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Wake Forest, Odigia Collaborate on Textbook Alternative

Wake Forest University and Odigia have partnered to create BioBook, a digital alternative to college-level biology textbooks.

The tool, funded by a $249,000 grant from the Next Generation Learning Challenge, was built by an interdisciplinary team including Wake Forest's Associate Professor of Physics Jed Macosko, Assistant Professor of Education Kristin Redington Bennett, Senior Lecturer in Biology Dan Johnson, and Odigia employees.

BioBook, designed to work for students with a variety of learning styles and to increase engagement among students with learning disabilities, is "organized into interconnected nodes that contain all of the baseline information a textbook would include, but also supplemental material and self-assessments to enhance the learning experience," according to information released by Odigia.

"Think of a textbook--it's too long, has lots of text, and gives no chance to check your thinking," Macosko said. "When you read a textbook, you are not asking the question, 'Why should I know this?' It's our very nature to learn by questioning."

To help encourage that kind of questioning, each node includes basic text supplemented with additional materials, such as:

  • Multimedia, including videos, interviews with scientists, and animated images;
  • Quizzes designed to assess comprehension and a student's ability to use the information they're studying; and
  • The ability to ask peers and teachers questions, with peer responses reviewable to teachers to ensure the accuracy of the information.

Teachers can track student progress and interaction with the material and give feedback or suggest help. Students and teachers can also write new nodes.

In-class testing, which will continue for two years, has already begun. Students taking college-level biology for non-majors are using BioBook at Wake Forest, Salem College, Winston-Salem State University, and Guilford Technical Community College. BioBook will be publicly available for the school year beginning in 2012.

The team is also looking for collaborators to work on curricula for biology, anatomy and physiology, environmental studies, physics, and chemistry at both the college and high school levels.

"It's exciting to harness the power of technology and analytics to design and develop an effective learning tool that will help students to study better because the possibilities are limitless," Bennett said. "Though the framework is filled with scientific content now, the concept is applicable to any subject. Just imagine the opportunities for quick, in-the-moment changes to subjects like history or politics. The tools and structure are based on cognitive science, so we know students will respond."

Visit for more information on contributing to future curricula for the BioBook framework.

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at [email protected].

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