Larry Sanger has a suggestion for anyone who has some money they want to put toward a good cause — give away textbooks online. In fact, he argues, a single fat-cat philanthropist could give any student with an Internet connection free high-quality textbooks and educational videos.
Mr. Sanger is a co-founder of Wikipedia, the popular encyclopedia that anyone can add to or edit, and he now runs a spin-off of Wikipedia called Citizendium.
This week Mr. Sanger posted a public appeal to philanthropists in the form of an online petition, outlining his vision of a world where textbooks cost children nothing. He’s asking other Internet users to sign on, and about 20 have done so as of this writing. (The letter focuses on K-12 textbooks, but it seems that a similar logic could be used for college textbooks as well.)
“Sometimes the simplest ways are the best,” says Mr. Sanger in the petition. “This opportunity is ‘low-hanging fruit.’”
It’s not clear how, exactly, a rich donor would set up an online textbook publishing operation, or who would decide what goes in the books — details that seem crucial. But the idea of finding a new, open-source model for textbook publishing, supported by donors, seems part of a larger trend of using technology to give away educational technology. Think, for instance, of the effort to create a $100 laptop that will be given to children in third-world countries. So far those come pre-loaded with portions of Wikipedia. —Jeffrey R. Young