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A Guide to Creating Collaborative, Open Textbooks

In a session here at the Open Education Conference on Wednesday morning, Megan Beckett, the life sciences and natural science content coordinator for Siyavula spoke about her organization's efforts to create free, openly licensed textbooks for all grade levels and subjects in South African K-12 schools.

Siyavula, which I had the pleasure of learning about earlier this year, recently received funding from the South African government to print its open textbooks, which include math and science books for grades 10-12, to be distributed for free. About 2.5 million copies of the books were printed, said Beckett.

Beckett's presentation focused mostly on how the books are written, which involves help from volunteers throughout the country. During scheduled weekend workshops, Siyavula flies in representative experts and educators from various provinces in the country and taps local talent to collaborate to author the books. The workshops begin with information about copyright, open licensing, and collaboration and authoring. Most of the volunteers have no experience authoring textbooks before the workshop, she said.

The content coordinator helps map out the scope and sequence of the text before the workshop, said Beckett, and during the workshop, experts are broken up into groups to tackle certain sections and strands of the curriculum. Each book takes about two or three workshops to complete, but even one workshop can produce quite a bit of content, she said, citing one example where over 300 (very rough) pages of a science text were written in one weekend.

The organization is still working to perfect the process of authoring collaborative textbooks and has tweaked the process each time it has written a book so far, said Beckett. The latest addition is the introduction of digital badges to award volunteers for their contributions. Authors who provide a meaningful contribution and also take away information about open education receive an authoring badge, and Siyavula has also outlined a number of other badges—such as the volunteer editor, the translator, and the community leader badges—to recognize the many roles that go into creating the texts.

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