Researchers at Penn State have been developing a tool that will automatically generate digital textbooks from open-source material.
The tool, which they have named BBookX, allows users to input keywords and then select resources to organize and edit into textbook chapters. The tool's algorithm then refines its results by the user's choices, much like how Netflix recommends movies based on the ones users have already watched, to help the creator find texts that they might like to use in subsequent chapters. Once the textbook is finished, users can embed it in other web pages or download it as a text file to allow for sharing and collaboration.
It's not yet available and can currently only be accessed in its demo version. For now, the beta version of the tool will only gather information from Wikipedia, but the final version will collect text from a variety of open-source collections.
The developers — a group of faculty, staff, and undergraduate students — intend to help out not only faculty, but also students who want to enhance their education. By making their own textbooks, students can help themselves and their classmates understand the curriculum and supplement the provided resources and the notes they have taken.
An essential part of the service's success will be perfecting the algorithm that discerns what material users might want to add to their textbooks, and the human users of the demo version are an important part of this process. David Nagel of Campus Technology quoted Kyle Bowen, the director of Education Technology Services:
The nature of this tool is that it will be more powerful as it is used by more people. Expanding future use will be a key part of our success.
BBookX has an additional advantage over paper textbooks since it allows professors to quickly and easily update their class's resources as new research becomes available, which is particularly important in quickly-growing fields like technology, notes Laura Rosenfeld of Tech Times.
If BBookX becomes widely used, it may save students much of the cost of textbooks. When Bart Pursel used the tool for his class Information, People, and Technology, he saved his students a combined $16,000, writes Susan Snyder of CampusInq. Pursel said:
BBookX fit in really nicely with the course — we have to cover a lot, and it was helpful to know the textbook had updated info on everything I planned to teach.
According to its creators, BBookX was designed for higher education, but it can easily be set to align with Common Core standards for grades K-12, writes Nicole Gorman of Education World.
The tool is not yet publicly available, but "schools and organizations that would be interested in partnering and supporting future research" are encouraged to contact the developers at [email protected] or bbookx.psu.edy.