Amy Ko authors new book for intro Informatics class

Amy J. Ko, a professor and Informatics program chair at the University of Washington Information School, recently published a book, titled “Foundations of Information,” that examines the application of information in today’s digital world.  

Photo of Amy J. Ko
Amy J. Ko recently published a new book about information.

The book covers topics such as what information is; how it relates to systems of power; how we use technology to make it work; and how these ideas apply to design, automation, health data science, democracy, and sustainability. Ko aims to simplify “powerful ideas” about information for undergraduate students.

“Each chapter is essentially an accessible summary of the big ideas in research,” Ko said. 

The book is the primary textbook for Ko’s version of the Informatics introductory class, INFO 200: Intellectual Foundations of Information. Ko has been teaching this class for many years and often had difficulty finding engaging materials for students to read.

“I wrote this book as a gateway into the topics of the course, providing a broad overview of major topics in information, and links into the deeper research and popular literature,” she said.

The web-first format of Ko’s new book is beneficial for both the author and readers, Ko said. She can update the text as the course progresses, add vivid content, such as images, videos and podcasts, and provide links to resources on the internet.

“Unlike a traditional book, this one will change, evolving as my knowledge and our collective knowledge about information grows,” Ko said. 

Moreover, Ko allows students to give feedback on the content. Since she hosts a copy on a Github repository, students can submit an issue to notify Ko of their critique. Changes can be as small as a spelling error or as large as a new chapter. 

When teaching the book this spring quarter, Ko found that students have reacted positively to the new book, her Medium article reads.  

“Students report loving the personal way of starting each chapter, the clarity of the writing, the way that every topic engages questions of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice, and the way that supplementary readings and podcasts take them deep into academia or out into the broader world of media,” Ko wrote. 

For students, the best quarters are often the ones that come with affordable textbooks and Ko’s new book delivers just that – Foundations of Information is available online for free, making reading more accessible for students who rely on screen readers and for those on a budget. 

“I hope many people read it and that many teachers find it a valuable resource for teaching about information!” Ko said.