CK-12: Remix and Share Your Own Text Books as FlexBooks

ck12 logo

CK-12 wants to bring open data to school textbooks under the name of FlexBooks. Through the tools on their site they’ll let schools, teachers, parents and students can pull articles from different sources . The books will be available to others via the site. The demo that they showed this morning at TOC really wowed the publisher-heavy audience. The non-profit, currently in limited beta, will be launching in August.

ck12 editing

The UI for book creation is simple and attractive (the Engineering Book above was made during the demo). You can search content from CK12, Wikipedia, Wikibooks, and WikiUniversity. The results are articles that can be previewed. Once an article is selected for inclusion in the book it can simply be dragged over to the Table of Contents. At any point in the process the book can be downloaded, viewed as a PDF or saved to CK-12. The internal storage format is DocBook, a format used by book publishers (like us; in fact the tool is very similar in concept to our own Safari U — just different source materials and pricing).

The site is hosted on Amazon’s EC2 and was built with a combination of Python (Django) and Java.

In the future CK-12 will add support multi-media (audio & video; the books already support images), RSS feeds, and in-book widgets (no thinking yet on maps). The widgets would be visible when the book is online and would be removed for printing. They are also working on authoring tools.

This service needs data. The interface has to be easy to use (and it is), but the service will live and die by data. Having the Wikimedia data sources will be good for general subjects, but specialized data sets will be necessary for advanced text books. For a data set to be added it must have an appropriate license (Wikipedia’s is GNU FDL; CK-12 will releasing FlexBooks under Creative Commons Share-Alike). CK-12 will be adding APIs that will let people and companies increase the available data sources (it would be pretty powerful for this to be hooked up directly to Scribd).

Assuming they acquire attractive data sources, CK-12’s next challenge will be spreading the word. The education system is not quick to adopt new technologies. I think that finding teachers able to use Internet-born text books will be their biggest challenge. They will have to communicate outside the tech channels that will give them initial buzz.

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