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.
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.
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.
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. [...]
So 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…
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…
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…
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…
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…
I’ve been enjoying Quintessence of Dust, the blog of Calvin College biologist Stephen Matheson, quite a lot lately. It’s a high-level but clearly-written excursion through all sorts of issues in biology — including evolution, though not from the stance you might be used to coming from a Christian.
Anyway, two cool things from this blog today:
This incredible optical illusion, attached to a neuroscience-related article explaining how it works and how it relates to the brain’s processes of interpreting visual information. I agree with Matheson’s remark: “If you have built your worldview around the perfection of your sensory input, you might want to skip this one.”
This online biology textbook from an Arzona community college. I don’t have a print copy of a biology textbook to compare it with, and can scarcely remember enough biology from college to know how even to make such a…
Here’s a promotional video for a new math curriculum from Pearson called enVisionMATH. (It must be a sign of the times that grade school math curricula have promotional videos.) Watch carefully.
Four questions about this:
Should it be a requirement of parenthood that you must remember enough 5th grade math to teach it halfway decently to your kids?
Does the smartboard come included with the textbooks?
Did anybody else have the overwhelming urge to yell “Bingo!” after about 2 minutes in?
When will textbook companies stop drawing the conclusion that because kids today like to play video games, talk on cell phones, and listen to MP3 players, that they are therefore learning in a fundamentally different way than anybody else in history?
I am a mathematician and educator with interests in cryptology, computer science, and STEM education. I am affiliated with the Mathematics Department at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan. The views here are my own and are not necessarily shared by GVSU.
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