I first came across the Siyavula project in the spring of this year when I met Siyavula’s Megan Beckett at the BC Open Textbook Summit in Vancouver. Siyavula is a South Africa based open textbook project (originally funded by the Shuttleworth Foundation) that has produced a number of open textbooks to support k-12 curriculum in South Africa.
There are a couple of things I like about the project.
First, building on what I was talking about in my last blog post about developing a community centered around an open educational resource, Siyavula textbooks are authored in a unique way; through a series of teacher hack-a-thons or textbook sprints. These events organized by Siyavula bring together groups of educators & technicians to create a textbook in a weekend. Over this summer, another textbook sprint to develop Physics and Chemistry open textbooks (remixing both the Siyavula and OpenStax Physics and Chemistry resources) was organized with the assistance of Siyavula. In his wrapup blog post, Siyavula’s CEO Mark Horner emphasizes that the aim of these textbook sprints is to “seed Communities of Practice (CoP)” for the textbook, and speaks to one of the challenges of getting educators to participate – the fear of sharing:
Sharing is scary (at first anyway), because it involves making something available for public scrutiny, something that is actually an investment of your time and energy, and people may be critical. People may also be very positive, but we tend to worry more about what might go wrong than right.
Mark then goes on to point out that, even though sharing may be scary for some, there are benefits to sharing resources and expertise.
The long-term benefit of sharing, in my opinion, is that even if people are constructively critical, the material improves and a community of practice with a shared knowledge base and best practise can emerge.
So, even though there are challenges with developing the community of practice and getting educators to share resources, Mark believe the challenges are worth it because in the end, better resources and a stronger community will emerge.
In my experience, the fear of sharing is often more in my head than the reality. Most of the resources I have ever developed and shared have been received graciously, and criticism has been positive and collegial.
The second thing I really like about Siyavula is how they are sharing their textbooks, and appear to be committed to making the books available in remixable formats. For example, if you look at their Physical Science Grade 10 textbook, you’ll see that students have a lot of choice as to how they want to interact with the textbook. There is a website, a downloadable PDF file, or students can order a printed copy (it doesn’t look like an ePub version is available, which is the only other format I would add). But in addition to those formats aimed at students, they also have the source formats available for download, in this case the original Open Document and TeX files. This allows other teachers or open textbook projects to be able to edit or remix the textbook in the native technical format that the book was written in, which increases the likelihood that this open educational resource will be remixed and customized.
Finally, the textbooks also contain a Teachers Guide, which educators find a valuable additional resource that will increase the likelihood of adoption by other educators. And the source files for that are also available for download so it can be easily customized.
The development of a community of practice, remixable formats, and supplying additional teacher resources. Three things that make the Siyavula project stand out for me.