I was part of a brief Twitter exchange recently with Cengage’s Ken Brooks about the cost of textbooks:
kenbrooks: @doctorow #toc That depends entirely on the type of book. A K-12 reading program costs $millions.
andrewsavikas: @kenbrooks not necessarily. See ck12.org
kenbrooks: @andrewsavikas Talk to McGraw Hill or Pearson about basal reading programs. The intricacies are staggering. #toc
I like Ken a lot personally (and respect him a ton professionally), and I have no reason to doubt that it does take millions to develop many educational programs. But my reference to ck12.org (whose founder, Neeru Khosla, keynoted at TOC 2008) was because if it does cost that much, then something’s wrong with the system, and that’s not likely to change without the work of groups like ck12.
In fact, Virgina is already in the process of developing an open-source “flexbook” for physics using the ck12 platform:
Secretary of Technology Aneesh Chopra and Secretary of Education Tom Morris today announced the selection of thirteen individuals to form a core team to pilot the development and release of an open–source physics “flexbook” for Virginia. This electronic material will focus on high school physics and contain contemporary and emerging 21st century physics and modern laboratory experiments.
The Virginia Physics “Flexbook” project is a collaborative effort of the Secretaries of Education and Technology and the Department of Education that seeks to elevate the quality of physics instruction across the Commonwealth by allowing educators to create and compile supplemental materials relating to 21st century physics in an open–source format that can be used to strengthen physics content. The Commonwealth is partnering with the Palo Alto, California–based non–profit, CK–12 on this initiative as they will provide the free, open–source technology platform to facilitate the publication of the newly developed content as a “flexbook” — defined simply as an adaptive, web–based set of instructional materials.
“We need transformational ideas to ensure all Virginians are educated to compete in an increasingly competitive global economy,” said Secretary Chopra. “This pilot initiative is a step in the right direction to introduce our students to contemporary physics topics and lab materials at no additional cost to the taxpayers or students,” added Secretary Morris.
There is certainly a place for the investment-intensive educational publishing programs that only a firm with the resources of Cengage or Pearson or McGraw-Hill can provide. But there’s also enormous opportunity to try new models that take advantage of the kind of collaboration that underpins all of academia to develop and distribute quality learning material for students at lower costs. (BTW, ck12 is hiring.)