Collaborative E-Book Being Designed to
Blend Best of Old and New
Posted November 4, 2002
HOLLAND -- A Hope College computer science
professor is seeking to blend the best of two worlds as he
develops an electronic textbook for hand-held computers.
Dr. Ryan McFall has received a two-year, $75,000
grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in support
of his effort to develop an electronic computer science
textbook. He is hoping to combine the qualities that make
traditional printed books convenient with the additional
possibilities of on-line, shared text.
"I view it in two ways," he said. "One is that I
certainly have to replicate the features of a paper
textbook. Everybody likes to highlight, everybody likes to
underline, everybody likes to fold the pages over--you name
"The thing that the digital medium allows you to
do is to extend that to a collaborative arena," he said.
"An electronic textbook enables student-to-student
and student-to-instructor communication directly within the
textbook," McFall said. "This type of discussion would be
helpful to clarify and explore more deeply elements of the
text that are hard to understand. The hope is that features
such as this will transform reading of the textbook from a
passive to a more active learning environment."
Students will be able to indicate portions of the
text that they find difficult, seeking additional help from
peers or their teachers. Instructors can emphasize sections
that they feel are important or elaborate on those sections
of the text that may be difficult for students to
understand. Students and instructors alike will be able to
personalize the text by adding their own examples or
comments. McFall noted that the digital nature of the
medium allows such customizations to be easily shared,
facilitating a collaborative approach to textbook reading.
McFall is working with colleague Dr. Michael
Jipping, associate professor of computer science, and a team
of student researchers. Work began this summer, with
students writing the prototype system.
The textbook itself will be for the college's
introductory class in computer science. McFall, however, is
hoping that the approach that he and his research team are
developing will prove useful in other disciplines as well.
McFall noted that hand-held computers, portable
and increasingly powerful, should provide a natural platform
for the project. As he continues to work on the textbook
and the program that drives it, however, he has not yet
found what he considers to be the ideal match: hand-held
computing is an area in which the technology--the hardware--
is also still developing. In the meantime, the team is
developing the pilot computer science text with laptop
computers in mind. The plan is to start testing the system
at the college this spring.
McFall has been a member of the Hope faculty since
2000, and is a 1993 Hope graduate. He completed his
master's and doctorate at Michigan State University, in 1995
and 2000 respectively.
More information about the research project may be
found at: http://www.cs.hope.edu/etext/