Flickr: Arvindgrover

By Sara Bernard

Once upon a time, textbook writers would write textbooks and teachers would teach what was in them. Teachers would make up their own lesson plans, and if they were willing, shared them with their colleagues.

But technology is changing the scenario. Now, not only are educators combing the Internet for lesson plan ideas, they’re able to create the curriculum — and the textbooks — themselves, as well as share, edit, and customize them for use in their own classrooms.

Wikis (a.k.a. collaborative Web pages) and nonprofits devoted to enabling open-source curricula are springing up everywhere. One of the most well-known, Curriki, encourages teachers to both publish and download materials — anything from a vocabulary quiz to a full biology textbook — and vets its content through member ratings and incentives such as the annual Summer of Content Awards, which offers grants for specific contributions.

Other open source curricula sites out there include:

Connexions: A place for teachers, students, and professionals to search and contribute scholarly content, organized into “modules” or topic areas instead of entire textbooks.

CK12 FlexBooks: A nonprofit that aims to reduce the cost of textbook materials by encouraging the development of what they call the “FlexBook.” Anyone can view or help create these standards-based, customizable, collaborative texts.

Shmoop: An up-and-coming collection of freely shared, expert-written content (most Shmoop authors are Ph.D.s and high school or college-level educators) with the goal of inspiring students and providing tons of free resources to teachers that include writing guides, analyses, and discussions.

MIT Open CourseWare: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology publishes nearly all of its course content on this site, from videos to lecture notes to exams, all free of charge and open to the public. Many other universities are doing the same, often using the content management system EduCommons.

And this just names a few. Some schools and districts are also relying more and more heavily on open source content: The Bering Strait School District (BSSD) in northwest Alaska, for instance, created an entire K-12 curriculum through their “Open Content Initiative,” which now has 14,000 pages and growing. Teachers, administrators, visitors, and even students can contribute, and all is Creative Commons licensed.

Is this a great idea, or kind of frightening?

Some argue that too heavy a reliance on open source software is dubious, since curriculum is based on a consistent approach unique to each teacher. But the beauty of these resources is that not only are they accessible, they’re customizable, and the bounty alone is pretty exciting.

Educators are taking note that a collective of practitioners may know more than a minority of experts (case in point: even Ivy League universities are embracing the use of Wikipedia in education). Maybe the honor system — also known as Web 2.0 — has become far too useful to fail.

  • Lisa McLaughlin

    OER Commons ( is another great resource.

  • Eric Textbooks by leading experts available under CC license, and provided with customization platform to make modifications. Web versions of books available free to anyone, and business is sustainable (and pays royalties to authors) by selling print versions in b/w or color, downloadable ebooks (for ipad, kindle, etc), pdf’s, audio books, and study aids.

  • Thanks for the links! This post was just the tip of the iceberg. Many more to come in the following weeks and months — and one later today.

  • I am all for the ability to customize textbooks; however, I have a few questions…Is the textbook that is customized much different from what is already being made? Does it engage students? Will it be written in an inquiry-based framework? For example, FlatWorldKnowledge looks great, if we want to use the same traditional textbook model. Students demand rich content both in interactivity and meaningful information. They deserve the very best in what we can create based on what we know about learning. Repeating the traditional textbook model in digital formats, doesn’t meet those standards.

  • I too work at Talbots. Don’t know where the idiots for this website got that information. However, WE ARE NOT CLOSING. WE ARE NOT CLOSING. WE ARE NOT CLOSING. Your article was very damaging to our company. Below is the correct information. Copied from Star Ledger “Jump on the Internet”? I did that before I asked you to post a link. .The list that you posted is from an email that’s been floating around the Internet. Much of the information in that email is BOGUS, as in this example: The email that you copied and pasted said THIS: “Talbots,…All of Their Stores” From a recent article: Talbots victim of email hoax? By Steve AdamsThe Patriot LedgerPosted Nov 20, 2008 @ 09:51 AM HINGHAM — Talbots Inc. is refuting an apparent e-mail hoax that announces massive store closings at the chain and its J. Jill division. The e-mail, which is of unknown origin, appears to be in widespread circulation. It falsely states that the Hingham-based retailer planned to close all of its Talbots and J. Jill stores and urged shoppers to use their gift cards before they lose all value. “The e-mail that is circulating is false and inaccurate,” Talbots spokeswoman Julie Lorigan said. “We are not shuttering our stores at either brand.” The phrase “Talbots closing all stores” debuted on Google Trends’ “Hot List” of the 100 fastest-rising search terms on Tuesday. A link to a Web site called repeated the bogus report that Talbots was closing all of its stores, some of them before Christmas. The e-mail mentioned dozens of other retail chains and their store closing plans, some of which were announced months ago and others that appear to be false or exaggerated.

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