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Otago team leads hackathon weekend

Thursday 14 November 2013 8:06am


Most authors would be hard pressed to draft a textbook in a few months let alone 48 hours.

But that’s exactly what a group of academics and librarians across Australia and New Zealand are attempting to do this weekend.

The group is getting together virtually from their respective campuses this weekend to collaboratively write – or ‘hack’ – an open textbook.

Led by Otago’s Dr Erika Pearson, Richard White, Simon Hart and Bernard Madill, a PhD student in Film and Media Communication, the open textbook project will be an experiment in the production of open educational resources in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The team was inspired by a group of Finnish mathematicians who (successfully) attempted to write an open mathematics textbook in a weekend.

An ‘open’ textbook is one which is free of all technical and legal restrictions on access and reuse. That means a textbook that is free to read, free to adapt and free to distribute – all over the world.

“Textbooks currently available for New Zealand first-year students are often produced overseas, usually the US, and can have a cripplingly high price tag,” says Dr Pearson, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Media, Film and Communication.

“Open texts are not only more affordable for students, they also are more flexible for teachers, who can pull apart open textbooks to find the more relevant and useful materials for their classes.”

University of Otago Copyright Officer Richard White agrees. “I often get questions from staff about using various types of materials for teaching purposes. Often with closed resources, restricted by all-rights-reserved copyright, staff get frustrated that they can’t provide a good resource to students in the way they want because of cost or difficulty in contacting – or event identifying – the rights holder.”

White sees the open textbook projects as a return to the “core principles of academia: sharing knowledge, learning from and building on the work of others.”

This initial textbook project will be for undergraduate students in Communication and Media Studies around Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific.

With a mind to completing similar projects in the future, the organising team are producing an accompanying ‘cookbook' to provide a roadmap for other projects.

For more information on project, visit the Hacking a Media Text website.