Posted on May 27, 2009 · Posted in FHSST

I think that it is fitting that I start my new site off with an update on the project responsible for the fork in my life-trajectory which leads me to be writing this blog. Since the release of version 0 nothing visible has happened on the FHSST website. It sounds like I might be leading up to an announcement of great behind-the-scenes work but I’m not (but one day I will!), at least not on the FHSST front. There has been much activity on the broader open-educational-material front and I’ll blog about that shortly.

There has been some FHSST activity behind the scenes though, we’ve received emails with a number of errata for which we are really grateful. One of the primary benefits of Open Educational Resources (OERs) is that they can be updated rapidly. The errata will be corrected in the next version of the books.

At Science Festival Africa 2009 we also learned of a number of people who had been using the books for tutoring and self-learning. It was always the intention of the project that a resource that could support other initiatives be created. We have always felt that if the redundancy of producing material could be overcome many outreach organisations could be more effective. One notable inclusion on this list are the education outreach activities of the Students’ Health and Welfare Centres Organisation (SHAWCO) at the University of Cape Town who have been using FHSST content.

This afternoon I had a very interesting conversation with Jacky Hood and Kathi Fletcher about the state of the FHSST books. Jacky, and the Community College Open Textbook Project (CCOTP), have been re-purposing FHSST content to support their work to provide openly licenced textbooks for community colleges. As part of the process they’ve reviewed the FHSST content and then, as a first step, reworked one of the Mathematics books to suit their needs. They are looking for funding to continue this work, covering the full set of FHSST books.

Jacky also told me about a Community College lecturer (I don’t have a name) in New York who has been using the Statistics chapters of the FHSST Mathematics books to support her lectures.

Again, we have provided a resource that the CCOTP can use and the best part, in my opinion, is that the work that they put in, over and above what FHSST did, will be released on the Connexions site so that we can build further on that for use in South African Further Education and Training (FET) Colleges (our equivalent of the community colleges). Derivative works are being fed back into the community, instead of being lost, which will really help accelerate OER development. It often (always) becomes a debate heated enough to rival your pick of the religious wars but I think that derivative works which are voluntarily made openly available make our sharing community (commons if you must) stronger than derivative works which are mandated to be shared by certain copyright licences.

We are also in the process of uploading all the FHSST books onto the Connexions site so that it will be much easier for other organisations to adapt them to their specific needs as well as manage derivative works. Rory Adams has uploaded all of the books but a second pass is still required to ensure that our environments have been converted properly. Getting this done is high on my priority list, unfortunately so are many other things right now, and I hope to get it done in a week or two.

So what’s next? We need to:

  • be more efficient at getting feedback from users so we can improve the books,
  • advertise and link organisations using the books so that learnings/ideas/strategies can be exchanged,
  • improve general awareness of the books existence,
  • correct the errata,
  • update the FHSST website, when that big FHSST announcement arrives it will includes a system for submitting, tracking, managing and publishing errata so that the status of the individual books is clear and readily available,
  • finish uploading the FHSST books to Connexions (they’ve got a better authoring platform than we do and they maintain it), and
  • organise that printing happens (expect MANY more blog posts on this topic soon!).

The good news is that it turns out that the FHSST content has already proven quite useful to a number of people, now we just need to harness that to add even more momentum to the OER-movement. It is easier to find the time to work on the project knowing that we’ve already been successful in helping other organisations, projects and people.

About the Author

Mark Horner is the CEO of Siyavula Education, a social enterprise working in the school sector in South Africa. While working as the Shuttleworth Foundation Fellow for Open and Collaborative Resources, Mark was able to transform the Free High School Science Texts (FHSST) project, which he co-founded, into Siyavula Education. In this process, openly-licensed, collaboratively authored textbooks have been printed and distributed nationally in South Africa. Working at the intersection of community, openness and technology; Mark intends to leverage this success to make Siyavula an innovative, technology provider in education that works effectively as part of the education community to ensure better learning opportunities for all. A recent notable event being the delivery of Siyavula's textbooks over Mxit, the most popular mobile chat solution in South Africa. Mark has a PhD in physics from the University of Cape Town and conducted his research at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California on the results from the STAR experiment at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. His work is carried out in the belief that the liberation of information and support of education in South Africa will lead to a peaceful and prosperous future for all South Africans.