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The Choice Between Interactive and Open

Choosing between a free, easy-to-alter, and open digital textbook and a more interactive but more costly commercial equivalent isn't easy.

And in a presentation here in Washington Tuesday at the annual Consortium for School Networking, the folks at the CK-12 Foundation, a nonprofit organization devoted to authoring open online texts, acknowledged that they can't provide many of the design features of their commercial counterparts. But they just want you to know you still have a choice.

For four years now, the foundation, driven primarily by grant funding, has authored textbooks for free consumption that any teacher can download, change, or combine, thanks to the Creative Commons copyright licensing process.

"It's about more than giving teachers the ability to create and customize," said Opeyemi Bukola, a partner relations representative for CK-12. "It's also the idea of making educational resources open."

That aspiration resulted in the authoring of open digital texts that preceded several key innovations in the e-textbook world, including proliferation of mobile apps into the mainstream and the introduction of the iPad and other tablet devices.

As a result, Bukola said, CK-12 has actually been suffering for its early foresight, in many cases opting to rehash previously authored texts to incorporate more interactive elements. Others still look more like the traditional hardbound books of yore.

However, Bukola said, even without the frills of an iBook, CK-12's format allows teachers to add their own interactive elements to the text, or link to other web resources such as videos hosted on other sites. And while some critics suggest commercial efforts such as Apple's recent venture into e-textbooks may actually be more expensive for consumers than print, Bukola said openness is always on CK-12's priority list. (Aside from grants the foundation's only other revenue comes from acting as a content supplier to an app maker and a couple learning management systems.)

"We're also thinking about sustainability. The foundation can't last forever, and we're still exploring," Bukola said. But, "we are really, really committed to making this stuff for free, always."

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