About five years ago Apple ran an ad campaign using the tag line “Rip, Mix, Burn” to sell people on the idea of using their computers to manipulate music files.*

So, what would happen if you applied the same concept to books? And especially to textbooks?

Richard Baraniuk, an engineering professor at Rice University, is working hard to find out.

In his talk from the TED Conference, Baraniuk discussed Connexions, an open source publishing project that aims to provide free coursework and educational materials to anyone in the world.

However, beyond creating user-edited textbooks, Connexions is working on expanding XML technology to allow bits of information to interconnect like virtual Lego blocks.

Baraniuk acknowledges that there are bound to be problems with an information system like they are trying to build.

One, of course, is the labyrinth of the intellectual property system in the US and elsewhere. (I wonder what Blackboard’s lawyers will have say about this.)

Another is maintaining quality control, a difficulty now being faced by Wikipedia and other high profile user-edited information sites.

But he seems very confident they will be able to develop processes to get around those problems.

I hope so. The development of open source instructional materials is an area that K12 education in this country should be actively exploring.

Considering the millions spent on student materials each year, I wonder if our overly large school district would consider investing a small fraction of that on a far sighted project like this.

Ah… probably not.

* Believe it or not, this was pre-iPod. The ads were for a new line of Macs with CD-RW drives with the new iTunes software.

connexions, ted conference, open source, textbook