This is an amazing and thought-provoking post. There’s so much here that I just want to put my initial thoughts out; otherwise, I may put it aside and not respond at all.
I’ve done this sort of thing before but never as ambitious a project as a complete text—see http://2008financialcrisis.umwblogs.org and more recently http://WhitherTheEuro.umwblogs.org —so I can speak to how much work and energy on your part is involved. I can also affirm that students who participate engage with the project far more deeply than with most academic assignments.
First, the naysayer: Did you review and/or edit the students’ commentary? That could move it from an excellent student project to a more serious professional resource, albeit at the cost of taking something away from the students, and more of your time. For my financialcrisis project, I ended up spending a huge amount of my summer reviewing, editing and other production work. Do you have a better way?
In my view, there are a couple of takeaways here:
- Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. One shouldn’t compare an open text like this one to a finished, glossy commercial text. A better comparison is with a first draft manuscript—the one the author submits. The content is pretty much all there, though the finish may not be. But that’s okay.
- It’s hard to understate the learning experience of the students. This learning experience is so much more profound than what a student normally gets from reading a book, because the process of curation requires students to examine assumptions, consider alternatives and evaluate what they conclude—all things that we at least subconsciously hope students will do when they read, but which realistically very few do—in part because we haven’t taught them to read that way, and in part because it’s hard work and takes a lot of time.
I look forward to reading the next chapter in your exploration of open texts.
PS: As I was thinking about responding to Robin’s post it occurred to me that the way I respond to a blog post is a little different from the way I respond to a colleague’s paper. Perhaps it’s the nature of blog posts, which are less formal than papers. Whatever the reason, I find I respond affectively to blog posts as well as cognitively. It’s not that a post can make me feel good or bad, but rather my response is coming from a deeper level than when I respond to a formal paper.