Thursday, November 08, 2007

Free Reading: A Model For K-12 Open Source Curriculum

I've argued in the past that if open source curriculum development is to work like open source software development, what we won't see much of is "Hey kids, lets write a curriculum!" global barn-raisings starting from an empty wiki. The reality of open source software development almost always starts with development centering around an individual programmer or a small team, up until the point where the application is in at least a semi-usable state. Trying to get an unbounded open network starting from scratch to agree on first principles or even a programming language and database, coding styles, toolset, etc., is well nigh impossible.

I hadn't found a good example of the open sourcing of a more-or-less complete, professionally produced and "research-based" curriculum for K-12, however, until I noted a reference to at the end of Larry Berger and David Stevenson's paper I discussed yesterday. Not coincidentally, it was created by their company, Wireless Generation. It isn't clear why they created or open sourced the work. There is an advisory board of well-placed academics and a documented research base.

Before I go any further late me state that early reading instruction is just about the most specialized, closely researched and most controversial area in education, and I'm not at all qualified to state whether this curriculum is actually any good or ideologically correct. There may be vast "Reading Wars" sub-texts here which are completely lost on me.

Regardless, the resources provided on their wiki seem polished and professional, equal in production quality to a commercial product. Importantly, they provide both a specific program sequence ("Intervention A") and various ways of searching and browsing just for specific types of activities, so that you're free to take an a la carte approach if you want.

They do enforce a difference between the core "research-based" pages and the editable parts of the wiki. Also, since a lot of the resources are various cards and other things designed specifically to be printed, there are inevitably a bunch of PDF's. Some editable source for these would be nice. I would like to see this using MikMikm the wiki Mako Hill (check out his new blog, Revealing Errors, btw) is writing based on the principles of distributed version control. This would allow an individual school or district that was implementing the program to make their own "branch" of the wiki that they could edit completely and without worrying about mucking up the "official" ("trunk," "stable") wiki with quick comments, notes and things generally only useful in the local context. Going forward, this system would allow ongoing changes to the "official" wiki to be merged into the local version and more polished local changes to be sumbitted to the "official" branch, establishing a process for reviewing changes and additions to the core parts of the program.

It looks like this wiki has been around about a year. I hadn't heard of it until now, so it hasn't gained much buzz. As much as we like to think of "Web 2.0" as a grassroots movement, an old fashioned publicist would make a big difference. Whether or not it is currently being used anywhere is hard to say as well. I'd like to know what some of the reading specialists out there think of the content.


Bill Fitzgerald said...

Or, better yet, why not make the whole thing exportable using Mediawiki's export pages feature?

I'd argue that there resource isn't open source, but that it's freely available. A good start, but we can and should be looking for more.

Until content is made truly portable (ie, recontextualizable) open content will not reach its potential. And, at this point, the barriers are more organizational than technical.

Tom Hoffman said...


As far as I can tell exporting pages works on the Free Reading wiki.

Bill Fitzgerald said...

Hello, Tom,

Um, yeah.

Creating an account always helps.

/me shuffles off to rant elsewhere

I take it back -- this is well done, and the fact that you can export these docs is a great step.

I'm glad to be wrong on this.



Tom Hoffman said...


There is a certain risk that free software advocates will be regarded as being impossible to satisfy -- that there is no reward in going open source because you'll still get slammed by the community on some technicality, no matter what. I think we have to be careful not to do that.