There was some interest in my post yesterday about what I called “generative textbooks,” but based on people’s comments I don’t know that I explained the idea very clearly.
The idea of a “generative textbook” is that, instead of containing instructional content, it provides the learner with a series of prompts they can use to elicit information from a large language model like ChatGPT. Here’s a brief example to clarify what I mean.
For an example of a section from a traditional textbook, scan this page about sleep from OpenStax’s Introduction to Psychology textbook.
The generative textbook version of the section on sleep might look something like the following. Notice that, unlike the static version of the textbook, the generative version includes open-ended, automatically graded formative assessments. You should try the prompts out in ChatGPT to get a feel for the experience.
- What are the REM and NREM stages of sleep?
- What are the stages of NREM sleep?
- Describe each stage of NREM sleep in more detail, including the brain waves associated with each stage.
- What are sleep spindles?
- What is a K-complex?
- Create five questions that will test my understanding of NREM sleep. Ask me the questions one at a time, wait for my answer, then give me feedback. Then ask the next question.
- What is REM sleep?
- What happens when people are deprived of REM sleep?
- Create five questions that will test my understanding of REM sleep. Ask me the questions one at a time, wait for my answer, then give me feedback. Then ask the next question.
- What did each of the following individuals think about dreams? Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Rosalind Cartwright, and Alan Hobson.
- What are manifest content and latent content?
- What is the collective unconscious?
- What are lucid dreams?
- Create five questions that will test my understanding of dreams. Ask me the questions one at a time, wait for my answer, then give me feedback. Then ask the next question.
- If I were going to create a glossary of important terms related to our conversation about sleep above, what words should I include in it?
I’m not making any claims about generative textbooks relative to traditional ones. But hypotheses one might consider include – “students will find generative textbooks more engaging than traditional textbooks,” “students will find generative textbooks annoying,” “students will go deeper and explore more content when using generative textbooks than traditional textbooks,” “students won’t engage with the formative assessments in generative textbooks if they don’t count toward their grades,” and “higher levels of engagement associated with using generative textbooks will lead to better outcomes for the students who use them.”
You may have noticed that, as it appears above, there are no images in this section of our sample generative textbook. That’s a solvable problem, but I’m not taking the time to solve it for this example.
Please remember – there’s more to education that textbooks. As you think about the possibilities implied by generative textbooks, think about them relative to in-class active learning activities, lectures, online discussions, labs, etc.