Saturday, July 01, 2006

Online textbooks, Wikibooks, and Wikiversity

Some of you know that I have ambitions to create an online text book for AI and possibly for Cognitive Science. The idea is that students in classes (mostly in my classes) would be assigned topics, and as part of their assignment they must write a chapter or a section for the online text book. Or alternately, they can add to or improve an existing entry. Eventually, perhaps 20 years later, the textbook might be good enough to use in a university course. My philosophy behind this approach is that student's work should not be wasted, but used to supplement other research and learning has been published in this book chapter:

Davies, J. R. (2001). Ocelots are endangered South American wild cats. In Ohler, J. (Ed.) Future Courses: A Compendium of Thought About the Future of Technology and Education. AIT Technos Press.

As I see it the two advantages of the book being online that anyone with an web connection can access it, and the web medium allows for multimedia, including animations and quizzes to help you study.

As it turns out, there are two very exciting projects underway already: Wikibooks and Wikiversity. A "wiki" is a web page that anyone can edit easily through a web browser. That is, each page in the wiki has an "edit" button that you can press and instantly change the text. The most popular wiki is Wikipedia. Since anyone can edit it people tend to be skeptical about its content. I find that these people usually have not used it much. From what I can see, the content is often superb. I now use it as my main source of information about random topics I'm interested in. Nature did a comparative study of Wikipedia and The Encyclopedia Brittanica and found the accuracy to be about the same.

Wikibooks is a website that has a wiki approach to writing whole books. Turns out there is one about Artificial Intelligence already under discussion. As of the writing of this article, they are still deciding on the table of contents. I have two feelings about this. One is that the impact of my student's work would be greater if they contributed to this higher-profile online book. My other thought is that I would not get the same personal credit as I would if I had my own website with me listed as the editor. Finally, my online textbook will probably suck in comparison after ten years, unless I do a lot of things the wikibook does not, such as quizzes, animations, etc.

So it seems the right thing to do is to require the students to contribute to the wikibook, perhaps in addition to my own. Any dissenting opinions?

The other exciting development is the wikiversity. As I see it the potential of this page is to provide complete university curricula online, free. Very exciting.

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