Category Archives: Textbooks

June 28, 2014, 9:57 am

Grand challenges for mathematics education

1054180042_90c9dace1c_mOn Twitter this week, someone sent out a link to this survey from the NCTM asking users to submit their ideas for “grand challenges” for mathematics education in the coming years. I forget the precise definition and parameters for a “grand challenge” and I can’t go back to the beginning of the survey now that I’ve completed it, but the gist is that a grand challenge should be “extremely difficult but doable”, should make a positive impact on a large group of mathematics students, and should be grounded in sound pedagogical research.

To that list of parameters, I added that the result of any grand challenge should include a set of free, open-source materials or freely-available research studies that anyone can obtain and use without having to subscribe to a journal, belong to a particular institution, or use a particular brand of published curricula. In other words, one…

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April 14, 2014, 2:57 pm

The hidden costs of unsolicited textbooks — a view from the mailroom

Back in January I posted an article calling for an end to unsolicited review copies of textbooks being sent to professors. Interestingly, on Reddit a student at my university who works for the mail services department did an AMA, and I had the chance to ask: What kind of impact does it make on the university, from an infrastructure or mail services point of view, to have all these unsolicited books being sent in? Keep in mind that we’re a public university of 24,000 students and lots and lots of faculty. Here are some highlights from his response, which I thought was pretty interesting though not totally surprising:

Ugh, I HATE those! Nobody wants them, nobody asks for them, and they take up valuable space in our truck and our holding area.

As far as the cost it passes onto us, it’s definitely hard to quantify, but I can tell you all the different ways we waste time on those…

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January 29, 2014, 5:17 pm

An end to unsolicited review copies of textbooks, please

2014-01-29 16.29.42The picture you see here is my afternoon mail today. It consists of two copies of a new Calculus text (hardcover), two copies of another Calculus text (hardcover), and one copy of an intermediate algebra text (softcover).

I did not request a single one of these. I certainly did not request duplicates of two of them. The last time I taught intermediate algebra was the mid-1990′s. I am not on a committee that selects textbooks. I have no use for these books other than to prop open a door. So why did I get them? I have no idea.

When I think about the waste and expense of these unsolicited review copies of textbooks, it makes me downright angry. I went to UPS.com and used a back-of-the-envelope estimate of weight and shipping distance, and got that the total package of these books would have cost about $20 to ship to me from its point of origin. That’s not a large sum, but how many…

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August 13, 2012, 8:00 am

A free and open-source calculus textbook

Allow me to make a shameless plug for a very cool project currently underway by my GVSU colleague Matt Boelkins. He is writing a free, open-source calculus textbook that will be available in PDF form online for anyone to use and for any instructor to modify. He has already written the differential calculus portion of the textbook — his Winter semester sabbatical project — and he’s about to begin work on the integral calculus portion. You can download the differential calculus parts here. This is at his blog, where he is promoting the book and soliciting feedback. Matt’s also on Twitter.

Matt and I have talked about this project a lot in the last several months, and I’m deeply impressed by his vision for what this resource could become. He sums it up in this blog post:

While on sabbatical during the winter semester of 2012, I began drafting a free, open-source calculus text….

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May 17, 2012, 12:15 pm

What constitutes peer review for textbooks — and who cares?

Via Inside Higher Ed, The University of Minnesota has started a web site to curate “open source” textbooks in a variety of subject areas. Right now, the mathematics selection consists of 15 titles, many of which can be considered open-access classics, including Strang’s Calculus, Bob Beezer’s “A First Course in Linear Algebra”, Tom Judson’s excellent Abstract Algebra: Theory and Applications, and the Whitman Calculus book. In other words, these aren’t new titles created specifically for this website. But it’s nice to have these all curated in the same place. (I don’t know if UMN plans on solicit new works specifically for their website.)

The claim here is that open-access books** tend to have slow adoption rates because of the lack of “peer review” (and also because many faculty don’t know that open-access resources are out there), and the UMN website will provide some of that review …

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September 29, 2011, 4:20 pm

Will the Fire burn its way into higher ed?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/ichibod/

In case you didn’t hear, Amazon has announced a major upgrade to the entire line of Kindle devices, including a new 7″ tablet device called the Kindle Fire. The Fire won’t be released until November 15, but already the phrase “iPad killer” is being used to describe it. Wired Campus blogger Jeff Young put up a brief post yesterday with a roundup of quick takes on the Fire’s potential in higher education. One of those thoughts was mine. I’ve had some time to look around at what we know about the Fire at this point. I have to say I am still skeptical about the Fire in higher education.

It seems like the Fire is a very well-made device. I’m not so interested in getting one for myself — I’ve got a current-generation Kindle and an iPhone 4, and am very happy with both …

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October 13, 2010, 7:42 pm

More enVisionMATH: Adding "near doubles"

The last post about enVisionMATH and how I, as a math person and dad, go about trying to make sense of what my 6-year old brings home from first grade seems to have struck a chord among parents. The comments have been outstanding and there seems to be a real need for this kind of conversation. So I have a few more such posts coming up soon, starting with this one.

The 6-year old brought this home on Monday. Click to enlarge:

It’s about adding “near doubles”, like 3 + 4 or 2 + 3. In case you can’t read the top part or can’t enlarge the photo, here are the steps — yes, there are steps, and that’s kind of the point of this post — for adding near doubles:

  1. “You can use a double to add a near double.” It gives: 4 + 5 and shows four blue balls and five green balls.
  2. “First double the 4″. It shows 4 + 4 = 8, and the four blue balls, and four of the green balls with the extra green ball…

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August 8, 2010, 12:47 pm

Calculus and conceptual frameworks

Image via http://www.flickr.com/photos/loopzilla/

I was having a conversation recently with a colleague who might be teaching a section of our intro programming course this fall. In sharing my experiences about teaching programming from the MATLAB course, I mentioned that the thing that is really hard about teaching programming is that students often lack a conceptual framework for what they’re learning. That is, they lack a mental structure into which they can place the topics and concepts they’re learning and then see those ideas in their proper place and relationship to each other. Expert learners — like some students who are taking an intro programming course but have been coding since they were 6 years old — have this framework, and the course is a breeze. Others, possibly a large majority of…

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July 29, 2010, 11:39 am

The Kindle evolves again

Image from Amazon.com

Update: Here’s an overview video of the new Kindle.

Amazon today unveiled the third generation of its Kindle ebook readers. The new devices, which will ship beginning August 27, will be smaller (21% reduction in size, while keeping the same size screen) and lighter (8.7 ounces) than the current generation of Kindles, with double the storage capacity, improved contrast and fonts, and built-in WiFi. Most importantly is the price point: $189, with a $139 WiFi-only model also being offered.

When Amazon first sold the Kindle, I roundly criticized it (here, here, and here; and then here for the second generation Kindles) as a good idea but lacking several deal-breaking features that should have been obvious, and would have been inexpensive, to include. I also thought the price point –…

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April 3, 2010, 6:07 am

Is the iPad really what students need?

Dave Caolo believes that students are one of the four groups of people who will make the iPad huge, because:

Students are on a fixed budget, and e-books are typically cheaper than their paper-based counterparts. Also, consider all of the money publishers lose when students buy used books from the campus bookstores. Additionally, Apple can distribute textbooks through iTunes U — an established and proven system that students, faculty and staff already know how to use.

Suddenly the iPad is a device that follows a student from his/her freshman year of high school all the way through graduate school. Why buy a laptop when every student has a device that can be a textbook, reference tool, Internet appliance and whatever else the imaginations of developers can dream up?

I do believe that the iPad’s success will be closely tied to its success in the EDU sector, but Caolo’s analysis misses…

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