By Joseph Ugoretz
My own favorite Open Educational Resource is the webby-award-winning smarthistory.org (full disclosure–I do have a personal connection to the site and one of the founders!).
It’s a perfect example of what the future of the textbook can look like–embodying conversation, multiple media, a student-centered approach to learning, contextualized knowledge, active engagement, interdisciplinary learning, everything that the web can do that traditional textbooks can’t. And it’s completely free to students and faculty. And completely free in an arena (art history textbooks) where students usually have to spend large amounts of money for resources which aren’t nearly as useful for their learning.
But “free” usually means that somewhere, someone, is paying (TANSTAAFL http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/There_ain%27t_no_such_thing_as_a_free_lunch ). In this case, smarthistory has been funded by a combination of some generous grants, and a whole lot of volunteer time and attention and work from people who really care about it. That’s taken it a long way, and it’s very close to where it needs to be to become a true “textbook-killer.” After lots of research with college faculty and students, and high school teachers and students, and independent learners, all of whom are already using the site extensively, the smarthistorians have identified what it will take to make the site a comprehensive replacement for an art history survey textbook. They’re so close! To get over that final step, they’ve started a kickstarter campaign, to try to “crowd-source” the support they need. It’s an ambitious effort, and a real experiment to see if the community of users can, together, provide not just the intellectual and interactive support they’ve already been giving, but also a financial boost.
Smarthistory will always remain free and open to its users. That’s a commitment the team has made; it’s in the DNA of the project. With the help of the community, that can always be the case–for learners everywhere.
Visit the kickstarter page http://kck.st/hhRyA6 to watch a video intro and find out more. Visit see the original blog post here: http://prestidigitation.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2011/01/24/support-an-oer/