Tuesday, September 30, 2008

OKFN Virtual Meeting

As I posted earlier, OKFN hosted a virtual meeting yesterday for several members of open content textbook enthusiasts and organizations. Sub represented Fr.Wikibooks, Mike.lifeguard and I represented En.Wikibooks. I had to leave a little early, and Mike showed up a little late, but together we canvased the entire thing. It didn't last more then an hour and a half, and a full transcript as been posted online. I'm "Andrew" in the chat.

Some of the topics brought up were the issues of increasing contribution levels and attracting new contributors, and decreasing the technical barrier to entry for some systems, both ideas that I've been preaching for a long time now. Wikis are much more simple to use and edit then raw HTML is (or, it can be if things don't get too cluttered!), but that doesn't mean that plain wikitext is easy for new non-technical editors to pick up and use.

There were lots of groups there and while Wikibooks does seem to be one of the biggest, I doubt it is primed for the most long-term success. The GFDL license we use is becoming more and more obviously a dead weight around our necks! So many other groups in this area are using CC licenses instead, and that means we can't inte-roperate with any of them. In fact, the only groups I saw there that also used the GFDL now or in the past were FHSST and GlobalTexts, both of which were originally started as projects on Wikibooks! Actually, GlobalText uses CC-BY-3.0 now, they relicensed the work they did at Wikibooks long ago.

Other groups are using things like collaboration management tools for getting books written too: Some groups are using things like pledges to attract new contributors. Some groups are using things like issue trackers for software (but with a different name) to parcel out large projects into smaller ones that can be assumed by individual users. For instance, each chapter is an assignment that people can volunteer for, and put their name on. Having a concrete list of tasks that need doing helps keep people focused and organized. It's so much easier to follow a task list then it is to enter a free-form environment and told "you can be bold and make things better!". The wiki way is nice, but I've seen first hand the productivity gains that open-source and open-content groups can reap with a little bit of group organization. I'm sure I'll ruminate at length on this topic later.

Another thing that was brought up was the sheer absurdity of the US educational system, which copyrights educational curricula and standards. Without good access to educational standards, Wikibooks has no hope of writing books to meet those standards which can be used in a real US classroom. Keeping educational standards proprietary is a disgusting profiteering measure and is something that I hope changes in the future. Having standards as a checklist will work like the organization that I talk about above: People are going to be more able to confidently tackle concrete, finite tasks, especially when there are clear progress indicators and a clear goal.

I've also been alerted to a few open textbook aggregation websites, where lists of such books from various projects are being indexed. Wikibooks would do well to make sure we are listed in those places as well.

The meeting altogether was a nice one, but short. I'm hoping a new one get's scheduled, and I might even try to get En.Wikibooks to host one. It really is interesting to see the things that other people are doing, and how Wikibooks fares in comparison. I'll post more information in the coming days and weeks, as I get it distilled down into a readable form.

No comments:

Post a Comment