Monday, August 3, 2009

More Info: California

Thanks to Scott Love (Aquaminds) for this link to California's Open Source textbook project. It begins - and on a large scale. Actually, it began. The COSTP project of that link did not really get off the ground. Too bad, because the idea was interesting. So let's look at it for a minute.

If I were still teaching Literacy as a subject, I might use the homepage as a document in my classroom. Separating meaning from text can be difficult. On the first read, it would seem that this is about a fully Internet-based, flexible, media-rich solution ("fully portable content holdings database that scales with classroom technologies as they are introduced"). K-12 educators would contribute content as well as (presumably) vet it. It was with some excitement that I found the 1st content, the COSTP World History Project, a wikibooks "etext" for grade 9. I should have been suspicious about the lack of dates on the Project site.

The wiki is disappointing. Much too difficult in terms of reading for grade 9 (just try Ancient Philosophy...). Unsigned and unattributed. Lacking media (no pictures?). Open editing (after 30 days I could edit content). Most importantly, lacking a direct tie-in to Standards through Essential Questions ("Students, this is the purpose of this section..." There is a link to grade 10 Standards on the links page - is there some sloppy editing?). California teachers would need to use lots of time and supplementary materials to make use of this text. Perhaps those are reasons for the failure - lack of planning, lack of work on implementation, forward thinking.

I also wondered when I read the project homepage how the claim could be made that "It is important to note that COSTP's mandate does not replace printed textbooks." It seemed to be contradictory to claim that an open source (digital) solution would not replace a printed solution. Reading on, I found that this is meant to be printed material - provided digitally, but still printed for students. I guess changes in the text (easy to do) will mean reprinting.

There is a recent editorial about COSTP (I love the irony in the acronym - intentional?), which seems to be alive and slated for implementation in the fall - but for math and science, and not in wiki form. This piece and its Comments point out some of the difficulties of implementing the project, many of which I have mentioned above.

Overall, this is an inventive way for California to save money, but what is the gain for the students? Watching from the other side of the continent, I hope that details of planning, purpose, direction, implementation, and assessment become available - I would hate for Maine to jump on this bandwagon without the full story, or to purchase California content just because it is less expensive. If this is the full story, we need look for another solution.

Before you give up on California, read this, another opinion piece about the Project, written a year ago. Pay special attention to the last sentence: "
You can't expect new and interesting things to happen while clinging to the rules of the last century." It is perhaps starry-eyed to believe that by working together non-bureaucrats can find a better, more tenable solution to printed texts, but I like star-gazing.

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