Wikibooks – a project suggestion

It’s been a couple of weeks of holidays here before i start my new job at UPEI and get to work doing a few new shows. We’ve got some interesting things in the pipe over at worldbridges this year, and when put together with my offline life, seems to prophecy busy times ahead.

One of those discussions that we’re hoping to have is about wikibooks. There are many schools around the world that don’t have access to updated textbooks, and one of the solutions that has been put forward has been the creation of wikibooks. The wikimedia foundation has been going on with the creation of wikibooks for a few years, here is the free high school science text: physics It isn’t finished, or particularly visually compelling, but it is a start i suppose. At first blush people seem to react one of two ways, “wow, great idea” or “what a really dumb idea”. I’ve heard both, and argued both, in different circumstances, but here I will lay out a few ideas and some of the issues that have come up in my past discussions with smarter people.

I would see a well funded wikibook project as a viable alternative to the current publisher textbook hegemony. With the work done at wikimedia as a backbone, the right input, enthusiasm and knowhow, a full wikibook science program could be up within a year. The key to the success of such a project would be getting ‘everyone’ involved. Not just science people and curriculum designers, but teachers, science institutions and students as well. A solid organizational structure, a place for debate and disagreement, as well as areas for student input. It has all the potential for being a real turning point for education.

Imagine an assignment in a biology class that includes the drawing of a biology cell. A particularly successful student might get their drawing included in the wikibook for everyone’s future reference. There could be 20 left on file as alternatives to the standard version of the textbook that teachers or students might choose to use as a reference. They could do audio or video projects. A nice, big, learning community.

Here are some quick pro/cons.


How do we know that the information in the textbook is ‘true’?possible response
A good wikibook project would have validation built into it. There are several ways to go about doing this including paying section editors, encouraging a wikipedia style editing structure and encouraging students and teachers to be involved in the fact checking/development process.
how do we know that current textbooks are ‘true’


A wikibook would allow teachers to choose the portions of the science curriculum that they want to use out of a larger library of information and activitiespossible response
This could mean even more work for teachers than they are doing now


A wikibook is uptodate. It is not a one-time investment like a textbook that needs to be repurchased every yearpossible response
the wikibook project will need to be funded… this too will cost money

Class infrastructure

It fine to have the ‘new’ textbooks on the internet, but how will the students access it if they don’t have access to computers in the home or even in their classroom.possible response
Print off the textbooks every few years.
Look for funding for computers and LCD projectors in the classrooms.

Not a complete discussion by any means, but hopefully a place to begin a debate that will allow us to make better choices…

cheers all… and happy new year.

4 Responses to “Wikibooks – a project suggestion”

  1. Sarah Chauncey Says:
    I love the idea. What I would want to see is the same information written for different grade (reading) levels. For example, if my students are doing research on whales, they could click on a link which would take the content from quite simple Kindergarten Level right up to College Level. This would help in the early years when children in the same grade are reading and comprehending above and below grade level. As with everything else, if the big guys feel that such a project could take off — they will become involved in a big way!
  2. Lee Baber Says:
    I think this would be a fanatastic alternative to books. There are plenty of negatives to hard copies so we don’t need to discuss that just yet. The good side of the electronic version of a textbook forever updated goes on and on. I am especially excited about this because I love to produce visuals… I would love to spend all my time creating photos, drawings, animations, videos, and eventually virtual realities to add to the wikibooks. What better way to learn a subject than incredible audio and visual. Of course the content laid in a text version is the foundation for the “book” but adding all the media will appeal to all learning styles.
  3. Mark Hemphill Says:
    Great idea Dave! Welcome to UPEI.
  4. Knowledge2Go » Blog Archive » Textbooks as wikis Says:
    […] The idea of producing school and university textbooks as wikis (i.e. as free and editable online texts) is slowly starting to gain momentum. Dave Cornier lists some pros and cons. The great thing about publishing a textbook as a wiki is that users (e.g. students and lecturers) can contribute to the text and so help to improve it and keep it current. Direct editing of the text need not be completely open (as is the case with wikipedia) – there could be different types of contributors, such as editors, chapter authors, box authors, and people who are allowed to comment or add margin notes. One way for textbook authors to make some money out of this form of publishing would be to sell printed copies of the book to those who don’t have good internet access, or who prefer to use a hard copy. Filed under: Publishers, Participation, Students […]

Author: dave

I run this site... among other things.

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