Open-Source Textbooks Need to be Configurable

Is the MOST Initiative’s effort to reduce college textbook costs doomed to fail?

Open-source documents are often used in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that are both open- and closed-source systems. Most MOOC courses have minimal fees, typically to cover management or to provide materials or testing services. Many courses are completely free. MOOCs are often supported and used by universities that have opened their courses and courseware to the public. Some are used to provide online courses and are often used as part of a curriculum for degrees.

The Problem

There are a host of issues related to open-source content, MOOCs, and so on. Teachers may not want to use them in place of their own teaching methods, and finding suitable content is sometimes an issue. Searching for a content match for a particular course isn’t as easy as you might think.

One major problem I see is the delivery and use of static content like e-books. This includes PDFs and even slideshows. The problem is that these are static, packaged items—often with limited annotation tools—designed to be given from a provider (usually a teacher) to a consumer (the student). This assumes that the content is suitable as is and that the provider or student cannot or should not modify it in any fashion.

Certain topics change quickly. This means that content in a static container will often be dated, though perhaps only in fringe areas. This is why major books have multiple revisions with only minor changes to the content. For printed material, teachers are forced to wait for new revisions providing their own material to complement the current or available edition.

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