[Smt-talk] open access theory materials (forked from THEORY TEXTBOOKS)

Christopher Antila christopher.antila at mail.mcgill.ca
Thu Apr 26 12:59:08 PDT 2012

On 04/26/2012 11:13 AM, Kris Shaffer wrote:
> As I was writing my reply to the very interesting thread on theory
> textbooks, my mind kept wandering off into issues of open access.
> Perhaps some of you have seen the recent book /Hacking the
> Academy/ (http://tuclst.blogspot.com/2011/09/hacking-academy-ebook-volume.html).
> It both advocates for (in some articles) and exemplifies a publishing
> model based on crowdsourcing and free, open access. Many of us have
> generated concise, helpful materials for our students on different
> topics. I wonder if more of us made those materials available on the
> open web with a CC-BY license or something like it, and others set about
> the work of collecting and grouping compatible materials, how course
> materials might change for the better.
> As an example, a small group of theorists who are like-minded about core
> topics and have complementary materials might pool their resources to
> make a single combined website/ebook/printed volume that collects their
> course materials in a more-or-less complete course package and offers
> that package freely on the web to others who might use it.
> Or an individual or group could create an archival website (using Omeka,
> for instance) to which many of us could submit modular resources, and
> instructors could link to the specific resources they find most useful
> on their course syllabus. If that archive also collected submissions of
> syllabuses, other instructors could use one or more existing syllabuses
> as starting points for their own.
> I'm wondering what others think about this as a possibility. I just get
> excited about open source, open access, and communal sharing of
> materials in general. However, I think that the size and cost of current
> textbooks, their lag behind developments in theory and analysis, and
> their gradual smoothing out of differences between different schools of
> thought make a strong case for more open sharing of short, free,
> quality, locally developed materials.
> Kris Shaffer, Ph.D.
> Assistant Professor of Music Theory
> Charleston Southern University
> http://kris.shaffermusic.com
> twitter: @krisshaffer

In my lengthy one year of experience as a music theory teaching
assistant, I have been thinking a lot about how students acquire and use
resources. I was especially provoked by McGill's new theory curriculum
(as described in Prof. Peter Schubert's recent article in "The Journal
of Music Theory Pedagogy"), where the first term is spent without a
textbook, and Prof. Nicole Biamonte is unsure of textbooks for the
second term.

This past term I had a sub-optimal solution. I realized my students
weren't using their textbooks because most of them hadn't bothered to
buy one (if a textbook costs $200+ and the professor provides handouts
anyway, why bother buying the textbook when you can "share it?") I
started to make worksheets by copying from other sources. I was able to
choose activities based on what my students told me they needed practice
with, but every week I started from scratch.

If there were a website, as Kris Shaffer suggests, with freely available
material, we could find or build the software to help "mix and match"
instructions and exercises that we think are suitable for our students.
Course instructors could assemble textbook-like instructions, then say
to their TAs, "choose from these exercises," and together we could build
a textbook/workbook combo that changes as the term goes on, adjusting to
students' needs.

This isn't to say that the current textbook model is useless. In my
undergraduate degree, the professors used our text- and work-books in
the same way, picking and choosing the chapters/sections/exercises they
wished to use. We had one book for counterpoint and harmony, and another
(contradictory one) for form. What I hope for is a university
environment where this same thing happens electronically, where reliable
teaching resources are freely available on the Internet, and our
academic institutions recognize high-quality electronic publications as
legitimate contributions to our field. Maybe it's a far-off place, but
the question is "when," not "if" this will happen.

The best part of this is that it would happen on the Internet. We can
start today, and do it at no cost to us. We can assign licences that
enforce perpetual openness. We can develop multiple solutions--no need
to be like Wikipedia, with only one article per topic. And we can
embrace contributions by everybody, whatever their academic pedigree.
Yes, course instructors won't be able to "just use" the resource because
they'll have to verify its quality and usefulness for their purposes...
but how different is this from traditionally-published textbooks?

As a final note: I'm a documentation writer for The Fedora Project,
which produces free and open-source software. At the next conference, we
are planning to write a new user guide by crowdsourcing. We'll have an
automated tool break the document into small, pre-determined topics (one
to five paragraphs), and ask every conference attendee to write just one
of those sections. It would take about fifteen minutes per person, but
at the end we hope to have a new book, and the software will
automatically assemble it for us. Because The Fedora Project will
release this software for free, we music theorists may be able to use it
to write or revise a textbook per conference in the future.

Christopher Antila, BMus.
Graduate Teaching Assistant
McGill University

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