CK-12 July 2009 Newsletter

Newsletter July 2009

Greetings CK-12 Community!
In this issue:

  • California Digital Textbooks Initiative
  • Introduction to CK-12 Content Manager Gary Clarke
  • Interview with Juli Weiss and Annamaria Farbizio, CK-12 Science and Math Editors
  • Update on Support and Twitter

California Digital Textbooks Initiative

If you live in California, you have probably noticed that digital textbooks are in the news lately. Governor Schwarzenegger issued a call to educators and publishers to submit standards-aligned textbooks in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math by June 15th. We are proud to have met that deadline. It has been a great group effort with all of our authors, editors, domain experts, copyeditors, and internal content staff working together towards this important goal.  The books are available for download here. They are Calculus, Geometry, Trigonometry, Biology, Chemistry, Earth Science, and Life Science.

Introduction to CK-12 Content Manager Gary Clarke

In other CK-12 news, our internal staff has grown.  We have added Gary Clarke as Content Manager.  Gary joins CK-12 with over thirteen years of experience in educational and web-content publishing.  We couldn’t be happier to have him.

Gary gave us a short bio to share: “I am very excited about joining CK-12. After spending many years in educational publishing and IT Web publishing, I wanted to work for a top-notch team that brought those two worlds together. Delivering high- quality online educational content over the Web and building a thriving online educational community, all in support of an open education mission…now what could be better than that! For the past nine-plus years, I have gained experience in online Web publishing and online community building with Catapulse, Rational Software, a little company called IBM (developerWorks) and an even smaller one, Microsoft (MSDN). Prior to that, I spent six years with Pearson and Key Curriculum Press. I attended the London School of Economics, University of London, University of Southern California, and taught logic and philosophy for one year at Manchester University.  I have a wife, Joze! fa, and two very small children, Oliver (4 years) and Abigail (14 months.)  I have no free time whatsoever!”

Interview with Juli Weiss and Annamaria Farbizio, CK-12 Science and Math Editors

CK-12’s content team are:

  • Gary Clark, Content Manager
  • Annamaria Farbizio, Math Leader and Editor
  • Gil Hoskins, Curriculum Alignment Specialist
  • Juli Weiss, Science Leader and Editor

They are joined this summer by a fantastic group of high school interns.  See more info about all of the CK-12 team here.  The Newsletter sat down with Juli Weiss and Annamaria Farbizio to talk about CK-12’s unique content creation process.

CK-12 Newsletter:
Tell me a little about the CK-12 Publishing Process- How do you create digital textbooks?

Juli Weiss: CK-12 is committed to creating comprehensive K-12 STEM curricula written to state and national standards.  One of CK-12’s key differentiators is our academic and comprehensive approach to developing our seeded content.  For example, for our California editions, our book outlines were written to California and national standards.  Science content was aligned to California, National Science Education Standards (NSES), as well as the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Project 2061 Benchmarks whenever possible.  Math content is aligned to California and National Council of Teachers in Mathematics (NCTM) standards.  There are three ways we obtain content: 1) seeded content, which is commissioned by CK-12; 2) donated content, which is given to us by authors, and 3) “harvested”content, which is created by authors using our FlexBooks application and readily available open educational resources.

Annamaria Farbizio: We start out by interviewing different authors who have teaching experience and expertise in their subject.  They do a sample chapter which is checked by a domain expert and in-house at CK-12. Once authors come on board they start writing chapters based on an outline, which has already been created according to curriculum standards.  The chapter goes back and forth between the author and the Domain Expert.  The Domain Expert works with the author as well as the Book Manager at CK-12.  This collaboration really adds to the quality of the books.

After a chapter is written, we send it out to reviewers.  It’s important to get the outside perspective, because in-house we can be very focused on the timeline.  The CK-12 publication process happens over a shorter timeline than a traditional publishing process.

Newsletter: What is a domain expert (DE)?

Weiss: Our domain experts have expertise in their subject matter.  They all have advanced degrees, extensive teaching experience, and significant experience in curriculum development complying with state and national standards.  Their role is to ensure our content has integrity and to provide quality control and quality assurance.

Farbizio:Part of the domain expert’s role is to help make the writing stronger by working with authors to get them to perform at their best level.  They work to incorporate feedback from the reviewers as well as the technical reviewers.  They’re like book coaches, in a way, because in addition to having subject matter expertise, being able to look through the material and make sure that it is accurate, make sure that it’s presented well, all of these things that we’re asking them to do…the most successful ones are able to really inspire the authors to perform at their best level.

Newsletter: So what is the reviewer’s role?

Weiss: Similar to our domain experts, reviewers serve to vet and ensure integrity of content.  They provide developmental content reviews evaluating pedagogical integrity, alignment to standards, and accessibility.  Accuracy checks are conducted by technical reviewers and copyeditors review the manuscript for typos and grammatical errors.  Seeded content is reviewed by six independent reviewers and their comments are synthesized into our final manuscripts by the domain experts and the book managers.  Our checks and balances are in place to ensure we provide users high quality content.

It may be of interest to our readers to explain our recruiting process – our science and math authors and reviewers are recruited from throughout the nation.  Writer qualification includes: BA/BS degree (MS or PhD preferred), 5+ years teaching experience, curriculum development, instructional design, and educational publishing is a plus.  Reviewer qualification includes: Advanced degree in area of expertise (PhD preferred), experience reviewing textbooks as well as experience in district/schools adoption committees a plus, and familiarity with state and national standards.  We advertise in professional organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, National Association of Science Writers, National Earth Science Teachers Association, American Chemical Society, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators, universities, teacher’s forums, etc.

Finally, CK-12’s distinguished community of authors, reviewers, and domain experts pride themselves in being pioneers in open educational resources (OER).  Again, our primary concern given our open source model is ensuring users our content has integrity, quality control, and quality assurance.

What does the future hold for FlexBooks?

Farbizio: One of our goals is to provide users with an image repository.  If they could use those images freely, that would be a great teaching tool.

Weiss: We currently provide users with a mini image repository – all images in our seeded content and on our site can be used and repurposed through our CC-BY-SA license. We are in the process of developing teacher’s editions, worksheets, test questions, quizzes, labs, workbooks, and supplemental materials, which are written to the same standards as our other materials.  We’re also looking at embedding links and videos.  This reaches and supports different learning styles.  The robustness of our application allows users to update content instantly.  With our latest platform upgrade, users can author and edit content on the FlexBooks tool on CK-12’s website.  We are now at the intersection and marriage of content and technology.  This is also at the heart of where we are headed – towards a collaborative community approach to creating content.  Going from our seeded content to user created content.  However, we will always have a system and infrastructure in place to vet our content for integrity, quality control, and assurance.

It should be noted that even if users don’t have access to a computer they can still download a hard copy to share.  Users don’t need to have a lot of technology.  And all of our content is free!

Newsletter: Thank you for your time!

Update on Support and Twitter

CK-12 has recently improved our support process, better enabling us to respond to your questions and feedback, and we love to hear from you.  Whether you are having trouble with the FlexBooks tool, you have a suggestion for how we could improve, or you want to get involved, we hope you will contact us at

Follow us on Twitter @CK12FlexBooks.

Improving textbooks overall- their quality, accessibility, flexibility, and timeliness- is a community effort, and we couldn’t do it without you.

Thanks for reading and happy flexing!

Interview with CK-12 Founder, Neeru Khosla

We managed to pull CK-12’s founder and leader, Neeru Khosla, away from her work to pick her brain on her vision for the modern day education system and where she is steering the CK-12 Foundation towards.


Can you tell us in a single sentence what is?

CK-12 is a “collaborative enabler” that provides access to information to all, while empowering teachers to treat each student within the requirements, but treating each one as an individual with their own particular needs, pace of learning, and curriculum standards.

What form does this take?

This enabler is an online tool that makes production and customization of content possible.

Obviously you felt there was a problem in the current education book system. Which problem in particular are you looking to solve?

While everyone believes that there are problems in education that can be solved by their own solutions, and that each solution works in their own context, at CK-12 we believe that we are providing a very fundamental need for every student – content that is customizable and collaboratively produced.

Against Banned Books (Please Spread This Pic & The Text)

If we believe in the notion that every person has an inalienable right to learn, then we have to insure that they have access to information and educational resources. For younger students that access should be free or at the very least that access should be at a nominal cost. Targeting both access to content as well as cost should help in leveling the playing field for learning.

Speaking of cost, what will be the cost for using the CK-12 system?

These tools are completely free and open to all. The only cost incurred by the users will be for print production from independent, print-on-demand publishers.

Why have US educational books become so expensive?

Part of the reason that books have become expensive is that developing and publishing books is a business. As a result, publishing companies have to account for themselves, particularly in terms of profits, expenses, growth rates etc. While this is the case for books, education by itself cannot be and is not a business. It is a social cost that needs to be carried by society for all that cannot afford to pay.

Printing Press 2

Publishing has become a very large industry, and due to the historical business model, it is very difficult to drastically change the path it is on.

There is no way that you can change the physical nature of a book, thus making it impossible to adapt and optimize the changes that are occurring in this dynamic age of information, communication, and customization. Publishing has become a dinosaur and needs to make a course correction.

It is projects like CK-12 that we think will be the catalyst for change to occur.

In the course of founding and developing CK-12, you have had the opportunity to meet many teachers from many different levels. Is there anything you are hearing over and over again?

GPS Workshop for TeachersWe have talked to many teachers and what they say depends upon where they are in terms of their career and where they work. If you compare teachers – teaching in private school versus public school, you will hear different things.Private school teachers have much more freedom to do what they believe is in the best interest of the student.

Public school teachers are more restricted as to what they can teach. They are required to teach to their local bureaucratic requirements. Often these requirements have no bearing to what the reality is in the classroom.

Teachers are also asking for less expensive material that allows ALL to learn and benefit from educational resources. In keeping with this thinking, we would like to enable and encourage teachers in different parts of the world to take this content and convert it into different languages and not have only English language material.

For this reason we are also providing the tools necessary to compose and create content from scratch, or even using an existing WikiPedia page.

This editor makes it possible to easily modify existing content. So, for example, if the chapter is in English, then nothing stops the user from inserting Spanish paragraphs throughout to help students better understand the material.

This is the real power of CK-12, the ability to Tweak/Edit/Add or “TEA” a chapter to their own requirements.

Will CK-12 enable teachers to be able to translate and reproduce content into different languages to aid with this learning process?

In many of the classrooms, content and information that is provided does not meet the need and often does not fit the requirements. Many teachers tell us “just give us the materials that will help our students do well on the standardized testing” or “help us make a concept understandable to many different kinds of learners“.

For example, look at some of the low performing school districts, say in some areas in Southern California, where the population is primarily Hispanic and the students are not fluent in English, yet the teachers are provided with textbooks that are high level English language content. How are they going to learn?

In addition, teachers are asking for a platform where they can share information, lesson plans, and experience in what works for different kinds of students, etc.

The teacher as a lonely figure is a well documented fact, but we hope to provide connections that will help in their everyday work.

You are a mother of teenagers and young adults, what differences in the education system have you witnessed?

I do see some changes. There is more competition from fierce, academically focused students from other countries. As a result, there is a sense of panic from parents who are asking for more and more focus on getting academic skills that will make students more eligible for admission into colleges.

More and more people are trying to make their children do what makes the students appear to be more “rounded,” missing the point that learning is also about fulfilling your passions, learning how to learn and not just trying to be the best candidate for a job. Young kids are no longer spending their time daydreaming or having the time to explore the world around them.

Is there the possibility of ‘information overload?’ How does CK-12 help manage all this information?

CK-12 has introduced the concept of flexbooks. These flexbooks allow for us to provide only the amount of content that each student needs. I have yet to meet a teacher who says that he or she used the whole book in a given year. So why do we need information overload? CK-12’s flexbooks will allow for 100% relevant chapters.

How are you ensuring that the content scholars and teachers collate is worthy of the curriculum?

How can we make sure that the content is usable, given that there are so many ways to look at this issue, and it happens to be one of the most contentious parts of the education system, and given the fact that people are often singularly minded in their ideas that their perspective on this issue is the best one?

We at CK-12 believe that we have to provide content that can be contextualized and quality controlled to each case; hence the ability to customize the content becomes very important. While we provide for this customization we also have to make sure that we are providing content that is following requirements for the K-12 age group.

The way that we do this today is through aligning the seeded content to standards.

We are modeling checks and balances for quality control in a collaborative fashion (as in “Many Eyes Shallow Bugs“). Part of that process is to have domain experts (DE) who are either teacher practitioners or college professors who have developed K-12 content. These domain experts work with the authors, who again have had prior experience with developing curriculum. After the DE and the authors have reached a certain level of quality we send the content to teacher practitioners for review.

El Toro Grammar School

In addition, over the summer we have had 17 high school interns go through the content and give us feedback. The idea is that these students will help us make the content readable and usable for them and their peers.

Having all these checks and balances will help us avoid many of the contentious creditability issues that are hindering and surrounding other online content providers such as Wikipedia and Google’s Knol.

We believe that the CK-12 user community will develop a collaborative methodology for developing good quality for their own unique needs. This is where we are hoping that our tools will allow teachers to use this concept in a very productive and useful manner.

CK-12 sounds American. Is your system designed exclusively for the American education system?

Initially, as a proof of concept, yes, it is for the American education system. However, we will be allowing people to use the system in their own contexts. We are hoping that we will become a Wikipedia kind of model, where different entities will develop content according to their own needs and regional requirements.

How can people get involved?

Get in touch with us. We would love to have you contribute to and use our system. We are coming out of private beta and moving into a public release very soon. We want teachers and students alike.