After attending ISTE 2012 in San Diego at the end of June, I made plans to meet with the folks down at CK-12, the non-profit organization developing a free textbook builder. Before you run from the word “free,” keep in mind that this is different. No gimmicks, no subscriptions, and nothing expected in return. Browse the teacher-developed curriculum by subject, state standards, and grade level.
Pull down a textbook in .PDF, Kindle, or ePub (iBook and Android-readable) and use it in the classroom for free. What’s the catch? Well, there really isn’t one.
This is what we call Open Educational Resources, or OER for short. CK-12 co-founder Neeru Khosla and her team are on a mission to create a user-friendly open platform for teachers, schools, and districts to gain standards-aligned textbooks. As is a large part of what makes the Open Source and OER movements so good is that they want your feedback. The hope is that schools will begin to adopt these “Flexbooks” as primary curriculum in the classroom, feeding the field-tested content back into the system for other teachers to reuse. Grab individual lessons, edit them on the fly as you wish, package them into a file that can be read on any computers, tablet, or other mobile device, and go. Teach. Learn.
When you visit CK12.org, you are given the option to browse subjects and build books using their old building system. You can instead browse the “beta” version of their builder, which is still undergoing development. Rather than a bulleted list of subjects and topics, the beta version includes a tiled interface that tries to help teachers make sense of the process. There’s no need to create an account to manage the books you’ve created, made easy by the standard Google, Facebook, and Twitter account sign-in options. You can create a unique CK-12 website account, but who does that anymore these days?
Ok, so really…what the catch?
At this point in the game, I have a few critiques of the system that CK-12 has built (the beta). The Flexbooks system is new and still being developed, and my hat is off to them for the work they’ve done thus far. At the same time, there are some areas that are in need of attention. Here’s the short list.
- Learning Resources – How the heck do you make a Flexbook? What is the teacher’s role in the ecosystem? There is a quick-guide video that is hard to listen to (background music up way too loud), but no text-based instructional materials. FAQ’s don’t count.
- Advocacy Groups – Open Source and OER projects are community-based. Developers share code via relationships they have with other programmers. Teachers will find motivation in personally sharing their content.
- Bug Hunting – I hit snags with the beta. More than one error message popped up while trying to create a science book for my iPad. I don’t have experience with the old system, but I’ll assume it wasn’t much of an issue.
As I mentioned above, open projects like this rely on communities of participants that are aware of the need for quality open educational resources and are armed with a tool to shift the market of textbooks. Should you, as a learner or teacher, look at CK12.org? Yes, and if you see any value in the idea that education should be free to all, pass the word along. CK-12 is working on liberating and unifying educational resources for K-12 education, which is a big step in the right direction.