When I took over the modules I currently teach, I inherited several folders containing the course readers for each subject, which had been “developed” over many years. They consisted mainly of a selection of photocopied or typed pages, loosely related, inconsistently formatted, poorly referenced, often duplicated and impossible to search. When students needed to find a paragraph or definition, it was a case of trying to remember if it was more towards the beginning, middle or end of the reader, opening it up and flicking through it page by page until they found what they were looking for. This clearly wouldn’t do.
The readers had to be converted into a digital format. Some of the more obvious advantages of digital text over printed text are highlighted in the introduction of Michael Wesch‘s video titled “The machine is us/ing us“. While the video is actually about the semantic web and how we’re creating meaningful relationships between content through our actions (clicking links), it does illustrate that the starting point is digital text.
I’ve spent a lot of my free time over the past year or so typing, collating, editing, formatting, referencing and indexing all of the original content from those course readers, as well as adding images, and links to videos (mainly YouTube) and open access research articles (like PubMed Central, BioMed Central and IJAHSP). It’s now possible to auto-generate a table of contents, which eliminates searching in the printed version, and regularly updating the reader to better reflect the latest evidence is trivial. I’ve added self-study questions related to additional reading after each section, as well as empty space for guided reflection on the topic just covered. The text is consistently formatted, as are the headings and references, which provide a framework for an easier understanding of the work.
I’ve also provided the digital version of each course reader to the students, so that they can update it as they see fit. I hope that as they develop as physiotherapists, their digital readers might be upgraded often and possibly converted to other formats. I’ve had one student ask about installing a wiki locally on his machine and moving the content into it. Finally, I removed the generic copyright notice on the cover and added a Creative Commons license.
The next logical step is to move the “official” course reader into a shared wiki and encouraging students to make changes there. If this were to be integrated with social bookmarking and blogs, it might facilitate real engagement with the subject, which I think might be a good thing.