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.


One Million Books available for Kindle??

Since many readers are under the impression that the only content that can be obtained in Kindle format is that which is purchased from Amazon, the thread from the Kindle discussion board below sheds some light on the subject. The original post was made on Dec 20, and there’s been a fair number of replies since then, but the basic premise remains: Amazon is only one source for content, and the majority of non-Amazon content is free, or close to it. Link to original post:

T. Beck says:  
Some have expressed a lack of content for the Kindle, here is what I have tried, and works (make sure you check the footnotes at the bottom): 95,000 or so titles, instant download, easy. 20,000 or so titles – mostly classics or things that no longer have copywrite. Multiple languages. Three are links to other sites that boast a total of 100k titles. ***, **** 400,000 titles – classics, modern, government, multiple languages, all the ones I tried were free. Requires $8.95 yearly subscription fee, consider it the cost of a library card.*, ***, **** offers both unencrypted and encrypted .mobi files. Full range of reading and many free books as well. *, **, **** lots of titles, most you can find on in the Kindle section for less. This is Baen books and mostly SiFi. None are encrypted, many are free, and can be transferred directly to your Kindle. Choose Kindle compatible for the download. **** uses .pdf format. **, You will need to register and can download up to three books a day, free. Only available to people in the US, due to copyright and licensing restrictions. 900,000 Mostly original works, as in unknown, normally unpublished authors. Some good, some not, take your chances, you may discover the next JK Rowling. Displays in text. Cut, paste and email to yourself, or save in .txt file and upload. 20,000 titles or so. Has a Kindle format. ***, **** – an extension of Manybooks above, but if you access it through the basic WebBrowser in Kindle, you can download directly to your Kindle, the way you would an Amazon book. Choose the Mobipocket format. Share books, self published books and a make it yourself newspaper. With a little manipulation of the tools below, you can get your own newspaper, you could probably even directly email it to your Kindle in the morning if you allow that site to send you stuff. You will need to register, but there is no cost. There is now a “Kindle Download Guide” from includes links to many classics, including many in foreign languages. Christian centered works. Available in pdf, word, and text, all readily transferable to your Kindle.

* They save as .pdf files that you can email to your Kindle. It sees the .pdf as a file of words, not pictures of words, so it can be resized and adjusted just as any other ebook. Download the book to your PC, and email that file to your Kendle, or freekendle@kendle and load through the USB cable if you want to save the 10 cent conversion charge.

** For the encrypted ones in .mobi, a tool can be used to allow the kindle to see it. This tool does not make a copy of the book, merely adds a flag so that the Kendle can display it (it would be hard to call this a violation of copywrite or use conditions since both formats are amazon’s). The tool and directions on how to use it are at:

*** Site runs on donations

**** Can be downloaded directly to your Kindle when it is plugged in as an external storeage device, simply specify the Kindle folder when selecting where to put your book.

Textbook Publishers: Prepare for a Flat World- This is huge…

Today, I learned about an organization that promises to do for (or to) the textbook publishing industry what MP3s and iTunes have done to the traditional music business: create disruption and disintermediation. The organization is called CK-12, a non-profit organization launched in 2006, and it aims to reduce the cost of textbook materials for the K-12 market both in the US and worldwide. Using an open-source, collaborative, and web-based compilation model that can be manifested as an adaptive textbook – termed the “FlexBook”, CK-12 intends to pioneer the generation and distribution of high quality educational web texts. Given the pedigree of the founder – Vinod Khosla (co-founder of Sun, partner in Kleiner Perkins, founder of Khosla Ventures, net worth $1.5B) along with his wife, Neeru, there is a high likelihood that his prediction that the publishing business will become obsolete will come true. The exerpt from the website below explains the rationale for his mission:

Why do we need FlexBooks?

Today, textbooks that are used in K-12 system are limiting, expensive and are difficult to update. Because of this, K-12 teachers find it hard to introduce new concepts and cater to different needs. What we need is a more flexible and less expensive system to create and distribute books and online content. FlexBooks, by their very nature, satisfies this need. They contain high quality online content, and are easy to create, update and print. They provide a new system that will follow an open source philosophy to place content on-line that can be “mixed, modified and printed“.

I would add to that last line, “or downloaded to the Kindle, or other e-book reader”. Why be limited to a PC, or continue to rely on dead trees, when printing is not even necessary? When you think about the marriage of these two developments,  the possibilities for ubiquitous, customized learning resources become staggering. Truly, “Any Book, Any Kid, Any Time.” For a video of a presentation by the founders watch this:

Big News: Smashwords Previews Breakthrough ebook Publishing Platform

The following excerpts from a Feb. 11 press release from a startup publishing company called Smashwords underscores an emerging trend that is bound to accelerate as tools like the Kindle begin to penetrate the market.

“Smashwords allows anyone to become a published ebook author in minutes. The site is ideal for full length novels, short fiction, essays, poetry, personal memoirs, non-fiction and screenplays. Authors receive 85% the net sales proceeds from their works, and retain full control over sampling, pricing and marketing. Smashwords automatically converts the book into multiple DRM-free ebook formats (.txt., .rtf, .mobi, .epub, .pdf), making the book available for download or online reading. The latest generation of ebook reading devices, such as the Amazon Kindle, the IREX Iliad and the Sony  Reader, for example, deliver a satisfying reading experience for most  people.”

I added the bold font on the last sentence to emphasize the breakthrough implication of their business. This capability has significant repercussions for publishing, particularly in the educational field. As more and more books become “open source” and freely available, the barriers to universal literacy will begin to crumble.