Open Source + Open Books = Open Minds

Today I signed a virtual document called The Open Education Declaration, (  which was initiated at a meeting in Cape Town in September 2007. Particicipants included Jimbo Wales of Wikipedia and Rich Baraniuk of Connexions, two individuals who have played a major role in the open source movement. Jimmy started with his popularly generated encyclopedia. Rich developed a platform for authors, teachers and students to create, remix and share courses and textbooks.(

Here’s what they say:

Imagine textbooks adapted to many learning styles and translated into myriad languages. (Today, language barriers prevent many immigrant parents from helping their children with their homework because the texts are only in English.) Imagine textbooks that are continually updated and corrected by a legion of contributors. (Today, Pluto remains in the list of planets in the nation’s science textbooks, and who knows how long it will take for it to be removed.)

This world was just a dream a decade ago.

But the puzzle pieces of the Open Education movement have now come together so that anyone, anywhere, can author, assemble, customize and publish their own open course or textbook. Open licenses make the materials legal to use and remix. Technical innovations like XML and print-on-demand make delivering the output technically feasible and inexpensive.

The new development and distribution models promoted by the Open Education movement represent a natural and inevitable evolution of the educational publishing industry in a way that parallels

  • the evolution of the software industry (toward Linux and other open source software);
  • the music industry (recall the band Radiohead’s recent “pay what you like” digital download); and
  • the scholarly publishing industry (recall the government’s recent decision to mandate online public access to all research funded by the National Institutes of Health – some $28.9 billion in federal funding this year).

The exciting thing about Open Education is that free access is just the beginning. Open Education promises to turn the textbook production pipeline into a vast dynamic knowledge ecosystem that is in a constant state of creation, use, reuse and improvement. Open Education promises to provide children with learning materials tailored to their individual needs in contrast to today’s “off the rack” materials. Open Education promises quicker feedback loops that couple student learning outcomes more directly into content development and improvement. And Open Education promises new approaches to collaborative learning that leverage social interaction among students and teachers worldwide.

If you believe that knowledge should be free to all who seek it, and that technology can be instrumental in removing the barriers to learning, then I’d encourage you to sign this declaration as well and foward it to anyone who shares your philosophy.



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