Category Archives: Textbooks

February 10, 2010, 9:49 pm

Resources for the MATLAB class

A three-dimentional wireframe plot of the unno...
Image via Wikipedia

We’ve had one full meeting of Computer Tools for Problem Solving (the MATLAB course I’ve blogged about). According to the survey I’m having students fill out on our Moodle site, it went pretty well, even if it was a little like drinking from a fire hose. This first meeting was a lengthy guided tour of all the core features of MATLAB, assuming no prior knowledge of computer algebra systems or programming. Subsequent meetings will be a lot more hands-on, with students working in groups on lab activities centered around a particular topic or problem. This next week it’s graphing, for instance, and students will be creating all kinds of different plots of data and functions.

Students prepare for these activities through out-of-class reading and viewing assignments and through homework assignments that are intended both to pull together the material they learned in week…

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February 8, 2010, 7:00 am

A simple idea for publishers to help students (and themselves)

OXFORD, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 08:  A student reads...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

I’m doing some research, if you can call it that, right now that involves looking at past editions of popular and/or influential calculus books to track the evolution of how certain concepts are developed and presented. I’ll have a lot to say on this if I ever get anywhere with it. But in the course of reading, I have been struck with how little some books change over the course of several editions. For example, the classic Stewart text has retained the exact wording and presentation in its section on concavity in every edition since the first, which was released in the mid-80′s. There’s nothing wrong with sticking with a particular way of doing things, if it works; but you have to ask yourself, does it really work? And if so, why are we now on the sixth edition of the book? I know that books need refreshing from time to time, but five times in 15…

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April 23, 2009, 2:17 pm

A business model for free content

In a comment on an earlier post, I said I would try to blog about Flat World Knowledge and their business model soon. Here’s a 20-minute video that goes over this business model which allows textbooks to be free but still provides compensation to authors.

[vodpod id=Groupvideo.2414983&w=425&h=350&fv=thumb%3Dhttp%3A%2F%2Fcontent.screencast.com%2Fusers%2FEricFrank%2Ffolders%2FDefault%2Fmedia%2F21098702-63cc-4cd4-ac5a-9f9a3f0b8bcc%2FFirstFrame.jpg%26containerwidth%3D640%26containerheight%3D498%26content%3Dhttp%3A%2F%2Fcontent.screencast.com%2Fusers%2FEricFrank%2Ffolders%2FDefault%2Fmedia%2F21098702-63cc-4cd4-ac5a-9f9a3f0b8bcc%2FOverview%2520of%2520Flat%2520World%2520Knowledge%2520Business%2520Model.swf]

more about “A business model for free content“, posted with vodpod

Again: Free textbooks can be done; it just requires a different approach than the one we’re used to.

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April 22, 2009, 5:19 am

Free textbooks: It can be done

The last time I taught abstract algebra, I used no textbook but rather my own homemade notes. That went reasonably well, but in doing initial preps for teaching the course again this coming fall I realized my notes needed a serious overhaul; and since I’m playing stay-at-home dad to three kids under 6 this summer, this is looking more like a sabbatical project than something I can get done before August. So last month I set about auditioning textbooks.

I looked at the usual suspects — the excellent book by Joe Gallian which I’ve used before and really liked, Hungerford’s undergraduate text*, Rotman — but in the end,  I went with Abstract Algebra: Theory and Applications by Tom Judson. I would say it’s comparable to Gallian, with a little more flexibility in the topic sequencing and a greater, more integrated treatment of applications to coding theory and cryptography. (This last was …

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April 6, 2009, 12:58 pm

Where the money for your calculus book goes

stewart

You too can own a massive house if you sell enough calculus books.

There’s a new, five-story, 18000 square foot, $24 million house in Toronto that is built of curves and glass and boasts its own professional-quality concert hall. The owner? Not a billionaire financier, head of state, movie or sports star, or anything of the sort — it’s James Stewart, author of the Stewart Calculus franchise of books.

From the Wall Street Journal article:

As visitors descend into the house, the fins disappear and the views widen. On the first floor, push a button and a 24-foot wall of glass windows vanishes into the floor, opening the pool area to the outside. Curves are everywhere, down to the custom door handles and light fixtures. The architects are even working with Steinway to create a coordinating piano. [...]

An…

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March 3, 2009, 3:53 pm

Still not Kindled

kindle2So Amazon.com has released the Kindle 2, to mostly positive reviews. But I think Amazon missed several opportunities to make the Kindle 2 a must-have device for people who work with text content. I outlined these opportunities back in November 2007 in this blog post. Let’s check them off: 

  • Native PDF support: No. By “native support” I mean that if I have a document that I want to put on my Kindle and view, I ought to be able to do so easily and free of charge, and it ought to look on my Kindle as it would if I had printed it. But this is not the case for the Kindle 2. To get a PDF or other kind of document onto your Kindle, you have to email it as an attachment and have Amazon do it — for a price of $0.10 per document. And even then, according to Amazon’s specs, you may get a PDF whose formatting is completely out of whack if the PDF is “complex”, which for mathematical documents it…

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February 26, 2009, 12:12 pm

Why do we overcomplicate calculus like this?

A labelled tangent to a curve. Created to repl...
Image via Wikipedia

In the Stewart calculus text, which we use here, the first chapter is essentially a precalculus review. The second chapter opens up with a treatment of tangent lines and velocities, with the idea of secant line slopes converging to tangent line slopes and average velocities converging to instantaneous velocities taking center stage.

Calculating average velocity is just a matter of identifying two time values and two position values and then performing two subtractions and a division. It is not complicated. Doing this several times for shorter and shorter time periods is also not complicated, and then using the results to guess the instantaneous velocity is a little complicated but not that bad once you understand the (essentially qualitative, not quantitative) idea behind shrinking the length of the interval to get an instantaneous value out of a sequence of…

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September 11, 2008, 3:55 pm

iPod update: A new hope

So at the end of the comment thread on my iPod lust decision process about whether or not to buy a new iPod touch, I concluded somewhat glumly that I had probably better wait until the gap between what I’d saved up and what the 32 GB model costs is made up somehow. I am happy to announce the gap has been closed, and then some, thanks to the dude that comes around every now and then to buy back textbooks. He just happened to drop in this afternoon, and I freakin’ unloaded, to the tune of three dozen books sold back. (My shelves are happy too.)

In case you’re unfamiliar with this process, there are people who make a living off of coming by professors’ offices and purchasing unused books for cash (at a rate far less than their retail value)  and then selling them to the open market. Ever wonder where those used books in the college bookstore come from? Some of them come from students, but…

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August 17, 2008, 11:33 am

Sunday reading: Editorial on high textbook prices

The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette has this article today by Karen Francisco which is an excellent, if troubling, survey of the problem of rising textbook costs and the things people are doing to offset those costs. I was interviewed by Ms. Francisco last week for this article, and I am happy to say that unlike in my previous newspaper interview experience, she got my comments exactly right (and asked if my name and position could appear in the interview). Here’s what I had to say, although you should read the whole thing:

Robert Talbert, an associate professor of mathematics and computing science at Indiana’s Franklin College, is one of several hundred U.S. college faculty members who have signed on to PIRG’s online pledge to help control textbook costs. He’s passionate about the issue.

“Many of my students are either first-generation college students, students from middle- to…

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April 23, 2008, 8:27 am

What are the "great books" of mathematics?

I was looking at the web sites of a few colleges the other day which use a “Great Books” curriculum. This is an approach to a core curriculum in which students work their way through a listing of the great books from the past, across a variety of disciplines. Here’s an example from Thomas Aquinas College, a highly-regarded Catholic liberal arts college in Santa Paula, California. St. John’s College is probably the best-known example; I remember getting a mailer from them when I was a senior in high school, and I was fascinated by the idea of attending a Great Books university at the time.  There are also a few public universities which offer a great books curriculum as an option within the larger curricular structure of the university, for example as part of an honors program. 

Apparently Mortimer Adler is credited with coining the concept of the Great Books, and he gives three…

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