Robots can do a lot of things. They can play instruments, explore other planets and build cars.
And one day soon, they will help us write textbooks.
Penn State has developed a new technology that works with faculty to automatically build complete textbooks from open resources on the Web according to topics and keywords provided by a user.
The system is helping to usher in a new genre of media: the bionic book.
The tool, called BBookX, can be used to create many types of media ranging from study guides to textbooks. To begin, users fill in a digital table of contents — assigning each chapter a topic with text or as many related keywords or keyphrases as they’d like. Using matching algorithms, BBookX then returns text within moments, 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 the College of Information Sciences and Technology, and who helped create the system along with staff from Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT). “BBookX can also be a powerful learning tool for students — creating their own books gives students a better sense of what they already know and what they still need to learn.”
Giles says he wanted a way to help make the teaching and learning experience easier for both faculty and students.
“In any rapidly changing field, such as information sciences and technology and computer science, it’s important that books stay up to date,” he says. “I wanted an easy, inexpensive way for faculty and students to have access to the latest knowledge and information.”
Giles also says BBookX is an example of the synergy of human-assisted computing — it does something that neither a machine nor a human could do on their own.
Traditionally, computers help people with everyday tasks like searching Google for a certain piece of information or using a calculator to complete a math problem. Human-assisted computing takes advantage of this: people and computers solve problems together.
In the case of BBookX, the computer is designed to create a book and has a method on how to do it — all it needs is a person to tell it what the desired content is.
One such person is Bart Pursel, an affiliate faculty member in the College of Information Science and Technology, who is using BBookX in his IST 110: Introduction to Information, People and Technology course. He built a textbook using BBookX and distributed it for free, saving the students a combined $16,000.