Distributed Proofreaders Initiative

This initiative focuses on creating a win-win-win partnership between students, schoolboards and Distributed Proofreaders/Project Gutenberg.

Project Gutenberg is an online repository of knowledge.  It currently hosts over 54,000 books from throughout world history, representing possibly the largest, most universally accessible library in the world.

This is a very noble pursuit, and many organizations are working together to expand the access to material.   Currently, there is a significant backlog of material that has been scanned and uploaded via OCR, but requires proofreading to ensure there are no errors in the texts.

Distributed Proofreaders is a Not for Profit organization that provides the proofreading service for books destined for Project Gutenberg.  There are also Canadian specific offshoots of both Distributed Proofreaders and Project Gutenberg.

In the current setup, there is a backlog of work, a largely self-contained, knowledgeable network unable to keep up, and an untapped student body that is ostensibly supposed to be learning these skills.  I hope I am not the only one who sees a recipe for potential here.

The work at Distributed Proofreaders is almost completely performed by a volunteer community. It is free to signup for and has a lot of very helpful on-boarding resources and numerous feedback loops built into the software / dashboard they use.  The Canadian version even pairs you with a mentor when you sign up, in order to further assist getting new members oriented and up and running.

A very intelligent peer-review structure is used, where first level editors will read the initial scan and make a series of corrections focused mainly on fixing words, character gaps, and punctuation.  The work performed by these editors then gets reviewed by a second level editor, who will correct any errors before sending for a third level review.  The second level editor will also send the original editor guides and materials they believe will help the original editor improve for their next time.

The second and third level editors are also taking layout into account and making further stylistic changes, although never altering the original content of the work.   Once the book has made it through all review stages, it gets sent to Project Gutenberg for publication.

From a program management perspective:

The Distributed Proofreaders dashboard provides a summary of all work performed, and is also full of guides and examples of proper grammar, syntax etc.

I’m sure there are ways to structure a program for additional benefits, but these are the things that come top of mind to me.   I think it would be pretty cool to look back at the end of the school year and be able to say as a class they contributed 5 books to Project Gutenberg.  You could even let students pick the functional area of what they are transcribing / editing (history, literature, etc) in order to better capture their interest and passion.

To recap, this is an initiative that:

– Has very little or no implementation cost (Registration is free, all tracking tools come standard in Distributed Proofreaders)

– Would help provide students access to additional resources and feedback (edits made by first level proofreaders are then subject to second and third reviews, and mistakes are bounced back to first level editors for correction. Feedback includes referring students to appropriate reference guides to self-correct)

– Is trackable on an individual level ( work in progress summaries, as well as total contribution records – able to track number of pages worked on, submitted, accepted, level of difficulty)

– Has scaleable levels of difficulty (material is listed from easy to difficult), which could then be assigned based on student’s individual level of skill

– Has students actively contributing to preserving the knowledge and literary works of our society (positive social involvement)

– Is an activity that could contribute to their required community services / volunteer hours

– Will expose students to a wider range of subject material

– Will drive membership and exposure of Distributed Proofreaders and Project Gutenberg initiatives, fostering a ‘literacy for life’ approach