Free Textbooks

Now that the headline and the “FREE!” text ads that are no doubt accompanying this post have your attention, let’s talk about the Creative Commons.

Lawrence Lessig has a great blog post this week concerning freely available curriculum tools for educators. Citing the Wikibooks project, Lessig predicts a freely-available, English language, K-University curriculum by 2040. That’s a tall order, but I think it’s a fair estimate, considering the rapid and successful growth of the WikiPedia, Uncyclopedia, blogs and other distributed communities and information stores.

The Wiki is the perfect vehicle for this 21st century, internet-enabled form of learning. Let the experts write the textbooks all the while letting the students learn directly not only from the source but also from the discussion surrounding the growth and editing of the Wiki.

The best classes, the most informative classes, at university were more about the discussion and the ability to reason, think and express than about rote recitation of facts from books. Learning gained from a free-flowing stream of information rather than a static book is infinitely more likely to foster discussion, reasoning and thoughtful consideration as oppossed to a few stone tablets that originate from a divine being.

But that’s just my opinion, I could be too high on the new technology and the prospect of a distributed future learning environment. I’m also a very firm believer in the Cluetrain Manifesto, so the discussion between teachers and student, between students and students and between teachers and teachers is vitally important. The Socratic method should flourish again in this new millenium, just as it did all those centuries ago. We just have an opportunity to open up the doors to this new Library of Alexandria to everyone with an internet connection.

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