I meant to spend most of the day today prepping for my week-long facilitation stint for our Adopting Open Textbooks workshop (which began yesterday in SCoPE), but instead got distracted by books and Github.
If you are not familiar, Github is a very popular code repository used by programmers to store code & collaborate with others on software projects. Recently, GitHub has been popping up on my radar with regards to open textbooks. I’ve come across a few book projects that are using GitHub.
A couple weeks ago, I came across an open Philosophy textbook originally authored by Walter Ott. Alex Dunn took Ott’s textbook, converted it to the Markdown language (using a document conversion tool that I need to play with more called pandoc) and stuck it in GitHub (he could do this because Ott licensed his book with a CC license allowing the creation of derivative copies). Since GitHub is designed for collaborative coding, Dunn’s idea was to see if he could encourage others to contribute to the further development of Ott’s original book.
The third book project in GitHub that popped onto my radar earlier today via a tweet from Alan Levine, was the release of the open ebook by (now RRU and Victoria based colleague) George Veletsianos Learner Experiences with MOOCs and Open Online Learning.
— Alan Levine (@cogdog) September 24, 2013
Hey look! It’s been released on GitHub.
I’ve been playing with GitHub for the past couple of months trying to wrap my head around how it works and, to be honest, it is not the easiest to use (although the GUI tools certainly make it easier for those who are not comfortable bashing around with command line). I’m a hacker, not a coder, and the only time I used a code repository was about 10 years ago when I quickly found myself tangled in the underbrush of branches and trunks. Picking up Git a few months back took me right back to those days. So, I am not sure how practical using GitHub will be for those who are not at all technical.
That said, there are some very interesting possibilities about using GithHub as a repository for an open textbook.
For one, it is built for collaboration and has robust version control. Collaboratively authoring is what it is made for, and writing textbooks is often a collaborative affair. True, it was made for collaborative code authoring, but in the end a document is a document, be it code or words.
It is extremely easy to fork (create a new copy) of a project. In the OER world, this ability to easily clone one project to create a derivative version is very attractive. Want to modify a CC license textbook? Fork it and off you go.
GitHub can handle a number of document types. Word, HTML, LaTeX, whatever format you feel comfortable authoring in, Git can handle.
Finally, along with each repository comes a stand alone website to host the project. Meaning your textbook has a home on the web. For free.
Like I said, learning Git is not going to be for everyone (but if you are interested, ProfHacker has a nice Intro to GitHub aimed at educators and academics, along with a few more use cases that you might find interesting), but it has certainly piqued my interest enough that I am going to keep playing with it, at least to try and keep track of some of the projects I am interested in, like OERPub and PressBooks.
Then at the end of the day, just as I am packing up, this tweet from Mark Smithers pops into my feed
Looks really interesting: "Coursefork is like a GitHub for course creation" http://t.co/wRH3Ya70oZ
— Mark Smithers (@marksmithers) September 24, 2013
Coursefork. A Github for course creation. Hmmm….maybe the investment time in learning GitHub will pay off in a few ways for educators.