A professor at the University of Georgia in Athens, Ga., has founded a project aimed at producing free online textbooks for students in developing countries.
Education can play a fundamental role in reducing poverty, but high-quality and up-to-date textbooks are often too expensive for most people in developing countries.

Rick Watson, J. Rex Fuqua Distinguished Chair for Internet Strategy and director of the UGA Center for Information Systems Leadership, said he and an international team of professors hope to expand the The Global Text Project — which uses a computer program developed from the Wiki software utilized by Web site Wikipedia, to contain a free library of 1,000 electronic textbooks. Watson said the texts focus on subjects typically encountered by first and second year college students.

The textbook model doesn’t work for developing nations, Watson said. They can’t get the books down to a price that people in the developing world can afford. You essentially have to give the books away.

Watson said each chapter of the textbooks would be overseen by an academic in the relevant field. He said the editors would have final approval over any changes to the texts suggested by readers.

Through the Global Text Project, students can go online to access the Wiki-based textbooks rather than having to purchase traditional textbooks. Each textbook will also come in a pdf format so that it can be inexpensively printed for those without Internet access. The books will be authoritative and credible because an academic in the field will oversee the creation of each chapter. The Wiki software will also be modified so that only the editors will be allowed to accept changes that any reader might suggest.

"The problem with Wikipedia is that anyone can go in and change it," Watson said. "And that’s not acceptable for a textbook. We still want the spontaneity of someone being able to go in and make a correction. However, we want to show that change with, say, a different color so that the reader is warned when a change hasn’t been approved yet by the editor of the chapter."

To learn more about the Global Text Project, visit http://globaltext.org/