Online textbook project is an educational experience

Virginia’s project to create an open-source physics textbook is a cooperative effort among the nonprofit CK-12 Foundation and Virginia’s secretaries of technology and education. A team of volunteer educators is writing and reviewing the chapters.

Project leader and retired NASA engineer Jim Batterson has outlined a number of goals for the pilot project.
  • Produce additional, up-to-date content for the state’s physics curriculum.
  • Make that content easily available at no cost to all the state’s physics teachers.
  • Provide feedback to the foundation on its open-source FlexBook platform.
  • Provide concrete examples of needed improvements for the panel that will review Virginia’s physics Standards of Learning next year.
  • Gain insight into the value of the electronic book format and whether it is a viable replacement for printed science textbooks.
  • Decide whether to continue the physics project with further versions of the online FlexBook.
  • Decide whether to expand the project to other subjects.

As the writing portion of the project neared completion, the team had already learned some lessons.

“One of the issues we ran into was intellectual property,” Batterson  said. Most of the material that teachers develop for use in their classrooms falls under the fair-use exception of copyright laws. “Teachers have never really worried about copyright too much.”

However, in preparing a textbook that will be published online, copyright becomes a concern. The authors must use material that is in the public domain or has been published under an open-source Creative Commons license. For any other materials, they must obtain permission from the copyright holder before using it in the FlexBook.

The CK-12 Foundation is helping the team secure needed copyright permissions, but the process takes time and could slow the completion of some chapters, Batterson said.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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