A Rebus Community Philosophy of Open Textbooks

I wrote the following as part of an answer to one of our Intro to Philosophy Open Textbook project team members, who wanted a clearer scope for that project (which by the way, is still looking for collaborators — can you help?).

While everything we are doing at the Rebus Community is evolving as we get to work with real practitioners in creating Open Textbooks, we have some important fundamental principles that underpin our understanding of what an Open Textbook is or should be. So, here is:

A Rebus Community Philosophy of Open Textbooks

At Rebus, we believe in the value of books, of textbooks and especially of Open Textbooks. However, we do not consider Open Textbooks as static, finished things. Things that just get read for free.

Rather we see Open Textbooks as building blocks for further intellectual explorations — and the “Open” part makes that building much, much more interesting.

In particular, we see Open Textbooks not simply as “free” books.

More Freedom than Just Costless (aka the 5Rs)

The “costless” aspect of an Open Textbook is in some ways its least important freedom-attribute, compared with the other freedoms that come with Open Textbooks: the freedom to build upon, to remix, to reuse, to revise, redistribute.

Open Textbooks — if created and published at scale — can serve as basic framework for an “intellectual public resource”, a resource that can and should be built upon, used and elaborated upon, repurposed and repackaged in many different ways. (See the 5Rs of Open Educational Resources).

(For more writing about our thoughts on books, and Open Textbooks, see here here and here.)

Open Textbooks as a Map of Knowledge

So thinking about that context broadly, our vision is, eventually, to have a complete “map of the basic building blocks of knowledge” available as Open Textbooks. (Yes! We recognize that such an ambition is, of course, epistemologically impossible! But it’s still a mental model when we are thinking about what we are trying to do: Providing the source code of knowledge, that can built upon).

This ambition means not just that these Open Textbooks/building blocks are free, but even more important that these building blocks can be used to build new educational experiences, new books, new iterations.

An Introduction to X

So, while we are excited about any Open Textbook we can help usher into the world — regardless of how specific or obscure its subject or approach — we have a particular interest in laying down the basic frameworks of knowledge. So that, for instance, the “Introduction to X” might be most useful as a basic introduction to the ideas of, for want of a better term, “the cannon of X,” with an expectation that future iterations, or versions, or companion works can build on this starting point, criticize it and question it.

This is not to say that we hope a Rebus Community-supported “Intro to X” is a dull, personality-free reporting of the history of “X.” But rather that such an “Intro to X” covers the aspects generally agreed to be important to know about “X” … while still leaving space for more idiosyncratic explorations within the text.

And, we hope that, once published, a Rebus supported “Introduction to X” can become a starting point for new explorations and iterations, building on the text itself.

Come join us?

If you are interested in these ideas, come help us build on them at the Rebus Community for Open Textbook Creation.


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