Hackathons aren’t just for coders. We thought it was time for academics to have a hackathon of their own, so last weekend we hosted our first textbook hackathon.
We welcomed nearly two dozen physicists at Boundless for a three day-long textbook hackathon. Local experts from Harvard, MIT, Boston University, Brandeis, and more joined us in our feat to create a free, digital textbook tailored for introductory college-level or AP physics classes. Our content hackers completed one third of a book in three days—a far cry from the two years it typically takes authors to write a textbook.
At Boundless, we’re committed to making education more affordable and accessible for students, and a textbook hackathon was the perfect way to work in tandem with the local science community to reach our goal. For several of the physicists that participated, the high cost of textbooks was a motivating factor.
“Textbooks are expensive. Even when I went to community college, books were $400 a semester,” said Suzanne Pittman, a physics PhD candidate at Harvard, who says she turned to free, online resources to help with her studies.
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In Boston, we’re surrounded by bright minds on both sides of the Charles River. We rounded up a group of nearly two dozen physicists, including Suzanne, from the area’s reputable and active science community to hack all weekend long. The crowd included several PhD candidates from Harvard, a high school physics teacher, graduate and undergraduate students from MIT, and a couple of Brandeis physics sophomores interested in open source education.
Throughout the weekend, our hackers worked their way through a scaffold of key learning objectives for an introductory-level physics class. From mechanics to relativity, they scoured the web for the best open educational resources to curate our physics textbook. They worked individually and in teams to curate the content students will use at campuses across the country next semester.
“As physicists we realize that the more material that’s out there the better—especially free material,” said Brandeis sophomore Forrest Webler.
Though our textbook hackathon was a first for us, some other organizations have given it a shot. A group of Finnish school teachers wrote an open math textbook in a weekend in September. South African non-profit Siyavula writes its open math and science textbooks in multi-weekend workshops.
This hackathon may have been our first, but it certainly won’t be our last.
Follow us on twitter @GoBoundless to see what future events we have in the works.