Textbook of the Future?

This article was originally published on The Psych Report before it became part of the Behavioral Scientist in 2017.

College education is too expensive, and textbooks are part of the problem. This is the thinking that motivated two psychologists to create an online platform to provide up-to-date, fully-customizable text books, for free.

The newly launched Noba Project is the brainchild of Dr. Ed and Carol Diener, both highly distinguished psychologists, who wanted to help students and professors access expert information while counter rising education costs.

They formed a group of 120 professors, authors, and experts and together created dozens of original textbook chapters on topics that cover psychology’s broad range of study: happiness, motivation, perception, emotion, creativity, consciousness, mental illness.

“When we think that middle-class students have a hard time paying for college, then we must be truly concerned about the poor and people in developing and poor nations,” Ed Diener said in an interview with The Psych Report. “Our e-text is part of a movement to help educate more people at a lower cost.”

“Our e-text is part of a movement to help educate more people at a lower cost.”

The costs can seem astounding when considered as only a fraction of a student’s entire education costs. Currently, the College Board estimates that the average cost for books and supplies is $1,200 per year. What is more, new editions are published every few years – regardless of whether or not the science warrants an update – in order to keep the market from being flooded with used editions, Ed Diener explained.

Noba works like this: professors can browse chapter offerings and hand-pick the chapters they want to use in their classes. Then their students login and download the book which they can read on their desktops, e-readers, or print out.

With Noba, instructors are “not bound by the literal binding of the physical book,” explained Project Manager Peter Lindberg. “Noba can be mixed and matched in any way. It can be used as a main text for a class or it can be used as supplemental material.”

More than just being free, Noba’s chapters are a bit different than the ones found in a traditional, physical textbook. Students can check the definitions of glossary terms by simply scrolling over the selected  words. Each chapter also comes with a section of outside resources to supplement the text.

Interestingly enough, the Noba Project began several years ago as idea for a psychology museum, a sort of Smithsonian for psychology. While the museum idea seemed attractive, Ed Diener and the team quickly realized that an online educational tool could reach far more people and have a greater impact.

“One of the biggest  things we could do would be make college education cheaper. Ed Diener said. “In terms of reaching the most people [the Noba textbook] would be huge…A museum is nice…but this would actually have a bigger impact on the world.”

Noba’s reach isn’t limited to just students. Anyone with an email address can sign up and access the textbook. Noba currently has seventy-six chapters online and plans to add twenty more over the next few months.

“I think it’s a really exciting project that could really change the way we disseminate knowledge.”

The chapters are written by leading experts in the field, and the authors on the project represent some of the best-known researchers in psychology. Traditional introductory textbooks are written by one or two generalists, so Noba’s level of subject-expertise is unique for an introductory text.

Noba authors are excited about the aims of the project as well. “I think it’s a really exciting project that could really change the way we disseminate knowledge,” Stanford Psychology Professor and author of the Emotion and Culture Chapter, Jeanne Tsai said. “I think it’s a really creative way of integrating new technologies into education.”

Lead Editor, Robert Biswas-Diener, hopes those using Noba will feel that they are part of the movement towards open education, and the Noba team has plans to get instructors and students further involved in the project. Noba plans to offer awards to students and instructors who develop the best learning aids.

“We believe that active learning is mostly the learning that will stick with students when they graduate,” Ed Diener explained.  “We hope to give over $ 100,000 in awards to the best projects submitted, and we believe that many of the submitted projects can be offered on our website. Therefore, not only will the projects help future students, but students who compete in the award competition will have a great learning experience in creating their projects.”

You can find out more about the Noba Project, and view its first textbook at nobaproject.com.