Pennsylvania State University in State College has developed a new technology that faculty can use to automatically build complete textbooks from open resources on the web according to topics and keywords provided by a user. The tool, called BBookX, can create media that range from study guides to textbooks.
To begin, users fill in a digital table of contents—assigning each chapter a topic with text or related keywords. Using matching algorithms, BBookX then quickly returns text, and users can keep the chapters as they are or mix with content of their own.
“Faculty can create, edit, build upon, and distribute textbooks free of charge, helping to make textbooks more open, affordable and up to date,” says C. Lee Giles, David Reese Professor in Penn State’s College of Information
Sciences and Technology, which helped create the system along with staff from Penn State’s department of Teaching and Learning with Technology. BBookX can also be a powerful learning tool for students who are encouraged to create their own textbooks, he says. The process “gives students a better sense of what they already know and what they still need to learn.”
One of the teachers already using the tool is Bart Pursel, an affiliate faculty member also in the College of Information Science and Technology. By using BBookX to build a textbook for his introductory course on how people interact with information and technology, he estimates he saved his students a combined US$16,000.
While BBookX is a money-saver for students, it is also a useful tool for faculty, says Pursel, because it can help them rapidly prototype courses or find new related content in their fields. “While building my textbook, I came across subjects and topics I hadn’t known about before,” says Pursel. “I was able to learn something new and then pass that along to my students.”