The first book in the Global Text Project, an ambitious effort spearheaded by a University of Georgia professor to create 1,000 free online textbooks for people in developing nations, is now in use in colleges in Ethiopia and Indonesia.
"The fact that students are using these books shows that there's a strong demand," said Rick Watson, the University of Georgia Terry College of Business professor who is leading the project. "So many people in developing nations don't have textbooks. And if they do, they're old, second-hand copies or single copies that can't be used by an entire class."
About a dozen more books are currently being written by an international team of volunteer professors, and Watson is expanding the project's model to include students, who will be marketing the textbooks, working on graphics, styling and other elements.
"I've always had this notion that this project is about education in a double sense," said Watson, J. Rex Fuqua Distinguished Chair for Internet Strategy and director of the UGA Center for Information Systems Leadership. "We get the books to people who need them but we also get students involved in other ways."
The prototype for The Global Text Project was created in 2004, when Watson could not find a textbook for the graduate level XML programming class he was teaching. Each student in the class was assigned to write a chapter, and Watson was editor in chief. The book, XML: Managing Data Exchange, is still in use at UGA today.
Watson told his friend Don McCubbrey at Denver University about the book, and McCubbrey suggested that they create similar books for people in developing nations. Since then, Watson and McCubbrey have formed a core team that includes Wayne Huang of the University of Ohio, Nagwa Badr of Ain Shams University in Cairo, Andres Sepulveda of the University of Concepción in Chile and Franz Lehner of the University of Passau in Germany. The project has been featured in newspapers and magazines across the globe, and nearly 300 people have volunteered to participate in some way, including writing and reviewing chapters and translating.
The first book, Information Systems, is in use at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia and Atma Jaya Yogyakarta University in Indonesia. Watson said books on grammar and e-commerce are near completion.
The project has not been without setbacks. "Creating the first book took longer than I expected," Watson admitted.
He explained that software glitches caused some delays, but the biggest challenge has been getting volunteer professors to deliver chapters on time.
Still, the project has received generous support. The Swiss-based Jacobs Foundation has donated $200,000 to the project, and a university in Chile - which pays its professors to write textbooks because they are so expensive - is donating 350 books. Language translation service and technology provider Sajan Inc. is donating its technology to the project, and Watson is currently working with Sajan to test the process of translating from English to Arabic. The project will use Sajan's translation memory management technology to enable students and faculty to translate collectively a text.
Steve Goodroe, a Terry College of Business executive-in-residence, is working with Watson on developing a sustainable financing model for the project.
Although professors who are experts in their fields are still responsible for writing and editing texts, the project now offers more opportunity for student involvement. UGA students who have volunteered to work on the Global Text Project, for example, are marketing the books and setting up quality circles in which students discuss the texts and suggest improvements.
"This is about much more than just producing books," Watson said. "It's about getting students engaged in creating knowledge and helping each other. And that has always been the theme - engaging many for the benefit of many more."