All I want for Christmas…

UPDATE – on December 21st, 2012 it was announced that Saylor.org had preserved all of these texts. Read more here.

 

…is for you to buy a single Flatworld Knowledge textbook, before December 31. And then share it with the rest of the world.

About a month ago news made the rounds that as of January 1st 2013, Flatworld Knowlege had decided to remove free access from their “open” textbooks. This was accompanied by much gnashing of teeth and raising of fists at how FWK had played fast and loose with either the terms “open” or “free” in the past. All of which I agree with.

But then…nothing. As if we were helpless in the face of someone diminishing the Commons. Because make no mistake, that is exactly what is happening. All of FWK’s books are currently published on their site under a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-Alike license. This means that, even with the restrictions, both legal and technical, that they imposed, these books were in the Creative Commons. But because of the technical restrictions FWK placed on the books (they are not at public URLs but behind logins; the content is not easily copyable unless you pay for it) after the gate comes down on December 31 and the licenses removed (because surely they will) unless copies of them are made outside of these walls, they will have effectively been removed from the Commons.

My own efforts to date have been to port web-native versions of 4 books onto the Pressbooks platform (to be clear, this was done ENTIRELY outside of my previous role at BCcampus and on my own pressbooks sites.) They have not gone live yet because one of the things needed for pressbooks to really cook as an open textbook platform is custom book styles and a CSS-driven print engine, which will allow these ported books to come really close to their original.The nice thing about this is that I did this for free (with the exception of the time I volunteered.) I used the free web versions and some handy harvesting tricks (which I’m happy to share) to get the web content off their servers and onto another.

But sadly, time is running out. There are only 17 days before this content becomes lost to the Commons. Thus I urge you to purchase one copy of any of the textbooks on their server and then share it. Sadly, you’ll need to buy the $34.95 version to get the downloadable PDF. The cheaper version is still just the web version which would still need to be harvested.

Buy the one you think is the best or will serve students the most. Or coordinate with others – I have created a sheet of all the FWK textbooks and their status in being placed back in the commons. If you do buy a copy, place a note here (anonymously if you like) that you have. Ideally between all of us, we can cover as much of the catalogue as possible. Also note I am perfectly happy to act as the host for your copy if that is something you feel uncomfortable doing. Email/tweet/comment to me if you want to take up this option.

 

But why you ask? Don’t the licenses themselves mean that schools who charge tuition will not be able to have their students use this free copies?

Firstly, following David Wiley’s argument, I too feel this is non-sense. Paying tuition is NOT the same as charging for a book, and so it is entirely possible that these can still be used at NO cost by students in formal courses.In addition, unless we actually have opportunities to challenge that FUD, we won’t know if it’s true or not, and keeping these books in the Commons preserves this opportunity.

But on top of that, the whole point (in my eyes) of “open education” is that it is not just about formal learning or formal learners – there is a world of people without access to formal learning opportunities who can still benefit from the Commons.

The other argument I know is “yeah, but if we just download PDFs, all we’re doing is adding static content to the Commons – how un-exciting/un-pedagogically sound is that?” To which I’d say three things

  • PDFs don’t always have to stay PDFs – as I plan to write on in an upcoming piece, being able to decompose or shift previously locked media formats is one of the new digital literacies I think we can learn from the Pirates (arrr!)
  • systems like Evident Point’s ActiveTextbook allow students and instructors to upload an existing PDF and then annotate, discuss and customize it in useful ways, meaning maybe PDFs aren’t the dead end they’ve always seemed like
  • we do the best with what we have – do you have a better idea?

This is not about punishing FlatWorld Knowledge. As cheesy as I think there decision is, it’s their right to make it. All I am trying to do is exercise the rights we currently have to preserve material already in the commons.

So what I’m asking for Christmas is for people in my network and those who care preserving the commons is to take this small step to do so.