A Wiki Approach to Writing and Publishing Free Textbooks

2915797223_066d44fc7a.jpgBy John Tulinsky

Ask any student: textbooks are expensive. The high cost of these materials is a significant barrier to education in impoverished communities, particularly in the developing world. Students at the University of Washington are now working to address this problem by working with an innovative organization called the Global Text Project (GTP), which uses the internet to publish free, open-content textbooks.

The GTP’s approach is to capture the learning experience of students and use it to create educational materials. The project began with an XML textbook written by a graduate class at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business in 2004. The book was distributed via Wikibooks and has been used, improved and expanded by subsequent classes at the University of Georgia and other universities. Since then the GTP has developed a system where students are recruited to write content under the supervision of a professor who ensures the quality of the material. The GTP is demonstrating the concept by producing two introductory texts; one for Information Systems (released in November 2007) and one for Business Fundamentals. Users of the texts will be encouraged to update and improve them, ensuring that materials remain current and incorporate a global perspective. The books will be written in English originally, but the goal is to eventually make them available in Spanish, Chinese and Arabic as well.

Professor Kevin Desouza
of the University of Washington’s Information School became involved with the GTP as a chapter editor of the text on information systems. Students at the iSchool were enthusiastic about the project which led Professor Desouza to consider the possibility of writing a complete book for the project. This fall, writing a textbook on change management has been a project for students in his Information and the Management of Change course. The project was both a novel classroom learning experience, and an opportunity for the students to create a resource that will be available for free to other students around the world. One of Professor Desouza’s students, quoted in this newsletter, says,

"It blows me away the kind of education I’m getting. But at the same time I can ask, what if I were in another place with other, less fortunate experiences? That’s where the project fits in: giving back to those who need it half a world away. Sharing our knowledge and hopefully learning about ourselves along the way.”

You can read more about open-source textbooks and other open education initiatives in the Worldchanging archives:

Ivory Tower Revolutionaries: Free Textbooks Still on the Rise

Science For All: Free Textbooks

Open Source Text Books


John Tulinsky has a collection of post-graduate degrees, most recently a Master's in Information Management from the University of Washington. He is amazed by the possibilities for collaboration and community made possible by the internet and enjoys long, long bike rides.

Photo credit: flickr/Rob Shenk, Creative Commons license.

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