The online hit man

Henry Jakubowski’s online biochemistry book has over 405,000 hits

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October 30, 2015

By Mike Killeen

Henry Jakubowski

Professor Henry Jakubowski is the author of an online textbook, "Biochemistry Online: An Approach Based on Chemical Logic."

Photo: Tommy O'Laughlin '13

After 405,000 hits, Henry Jakubowski is still standing.

Fortunately, he's not a boxer or a mixed martial arts fighter. But the professor of chemistry at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University is the author of an online textbook, "Biochemistry Online: An Approach Based on Chemical Logic" that has received (at least) that many hits.

"I'm going to have a party when it hits 500,000," Jakubowski said. "What I'm actually most proud of is not the number of hits, but where they come from. I'm really grateful that it's widely used around the world."

Now, thanks to a $25,484 grant CSB received from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Jakubowski will be able to update the online text - and extend the reach of the book even further.

Jakubowski has collaborated with colleagues from the University of California, Davis; Howard University; Hope College; the University of Arkansas-Little Rock; and Contra Costa Community College District on a STEMWiki (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Hyperlibrary. The largest portion of the BioWiki book is Jakubowski's book.

"Part of the grant will allow me to make it more interactive," Jakubowski said. "It will also allow me to add more chapters on some really, really cool, relevant modern stuff, and add many assessment questions based on the research literature."

The power of the Internet

Jakubowski likes to tell the story of how former CSB/SJU psychology teacher Tom Creed got him to consider doing an online book.

"I was teaching biochemistry, and my handwriting is terrible, and my drawing skills were arrested at the first-grade level," Jakubowski said. "So, I started making PowerPoint pages and posting them online. Then I added captions, and then more explanatory material. A few years later, it was really a book."

"Then I talked to Tom Creed, and he said, 'What do you use a commercially printed textbook for? Have you ever thought of dropping the commercial book and using your online book?' I thought it sounded like a reasonable idea. So, after a while I took his advice and did that."

Initially, Jakubowski said the book was too passive. He started embedding interactive molecular models, graphs and then questions students had to answer before coming to class.

"The advantages of a book like this are one, it's updateable on the fly, and two, it can be interactive in ways that regular hardback books can't be. In my field of biochemistry, advances are occurring on a daily basis," Jakubowski said.

A tip of the hat from Emmer

Minnesota Sixth District Rep. Tom Emmer recognized the grant on the floor of Congress Sept. 24.

Emmer said that science, mathematics and technology "are keys to the future," and that colleges and universities need to place a strong emphasis on those fields so that the U.S. can continue to "evolve, succeed and remain competitive in a constantly developing world."

"That is why I want to commend the College of Saint Benedict here today," Emmer said. "The emphasis you have put on science, mathematics and technology is evident by you receiving this award. Thank you for motivating your students to look toward the future and do what is best for Minnesota, and the United States as a whole."

More hits coming

Jakubowski has been working with Delmar Larsen, associate professor of chemistry at UC Davis, who is developing a series of online books in the STEM areas.

"He (Larsen) and I think STEM textbooks are too expensive, and that there's great online material out there," Jakubowski said. "He's trying to organize this huge STEMWiki project. I will be contributing to the BioWiki as part of this NSF grant."

Jakubowski's online text was added to UC Davis BioWiki years ago.

"I actually probably have more than 405,000 hits, because my book is being used by other people through the BioWiki. So, that (number) probably represents an underestimate," Jakubowski said. He hopes the grant will speed up the date for his "hit party."

And yes, he's still standing.