Parallels in Open Software and Open Textbooks

Dr. Cable Green speaking to Creative Commons staff
Dr. Cable Green speaking to Creative Commons staff (Photo credit: tvol)

I was reading this morning about what makes a successful open source project and what makes one not so successful, and I found a number of parallels between successful open source software projects and the creation and implementation of open textbooks. For instance, Andy Brice writing on a failed software project lists “lack of support from the people who would actually have to use it” as one of the reasons for the project failing. Symbian is another example – this was meant to be an open source platform but after the announcement that it was going open source, a year went by before anyone had access to the source code. OpenMediaVault was meant to be open source. The software was freely available to users but developers had to pay a licensing fee. Back in 2005, Xara announced that its graphic package was going open source and “two years later, the project is stagnant and on the verge of irrelevance, primarily because the company couldn’t figure out how to work with the open source community” (Nathan Willis). Online community is the backbone of any open source project; I even read about a company that wanted to take it’s start up money and create an online community around their product. This is definitely a cart before the horse. What does all this have to do with open textbooks? If you have been around the open textbook community for any length of time, you will begin to see these same factors emerge in online textbook success stories. Story after story tells us the importance of community in an open source project. A successful open textbook is like an open source project in that it is:

  • Freely available 
    • Get money out of the way of creation & development and into support
    • Keep the licenses open
  • Accessible
    • Make the text and files available to all in a useable, editable form
    • Multiple formats will help others adapt the work for students with different needs
  • Built by the community
    • Find others who are interested in contributing to similar works. This was the important lesson from the Kaleidoscope project.
    • An open textbook created by local teachers will be more powerful and relevant than one made by a corporation with no idea of local student needs
  • Maintained by a community
    • A community can edit, share, and adapt instantly
    • A community can solve problems, translate docs into other languages, create new versions
  • Implemented by a community
    • The top down approach is doomed to failure (see your local school)

Just as the open source software community needed a license to keep open source software open, the Creative Commons organization is answering questions about licensing strategies that educators are asking as they author course materials and textbooks. The next stage in OERs (and this has started already) is building open communities around these projects. (e.g. College Open Textbooks, MERLOT and Connexions).
Here is a presentation I gave this morning making the connections between open software and open textbooks:

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This entry was posted in OER, Open education resources, Open source, Open textbook. Bookmark the permalink.

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