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Textbook project receives funding from Open Educational Resources Initiative

Digitizing popular hydrogeology textbook saves students money
October 4, 2016
Interns Aimee Lo, left, and Tory LaLiberte, right, are developing a web version of the hydrogeology textbook Groundwater under the supervision of Cathy Ryan, a professor in the Department of Geoscience and administrative director of the GW2.0 project. Photos by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Interns Aimee Lo, left, and Tory LaLiberte, right, are developing a web version of the hydrogeology textbook Groundwater under the supervision of Cathy Ryan, a professor in the Department of Geoscience and administrative director of the GW2.0 project. Photos by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary 

The web version of Groundwater will help communicate advanced groundwater science to groups in developing countries.

This fall, 140 University of Calgary students are paying a little less for their textbooks. These savings are the result of a project that acquired permission to digitize the highly cited but out-of-print book Groundwater and make it available online and free. Now the creation of an updated web version of the textbook is underway.

Hydrogeologists Without Borders (HWB) is a Canadian non-profit based in Calgary and one of its goals is to make the 1979 Groundwater textbook available online. This is a first step in a process to update the textbook via invited chapter contributions from select hydrogeologists worldwide.

A free PDF version of the textbook became available on the organization’s website in May of this year. In July, development work began on the new web version.

Department of Geoscience professor Cathy Ryan, a member of HWB, is the administrative director of the GW2.0 project. “Groundwater is considered the classic by hydrogeologists around the world,” says Ryan. “HWB is very fortunate that when Pearson Publishing gave copyright permission back to co-authors Alan Freeze and John Cherry — these gentlemen, in turn, gave our organization permission to make the book available online and at no cost to users.”

Open Educational Resources provides valuable project funding

Funding received from Alberta Open Educational Resources enabled Ryan to hire two interns who are working on the textbook’s website design.

Aimee Lo is a recent graduate from the University of Calgary’s Urban Studies program and Tory LaLiberte is completing her degree in the Information Design Studies at Mount Royal University. Both are finding the work rewarding and challenging.

“Programs I learned and skills I developed in my urban studies program transfer easily to this project,” Lo explains. “To transcribe 600 pages of text, we use an optimal character recognition app.”

LaLiberte adds, “We’re co-ordinating with volunteers at the University of Ottawa who are also transcribing the text. So it’s very detailed work but also very interesting.”

Lo and LaLiberte’s biggest challenge with the GW2.0 project is figuring out how to display the textbook information on the website — including images, equations and tables — in a way that will be really helpful for users. Tracking down individuals for copyright permission for the figures in the textbook is also difficult at times.

GW2.0 will benefit students, teachers and organizations around the globe

According to Ryan, one of HWB’s missions is to help developing countries build their capacity to provide safe, sustainable water supplies. The GW2.0 project is one way to communicate advanced groundwater science to groups in these regions who may not have access to this kind of information.

“The new web version of the book will be a living document,” says Ryan. “Eventually chapters will be edited and new ones added. The 1979 version is currently being translated into Spanish and Portuguese by HWB volunteers in those countries. Additional translations are being planned as well as the inclusion of supplemental learning materials such as videos of laboratory and fieldwork demonstrations.”

“We believe GW2.0 will have a broad impact," Ryan adds. "Yes, our students will benefit from access to the textbook at no cost but our ultimate goal is to make this valuable resource available to people around the globe who are more dependent on groundwater for their survival.”