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Rip your books

Richard Baraniuk wants to rip up your books. But only because he loves them. He wants to see us rip, mix and burn educational content much the same way that DJs rip and mix records.

He asks us to imagine taking all our books, digitizing the pages and storing them in a giant database. Make it open, so people can play with it and improve it. Make it free, and make it editable every second. Build spaces for individuals who work on this project to have a way to interact. What results is a “knowledge ecosystem”.

Baraniuk is trying to build this ecosystem – Connexions.org – from his base at Rice University. He points to a set of open content projects around the world. He offers Catherine Schmidt-Jones as an example. Her open source music materials are used 600,000 times a month… largely by US schools, where budget cuts have crippled the music departments.

(A commenter tells me that these materials are actually used closer to 600 times a month. I wish I could rewind the talk and double check what Baraniuk actually said, but in absence of that, I’ll flag the previous paragraph with a note that I may have mistranscribed the comment…)

“Mixing” in this world means building customized courses and books. Teachers who work with Teachers without Borders are using open content to mix materials for teaching teachers.

“Burning” means print on demand – he shows us an engineering textbook, hardbound, for sale for $22. Why so cheap? It’s printed on demand, using open content.

What’s the magic that makes open content work? XML. To make this work, we need common languages for representing content that ends up in books. This means MathML, Chemistry Markup Language, Music XML and other critical standards.

Second critical enabler is intellectual property. Ripping, mixing and burning makes us pirates. We need an IP framework that makes it safe to share. He shows off Creative Commons, most likely the framework we’ll use to make this commons grow.

A key issue in all of this is quality control – what happens when people add educational modules that are plagarized, or function as link spam. Peer review is critical – “lenses” are tools that let a community do their own peer review of a set of ideas.

2 thoughts on “Rip your books”

  1. Hi Ethan,

    Great report, but one minor correction, I think you’ll find that Baraniuk actually said that Catherine Schmidt-Jones’ work was used 600 times a month, not 600,000 – I wish that music theory was that popular a topic – but alas not!



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