The Rebus Mantra: If We All Chip In, the Effort Will Be Minimal and the Benefits Great

Before the Rebus Community was officially founded, Hugh McGuire wrote a post on Medium about the large-scale collaboration we hope to achieve around open textbooks. Hugh is no stranger to this kind of collaboration, having founded Librivox, a community of volunteers who crowdsourced the world’s largest collection of public domain audiobooks. In the post, he channels a quote by theology prof and techno-evangelist, A.K.M. Adam (AKMA):

“If we all chip in, the effort will be minimal, and the benefits great.”

With about 10 open textbook projects in the works, one of the things we’re trying to do is make it easy for anyone to contribute, no matter how much time or energy they have to offer.

Or, to quote our community manager’s mother:

“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

Our working hypothesis is that the best way to foster such constructive collaboration on a global scale is to:

  1. Identify specifically what needs to be done for a book.
  2. Break the work down into manageable chunks that can be divided among many collaborators.
  3. Reach out to potential contributors directly in a targeted way, with a clear sense of the needs we’d like to fill.

We’ll be doing this for all the open textbook projects Rebus supports.

The process is best illustrated right now by the History of Applied Science and Technology open textbook led by Danielle Mead Skjelver of University of Maryland University College and University of North Dakota.

The editors envision the book as 19 chapters in total, each with many subsections, but instead of tackling the whole lot at once, we are focusing the search for authors and other collaborators on a small block of chapters to begin. This is the first bite of the elephant, and will become the first volume of the text.

A spreadsheet with the chapters for volume one and their specific needs are posted on the project post in the Rebus Community.

Currently we are going even more granular than that, and focusing on the first four unclaimed subsections of Chapter One of the text, which are starred below. Each subsection is roughly 1,000 words.

Chapter One: The Ancient World (before 500 BCE) – Farmers to Pharaohs
Prehistory: Human predecessors and tools (to include plant/animal domestication)
*Mayans & Olmecs
*Egypt, northeast Africa, and Sub-Saharan Mettallurgy, Medicine & Mathematics
Mesopotamia & the fertile crescent
The Xia, Shang, and Zhou Dynasties of China
*The Indus River Valley civilisation and Vedic Age of India
*A New World: Transforming Egyptian and Babylonian Science

Potential contributors can express their interest by replying to the project post. And if you know someone, we hope you’ll help connect us–in the forum on Twitter or by email.

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