One of my primary arguments against MOOC's being a revolutionary force is by comparing them to books. In truth, while my attitude toward MOOCs is fairly negative, I would be prone to having a distinct hope for free, open-sourced, digital textbooks. The advantages seem multitudinous: (1) effectively free of cost, (2) a force-multiplier for the live classroom environment (as far as both cost and burden of carrying them), (3) ability to actually own them on a mobile device and not be dependent on an outside streaming service, (4) ability to read them without any internet connection whatsoever, (5) ability to share and re-host the work freely, (6) ease of editing for fixes, and tailoring for individual courses and local requirements.
Compared to a suite of video lectures, this would seem fairly easy to do – and yet as far as I can tell, even this relatively simple project has failed to succeed to date. I've spent some time surveying open-source introductory algebra texts, for example, and found them all to be surprisingly deficient (rather reminiscent of some video lectures, in fact – frequently unplanned, technologically difficult to access, or with confusing and unprofessional jokes and puns in the text, etc.) I plan to spend some time writing up particular reviews in the future.
An argument: If making information widely available eliminates the need for live in-person instruction, then why didn't the printing press “tsunami” destroy live colleges (when in fact it did the opposite)? If free MOOCs current low quality is something easily fixed, then why aren't the even simpler open-source textbooks yet representing high quality offerings?
So that said, a few news items regarding open-source text developments that do give me cause for hope:
1. California has passed and signed a law to fund open-source textbook development in 50 core subject areas. While there was a similar attempt under the Schwarzenegger administration, that prior try had ambiguous definitions, weak standards, and no funding. This new law sounds like a much stronger attempt that does give me hope.
2. Finnish researchers and teachers engaged in a 3-day “hackathon” in which they completed an entire open-source textbook. While I would be highly skeptical of the quality of such an offering, it at least signals that there is some amount of buzz and excitement for the idea, which perhaps bodes good things to come.