Flexbooks – a Non-Braindead way to produce textbooks
I’ve just seen a post on Flexbooks, an initiative of CK-12 so headed over to have a look. I believe initiatives of this kind are extremely important. Because copyright makes the price of textbooks too high, copyright is a significant barrier to education. A poorly educated workforce is a lower production workforce. In short, copyright ideology substantially lowers GDP. Well, no more. The Flexbooks initiative aims to provide textbooks for K-12 under the CC-BY-SA licence. The obnoxious (and anti-social) ‘-NC’ is absent. Thank heavens these are enlightened educators!
I have downloaded their 400+ page book on calculus and, after a quick flip, it seems appropriate for a late secondary school course. In criticism, the typesetting of equations is a bit wonky (and given the long standing availability of LaTeX this seems very mysterious), some diagrams could be improved, the book lacks a preface, appendicies and an index, and they seem to assume that student have a particular make/model of scientific calculator. Much of the demonstration information relating to the site is in Flash, so they’re not entirely enlightened.
Downloading and distributing for free is not even half the story. As the licence is SA, everyone is free to make changes to them – say farewell to the days of textbooks with US-specific references or out of date pricing. Does the example in the text book refer to buying a penny white loaf at Banbury Cross? Why, then change it to $2:00 wholemeal loaf in Sydney, a $3.80 milkshake at Ettalong Beach (for school children in that area) or even something from the tuckshop of the specific school it’s used in. If there is something wrong with a chapter, take it out and replace it with a better chapter. Over time such books will reach optimal quality – perhaps even in the absence of structured review (in that bad variants will be less used by teachers).
You don’t even need to change the textbooks to see the added value. The fact that they’re electronic means you don’t need to print them or, if you do, you can print them in a size and format which suits you. If you think the idea of kids lugging 400 pages of text book to and from school every day isn’t a good one, print them out in smaller parts, one for each term.
This kind of initiative is exactly the kind of initiative that Government should be directing stimulus money to.