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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Tool That Can Write Textbooks

The old notion that machines will someday replace workers may soon apply to academia. A Pennsylvania State University professor used a robot to build a textbook that he claims saved students $16,000 last semester.

Bart Pursel assembled a textbook for his Information, People, and Technology class using BbookX, a technology developed at Penn State that helps faculty use open-source materials to create content according to topics and keywords. Using the technology, Pursel was able to distribute the textbook to his class for free.

BbookX starts with an instructor creating a digital table of contents and assigning each chapter a topic with text or related keywords. The tool then uses matching algorithms to quickly gather content, according to the university release.

The university is also exploring ways to allow the content to be changed and updated. Professors will still have to review the titles, but the goal is to provide instructors choices to build a better book in the same way Netflix bases movie selections on what a viewer has previously watched.

“While building my textbook, I came across subjects and topics I hadn’t known about before,” Pursel said in a blog for The Philadelphia Inquirer. “I was able to learn something new and then pass that along to my students.”

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