Daily Archives: July 23, 2010

AKMA on the Open Source Textbook

AKMA writes today on the Open Source Textbook. This is an idea whose time has definitely come.

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find myself wondering strange thoughts like, “Hmm. You know, one of these days I should buy a Qur’an and maybe a decent scholarly introduction to it just to read through it for myself… I wonder what version and introduction scholars of religion use?” Occasionally these thoughts makes it all the way into a Google box which then tends to devolve in aimless search and eventual wish-list maintenance at Amazon.

I don’t believe in any of my wild-hare moments that I’ve seen a basic wiki from the American Academy of Religion that covers that topic—but wouldn’t that make sense?

Closer to home, I’ve written the occasional piece here, often in response to requests from folks like Tony or Brandon on a basic plan of study for the Apocrypha & Pseudepigrapha or Basic Homiletics for Medievalists. And those things are fine for the readership here, but if somebody googles in, they have no idea if I know what I’m talking about or if I’m just spouting off.

AKMA is absolutely right about the textbook, but here’s my suggestion. It takes a hell of a lot of work to get a textbook up and going as he notes (and I concur having survived a couple from the research assistant side!), so why not utilize a practical intermediary step? Begin with a wiki. Have a general plan for what kinds of things you’d like to see, then start gathering bits—pieces like mine above. Or a quickie intro to who Gregory the Great was, what he wrote and why he matters. Or an overview on arguments over Gospel Chronology. Host the site at an identifiable location with its own built-in credentials. Like the Disseminary. Gather together people to contribute material. Encourage Graduate faculty to have their students send in some of their seminar prep assignments which, if they’re like mine, often consisted of an overview of a classic work or studied a particular angle of a classic problem. Once the very specific articles come in, more general pieces can be written that link to them and give an order, framework, and context to these snapshots. From those contributors, start gathering an informal editorial board. Then, as the project (hopefully) picks up steam, look at what’s there, what’s getting accessed, what works and start constructing the textbook from these pieces.

A place positioned like the Disseminary has the advantage of being able to go in two key directions: it can speak to academics and the university/seminary setting but also can occupy an identifiably confessional theological position (confessional in the broad sense…). It can provide a trustworthy resource for clergy and interested laypeople who want an informed opinion coming from a known theological position. (Would this represent two different resources or two portals that draw from roughly the same material but with different points of entry? Who knows…)

So that’s my proposal. Definitely open source textbooks. But let’s start with wiki that can be used as a stepping stone.