Ebooks and opensource textbooks for Irish education

On November 6th last we asked on Twitter – Can Irish educators explain what obstacles prevent the development of an opensource curriculum distributed on back-friendly ebooks?”

Darren Geraghty, a researcher at the Digital Enterprise Research Institute in Galway was first to answer“I’m not an educator but I’m told book publishers want it to remain the current
archaic way for obvious self-serving monetary reasons

To which I reponded, “I’ve heard that too but wonder why, in the age of wikipedia, an opensource alternative can’t be developed? Lack of will?”

Simon Lewis, principal of Carlow Educate Together Primary school and author of the influential Anseo ezine then respondedlots of things preventing open source ebooks: Lack of government support, lack of teacher skills, lack of infrastructure, etc etc”

John O’Connor, Head of School of Art, Design & Printing at Dublin Institute of Technology felt likewise“A complete lack of political interest and/or concern by the relevant public servants perhaps?”

To both of which I replied, what ‘government support’ did Wikipedia have? Teacher skills? What infrastructure? The internet? ” and continued is public servant and political interest required?

And John answered not to develop the curriculum but regretably yes for implementation. That is the problem”

In response to which I naively asked,“If the curriculum was developed would it be politically feasible to hold out against implementation?”

At which stage the discombobulated discussion more or less fizzled out on Twitter. But we did take it up again under a public Google Wave entitled ‘Wave in Irish Education‘, where I wondered if Google’s new wiki-like system “could be the solution for how Educators and Technologists can best change Ireland
(Dr. Chris Horn).” In that linked blog post Chris reprints a speech he gave to the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals

“One thing I personally strongly believe that we cannot do, is wait and
expect our Government and the apparatus of the State to help us
…. One of the key points about the internet is that it is self-creating
and self-sustaining. It is bottom-up, a community phenomenon….
The ethos of the internet is sharing, “bottom-up”. … A wiki is a web site in which not only can anyone read its content, but anyone can also edit the content…. The consequence is that the community of bona-fide contributors work
together to make the wiki better and better..  A wiki thus
captures the “wisdom of the crowd” – the collective wisdom of a
community of readers and contributors…. Ladies and Gentlemen, you are a community. Your professional teaching
colleagues are another larger community, to which you also belong…. A wiki is a community self-help tool. Best of all, a wiki can be
created by anyone, by any small group of like-minded professionals, at
any time. It does not require a mandate from a Government, a Minister,
a Trade Union, or even the NAPD

Back on the Google Wave one contributor suggested an opensource curriculum wouldn’t  happen here because of the payment issue. “But“, I responded, “if opensource wouldn’t work because of paid issue then why
is it working in the States? Why did it work for Linux? Why did it work
for Wikipedia? Are we unique in Ireland for requiring monetary reward
for doing social good?
” At which point I inserted a number of links demonstrating how opensource textbooks and curriculum are working elsewhere-

Dr. Horn then added an excellent point –

“Original online content
can be created by a community of willing volunteers, pro bono… Is
too much to expect willing volunteers to create excellent shared free
content and materials for teaching in our schools ? Some senior retired
people often wish to give back to society. Unemployed professionals
often volunteer their time. Research students and postgraduates often
willingly give a lot to society at large…. It just needs a structure to catalyse and co-ordinate voluntary effort…

ICT Teacher Patricia Donaghy jumped in with the suggestion –

“What about empowering our current students/learners to become
involved in this ‘brave new world’ of collaboration and sharing…. hey too should be part of the “collective wisdom of a community of readers and contributors”… The CCCOER Open Textbooks site (http://oerconsortium.org/discipline-specific/) is one example of just how open textbook are being promoted.

At which point Simon Lewis jumped back into the discussion with an interesting point regarding primary schools –

“From a primary point of view, I think we should be getting away from
books, e or otherwise. At primary level we don’t have the constraints
of a written exam at the end of time and we try and give a more
holistic education to our children. I think that we need to developing
more kinaesthetic and visual content for primary level. This is one of
the main reasons I don’t think a VLE setup would work in primary
schools yet.

Chris Horn asked –

“For visual content, do you think these wonderful 3D graphics http://bit.ly/2D7UB2
of mathematical equations would inspire students ? What if the students
could experiment themselves with developing these, using laptops to
execute the arithmetic involved ? Would it drive a deeper understanding
and appreciation for algebra ?

I then pointed to a blog post by Paul Sweeny where he writes about the Classroom of the Future with regard to ebooks in Spain –

Some very large changes happening in Spain for those interested in the
classroom of the future and ebooks for elearning. Yes, there is lots of investment going into classrooms with Interactive Whiteboards figuring large. The real news, though, is the government seems to be promoting a national version of One Laptop per Child (OLPC) and is corralling the publishers into facilitating ebooks across the curriculum in the very near future.

According to this article in El Pais Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero announced plans to digitise education in March
but negotiations with the major educational publishers and
infrastructure companies had been going on for a while. This more
recent article, again from El Pais (Google translation here), talks
about a common ebook platform which publishers were signing up to.
If it were only ebooks and and digital classrooms, I would be
applauding another worthy step in the direction of modern schooling
etc. The catalyst for potentially momentous change is the provision of netbooks to all students.

I was reminded of all this pre-Christmas conversation when student James Foley wrote an Open Letter to all Irish Universities yesterday which resonated with many people of us on Twitter –

“In my three years here, I’ve only bought two books. I think that
needs to be put into perspective a bit. Three years, 2 semesters a
year, 6 modules a semester, that’s a total of 36 modules, each of which
have had recommended texts and further reading advised by the lecturer.
Why is it then, that over the duration of my college life I’ve bought
roughly only 5% of the books my lecturers have thought it necessary for
me to read in order to pass my modules?
Cost. Bulk. Relevance….. How does one overcome these problems? It’s actually a very simple, very elegant, and most important in these times, a very cost effective solution. Embrace the digital age in a manner unprecedented in any college set
up across the globe. Be at the forefront for once, not the trailing
Upon enrollment, make it compulsory that each and every student purchases an eBook reader.”

The conversation continues…


One Response to “Ebooks and opensource textbooks for Irish education”

  1. in home tutoring Says:

    Thanks for the information.

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