Tag Archives: Textbooks

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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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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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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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 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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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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December 8, 2007, 12:24 pm

Outlines for textbook affordability

Via Vlorbik, here’s a letter to the editor (PDF) of the AMS Notices by Seymour Lipschutz extolling the virtues of Schaum’s Outlines as course texts and giving some suggestions for those choosing textbooks.

I agree with Lipschutz’ feelings about Schaum’s Outlines, up to a point. I’m a big fan of Schaum’s Outlines; they cost less than $20 and are loaded with precise, succint summaries of course material and worked-out problems. I
survived college physics and advanced calculus largely because of my now-battered Schaum’s Outlines for those subjects. I ordered the latest edition of the differential equations Outlines as I was considering using it for my DE course next semester, and I liked what I saw very much; and the publisher sent me a gratis copy of the beginning calculus Outlines and it was very good as well. I will be suggesting these outlines strongly to the students in those courses….

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