Wikibooks in Class
Books on Wikibooks are textbooks, and are ultimately designed to provide a free quality alternative to traditional printed textbooks. This is a major benefit to schools and students that cannot afford traditional textbooks.
It should come as no surprise then that some teachers around the world print and use Wikibooks in the classroom.
Books on Wikibooks are generally in a state of construction. Books are never "complete", because they can always be updated, improved, expanded, reformatted. However some of our better books, such as our featured books, are good enough that they should be usable in a classroom.
Finding A Textbook On Wikibooks
Finding a free textbook to use for a class on Wikibooks is similar to the process of finding a book to use from a traditional book publisher. First suitable titles must be found from the catalogue. Once found, books need to be read and evaluated to see if they are consistent with your class plans. Then, the book needs to be obtained for the students.
Finding books on Wikibooks is easy, and has been the subject of one of our previous chapters. Keeping in mind that many of our books are in active development, the first best place to look for a new book will be at our list of featured books. These are the books that the Wikibooks community thinks are the highest quality. These aren't the only books in a usable condition, of course, just the best of those.
Books in a higher state of maturity tend to have printable versions, PDF versions, or collections. Lists of books with these features will be visible at Category:Books with print version, Category:Books with PDF version, and Category:Books with Public Collections.
Conversely, visiting Wikibooks Stacks/Departments will allow you to navigate to your particular subject. Most shelf pages will contain lists of books in that shelf that are featured, or that have printable versions in one of our standard formats.
Evaluating A Wikibook
Wikibooks has a new software feature called "Flagged Revisions", or "flaggedrevs" for short. The Flaggedrevs extension allows each page on the website to be evaluated in terms of its content, its accuracy, and its coverage. When looking at a book, see if the page has been rated previously, and if it has see what other reviewers think about it. Obviously the opinions of the teacher will be more important than those of random internet strangers, but reviews can give a good idea about what other people think about the pages, and what features other people think are important.
As you're evaluating the book, feel free to submit a few page reviews of your own, if you are able. We will discuss the reviewer permissions and processes in a later chapter. Also, feel free to post reviews, questions, or comments on the associated talk pages. This way any problems that you find can be addressed and resolved by other volunteer editors at a later time. Remember that books that aren't perfect for your application yet might very well become perfect for you in the future, if you're willing to write reviews, post suggestions, and maybe make a few edits yourself.
Printing and Distributing a Wikibook
Once you have a book selected for use in your class, you are going to need a way to distribute that book to your students. You could just give them the URL of the book, but that's a naive approach: The book could change on a daily basis, which could make your lesson plans difficult to follow. Plus, your students could be making changes that affect the quality of material that other students see. What you need to do is get a stable version of the book that you and your class can rely on. There are a few methods to do this:
- Permanent Links: On the left hand side of the screen, you may need to scroll down to see it, is a link that says "Permanent link". Clicking this will take you to the current specific revision of the page. This revision is preserved in the website database and is never changed. If you go to this link, the page will always look exactly the same even if additional edits or changes are made.
- PDF Versions: Some books have a pre-made PDF version that is uploaded to the server. These PDF files are not going to change once you download them, but they also won't reflect any additions or improvements that have been made to the book.
- Collections PDF: From a page collection, the software can automatically create a PDF or ODT file for download based on the most recent versions of the pages in the collection. This means that edits, additions, and improvements that you make will be reflected in the generated PDF file. With a collection loaded, go to Special:Collection and click the "download" button.
- Collections Print-on-Demand: PDF versions and permanent links are nice if your class has good access to a computer and the internet. However, sometimes it's better to just have a printed book that the students can bring with them into class without needing to bring their computer too. For these cases, Wikibooks has a print-on-demand feature through our publishing partner PediaPress. With a collection loaded, click "Order this book" at Special:Collection to order a copy (or 30) from PediaPress.
Class and Group Projects
Traditionally, books are just static sources of information written in one particular way which may not be very helpful to all students in your class. Instead of teaching from a "Dead" or "Static" book, consider using Wikibooks as an interactive learning resource instead. Several groups and classes have successfully used Wikibooks to host interactive book-writing projects. These class projects are very common on Wikibooks, and our members do everything they can to encourage them. Students from one class can write books for students in future classes, so it's a powerful tool to spread knowledge.
Why use a Wikibooks-based Project?
Wikibooks makes a very attractive platform for class and group projects for a number of reasons:
- Not completely insulated: On Wikibooks, you're using the "real" internet, and have the possibility to interact with real people on it in constructive ways. We're relatively insulated from the bad parts of the internet because of our strict focus on educational goals. Learning how to work in very diverse groups, with people from other countries and cultures, is a very good thing in addition to your primary learning objectives.
- Helpful community: At wikibooks, we have a large number of volunteer editors who will be willing to help your project succeed. We can help fix problems, improve formatting, and make helpful suggestions along the way. With a little bit of input and feedback, you can create a higher-quality result than you might be able to otherwise.
- Integrated monitoring: MediaWiki, the software that runs Wikibooks, has a number of features for keeping track of people and their edits. On Wikibooks, you can view the complete contribution history of each student, and determine when they are making their edits, and what quality each individual edit has. You can see how students are communicating together on talk pages, and you can see how pages dynamically improve as a result of these interactions.
- Easy to use: The wikitext markup at Wikibooks is relatively small but powerful, and the vast majority of editing that you and your class will want to do will be simple to implement. Wikitext is much easier than standard HTML, but the two are mixable if more power of expression is needed.
Picking a Project
Picking a project for students to do is almost as difficult as doing the project itself. Many teachers underestimate how difficult it can be to write a complete book. It's quite a daunting task! Teachers may also underestimate the amount of time it takes for students to get acclimated on the site. It's important to pick a task that students will be able to complete, so that there is a real sense of accomplishment for them at the end. Here are some suggestions:
- Improve an existing book: Take a book that's in good condition, and incrementally improve it by adding examples, images, and notes.
- Adopt a forgotten book: Find a book that's been under-developed and try to breath new life into it. Evaluate the quality of existing materials, and write your own to fill in the blanks
- Create a new book: This is the hardest task to do. Pick a subject on which Wikibooks does not have an existing book and write one. Make sure to plan it out and try to follow some of our best practices. If you need help or input, our team of volunteers is always ready to help.
Running a Project
The way you manage a project can significantly affect its success. Here are a few methods to consider:
- Every student writes a chapter
- In this situation, you will find that groups are not working until the class reaches their subject. Groups at the end of the book will do less work than groups at the beginning.
- Everybody writes a chapter together
- In this way, you can have your whole class working on the most recently discussed material. However, with many hands working on a single page, you run the risk of edit conflicts. Also, some students may fall behind because they can't find enough unique work to do that other students aren't doing first.
- Everybody writes a feature
- Each student writes an individual feature of a page, the whole class works on a single page together. A feature can be an example, or a section, or a table, etc. Every student/group has a specific task to complete, but tasks will be asymmetrical.
- Students write and review
- Students are in charge of writing certain pages or certain features, but are also in charge of reviewing the work of other students. This helps to promote communication and increases overall quality of the produced book. Students spend more time reviewing and less time writing, which can reduce the volume of generated material in the end.
Here are some miscellaneous suggestions:
- Make sure all groups follow the writing process: Make plans, draft the material, edit, and revise. Editing and revising can continue throughout the entire project, after initial drafting has been completed.
- Don't hesitate to break process: it's a wiki, after all. If you've drafted, edited, and revised, feel free to draft another section, or help somebody else with editing and revising.
- Keep track of contributions. Keep track of individual student contributions. Students that edit early and often are more likely to produce higher-quality materials than those that try to dump large volumes of content in a single edit.
- Use edit summaries. Every edit should have a description. What did you edit? How much did you edit? Did you write new content that needs to be reviewed, or did you review existing content?