and not a stand-alone course. But, I have found some resources that I like (and some I don’t like). I would love to be able to try to teach a class next school year that is textbook free. So for now, I will continue to explore what is available and start putting together a “complete” course for what I teach, and then propose it to my dean. It has definitely been both frustrating and interesting, but I am enjoying the process.