Indiana State University Newsroom

Guell’s textbook selected artificial intelligence technology

November 29, 2017

Imagine opening up a smartphone, tablet or computer and having at your hands textbook content with detailed explanations, real-world examples of its application, and questions to check understanding. Imagine the quality of your answers causing adjustments to how much (or how little) more you see of that content.

That kind of adaptive content will be available to college students through the newest project of Indiana State University economics Professor Bob Guell. Already the author of "Issues in Economics Today," a McGraw-Hill textbook in its 8th edition, Guell expects to complete the new "Principles of Economics" text by 2019.

Guell's new textbook will be offered through entirely electronic delivery using software designed to recognize what device a student is reading it on - a computer, tablet, or smartphone - so the content can be delivered the best way for that device.

"The idea is that the textbook company will deliver the content to the device a student wants," Guell said. "It will deliver the content the faculty member chooses. It will adapt to the student by recognizing what they are understanding and what they are not."

Guell was assisted with the update to the 8th edition of "Issues in Economics Today" by Indiana State alumna Kelsey Darin, '17. That project was completed just as she was graduating. Darin worked as a freelancer on the current project through the summer and fall before being hired by McGraw-Hill as a full-time product developer in the company's Chicago office.

Guell anticipates the largest market for the textbook's all-electronic version to be entrepreneurial or private institutions, but he expects this is how textbook material will someday be delivered to all students without regard to institutional type.

McGraw-Hill is moving in this direction across multiple disciplinary areas. As McGraw-Hill's lead subject matter expert for the economics textbook, Guell said the format presented different challenges in writing than the traditional textbook.

"One of the demands of this idea is that faculty don't have to move through a set of content in a linear fashion, like they are typically expected to do with a traditional textbook," he said. "That assumption goes away in this format, so you have to be clear about what predicate knowledge is and not assume that people are going to do things in the way you assume they're going to do it. As a matter of fact, there are no chapter numbers, just topics."

Guell is dusting off content from an economics textbook he wrote starting 10 years ago, but is adapting the writing to deliver the lessons in self-contained nuggets, or what will fit in a two- to five-minute reading and quizzing experience.

"It is going to look and feel way different than a typical textbook. We've done four chapters, and parts of two others and it is almost unrecognizable from its previous form," Guell said.

The primary benefit to students, though, is that when they get small amounts of material and adaptive quizzing, it is much harder for them to move beyond material without understanding it.

"It's sort of a self-disciplining mechanism to say, ‘Nope, I have to get this right before I move forward.' It gives you every opportunity to learn material in a variety of ways, whether it's with a real-world example or a diagram broken out with detailed explanations," Guell said.

The early chapters are being reviewed this late fall and into the spring. The goal is for the product to be available for commercial use by 2020.

"This will not look or feel the same, but the hope is that the look and feel is better for students," Guell said. "For textbook companies, the hope is that it looks and feels better while being cheaper to produce. For universities, the hope is that it looks and feels better and costs its students less."


Photo: - Bob Guell

Writer: Betsy Simon, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-7972 or