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Open Source Textbook For Computer Literacy?

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the just-ask-russie-poo dept.

Books 95

dcollins writes "The college where I work has decided to forego ordering a textbook for the computer class that I teach this fall. Does anyone know of a free, open-source textbook for basic computer literacy concepts (overview of hardware, software, operating systems, and file systems)?"

cancel ×

95 comments

You could always write one... (5, Interesting)

BabaChazz (917957) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998017)

And get the class to help. Contributions count towards the class grade, of course. http://en.wikibooks.org/ [wikibooks.org]

Re:You could always write one... (1)

Annwvyn (1611587) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998033)

That's actually pretty sweet... never seen wikibooks before. :) Thanks for the link.

Re:You could always write one... (3, Informative)

_Sharp'r_ (649297) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998195)

Here's your whole job done already:
MIT OpenCourseWare - Intro to Computer Science [mit.edu]
If you need some more advanced concepts:
Full Course list [mit.edu]

Now how can I get a cake college teaching job where someone who is supposed to know all about information systems can't find stuff like this in the two seconds with google it took me? I suppose they just don't pay enough for employees...

Re:You could always write one... (3, Insightful)

Forge (2456) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998327)

Great resource. Except this course starts out a few steps beyond "computer literacy".

Re:You could always write one... (4, Informative)

sys.stdout.write (1551563) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998609)

There is also a bill being pushed through the House (H.R. 1464 [govtrack.us] ) to create open source textbooks at a college level.

The idea is that there are plenty of retired professors who would love to write chapter seven of the official (say) thermodynamics textbook. There are worse things you could do today than e-mailing your congressman and telling them you support this..

Re:You could always write one... (2, Insightful)

jadavis (473492) | more than 4 years ago | (#29002725)

As much as I like the idea of free textbooks, there are two things that bother me:

1. Why are we calling them "open source"? All books are open source, by definition. They may not be free-as-in-freedom, and probably not even in digital form, but all the valuable parts are open source.

2. I don't really think free-as-in-freedom digital textbooks are that high of a priority. The analog versions are quite free. You can share them with a friend legally, and many people do. There are even institutions dedicated for this specific purpose. Additionally, books are quite cheap. I bought at least 5 books recently which would be considered textbooks (I just wanted to read them) and they probably averaged just over $20 including shipping. The average MSRP was probably around $120. Why so cheap? Because I'm willing to purchase a "like-new" book rather than a new book, and I might even be willing to (gasp) purchase one edition earlier than the most current. I'm also willing to wait a week for shipping.

So, it's not like knowledge is being held captive here. There's a complaint that public schools and college professors tend to do whatever the publishers tell them to do (Why not? It's not like they're spending their own money.), which is valid. However, does the presence of a free textbook really change matters?

Again, I like the idea of a free textbook, but I'm not sure it's really a big deal. Free software on phones is orders of magnitude more important.

I suppose the equation might be different in poor countries where the cost of printing is prohibitive. However, computers might also not be as available, so I still don't see a major difference.

Re:You could always write one... (2, Informative)

raktul (1610161) | more than 4 years ago | (#29004587)

The reason its considered open source book, is because anyone(or within reason) can submit/make changes to the book. This means the information remains up to date, and no legal problems will occur if you distribute the book.

Re:You could always write one... (1)

weilawei (897823) | more than 4 years ago | (#29004859)

I love the troll, but you're trying to start off by redefining the usual meaning of Open Source.

Open Source doesn't mean you can steal it if you have to. It means you're Free (As In Freedom) to use, modify, and share it.

Re:You could always write one... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29030835)

When you have to buy books for medicine or neuroscience (and even some good physics ones) then dont average just over 20 they cost about 120 per book if you're lucky.

Re:You could always write one... (3, Insightful)

jdeisenberg (37914) | more than 4 years ago | (#28999473)

Note that the instructor wants to teach computer *literacy*, not computer *science*. Those are not one and the same. The MIT course is excellent indeed, but it does not cover such topics as "what is a database" or "what is a LAN and how do I set one up for my home" or "what is the difference between Open Source and shareware". These are topics which don't belong in an introduction to computer science, but would be appropriate for a computer literacy course.

Re:You could always write one... (1)

Hobart (32767) | more than 4 years ago | (#28999835)

Here's your whole job done already:
MIT OpenCourseWare - Intro to Computer Science [mit.edu]

Wow. That's the first OCW link I've seen where click Syllabus doesn't take you to an expensive-as-hell textbook you need to follow the material. I'm impressed.

Re:You could always write one... (1)

Aphonia (1315785) | more than 4 years ago | (#29010865)

http://www.cs.princeton.edu/introcs/home/ [princeton.edu]

sedgewick has some stuff there.

you can also look through a place like lulu.com - a lot of authors who print there also have free copies of their books online.

Another resource that might be worth it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28998455)

Free programming books [e-booksdirectory.com] .

I don't know if there is anything that the submitter wants to use but might well be. There is a lot of free e-books (link is to the programming section). Some of them are outdated no doubt (from 1980s...) but others are pretty new (the newest ones from 2009).

I just found that site two days ago or so and haven't had time to read any of those yet so can't guarantee anything about their quality.

Re:You could always write one... (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28999209)

Considering this is an introductory class, writing a whole book might be a little much when it's unlikely the students are familiar with the subject. I'm not saying the students can't contribute their notes to an existing project, but making the whole class be just writing the book....
.
I would have recommended this link instead:
Wikibooks:Featured books [wikibooks.org]
.
The problem with Wikibooks is much the same problem with open source in general. While finding a books related to the subject you are interested in is easy, finding one that was completed to a usable state before being abandoned is a different matter.
.
These two look like they might be a good starting point for the author:
Basic Computing Using Windows [wikibooks.org]
How To Assemble A Desktop PC [wikibooks.org]
.
There's also the much overlooked:
http://en.wikiversity.org/ [wikiversity.org]
And Wikiversity Featured resources [wikiversity.org]
.
This one might also be useful as well:
Introduction to Computers [wikiversity.org]

Re:You could always write one... (1)

dcollins (135727) | more than 4 years ago | (#29003989)

This is the most useful post I've seen in the last day -- The last link looks like something I could definitely use. Thanks so much. (And, wish I had mod points.)

Re:You could always write one... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28999477)

some really good lecture notes here:
http://heather.cs.ucdavis.edu/~matloff/50/Hwk.html

No need (1, Insightful)

unlametheweak (1102159) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998021)

If you are going to teach, then a text book is redundant. Students only need to study from their notes, otherwise a library should suffice for extra curricular learning.

Re:No need (5, Interesting)

Brian Gordon (987471) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998179)

Lecture notes are no substitute for a well-written textbook. Lecture notes are for when you learn in class, and then remind yourself for the test. But you really should be learning from your coursework and using lecture time to just try to absorb as much insight as possible from the masters..
 
I've had professors who expect us to learn from the course materials. They don't repeat the same thing that's in the textbook because that's a total waste of time. They do what a professor should: provide insights not in the book, share real-world experience (if applicable), and answer questions.

Re:No need (3, Interesting)

unlametheweak (1102159) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998271)

That really all depends on your own definition of "teach" and probably on some teaching paradigms that have been used on you. Everything can be taught via a text book (it would save money on hiring teachers). Or everything could be taught through a teacher, or a school could use your hybrid method. There is no "best" way to learn, though my option at least saves the expense of a text book while helping to ensure that the teacher is actually capable of teaching instead of just regurgitating. And the reality is that text books are a waste of money because there will be hardly any students who read them or study from them, except on a very rudimentary level. Even most "reference" works will be a waste of money for most students.

Re:No need (3, Interesting)

maharb (1534501) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998859)

If you are talking facts and figures you are correct. Some teaching requires a back and forth 'conversation' with a teacher. For instance, try teaching writing using only books. Without a teacher pointing out flaws and showing the student where they are going wrong the student doesn't know if they get it. Some subjects are not so cut in stone enough for a student to just read a textbook and know if they truly understand it. Tests administered through a book can't even prove you know it because as many teachers will say, getting the correct answer isn't as important as how you arrived there. I think having a hybrid method is the best regardless. Books are needed because some students need more time than others to absorb information. Books allow those who are slower learners to spend more time on the subject. The teacher is needed to demonstrate the subject to you. These days multimedia are able to fulfill this role a bit easier. Teachers are also needed to answer questions and promote insightful thought processes. Teachers provide a vital role in learning that has no substitute.

Russia is currently looking at how the US teaches art because their students lack insight and creativity. Art is delectably the most important subject to have a teacher to look over your shoulder and give insight into your learning. A book can't give you feedback, or help you be creative. Teachers in Russia teach as if they were walking textbooks, they just give facts and ask for those facts to be repeated. The result is little innovation, little creativity, and a whole bunch of robots that can do the same thing really well. I think if people were taught with textbooks they would be 'learning' but they would have little idea how humans actually interact with the subject which even if it could all be articulated into words, may still not provide the equivalent to a teacher.

I have a perfect example of this that I just went through yesterday. Teaching someone to wake board. First I explained to the person how to do it (a textbook could have done this job) then it was time to try and do it. They tried to follow the instructions but fell forward. They probably didn't have the insight or perspective to know what the did wrong, but I, as a teacher did and I explained that they needed to do to fix the situation. This process went on until they finally learned how to wake board. A book can't do this, a teacher can.

Re:No need (1)

unlametheweak (1102159) | more than 4 years ago | (#28999673)

Some teaching requires a back and forth 'conversation' with a teacher

That's called the Socratic method. It is not required but can be very useful if both the teacher and the student have the intelligence to exploit it. Unfortunately it is like debating committees; most people cannot perceive an ad hominem when it slaps them in the face (teachers or students). This approach also assumes that the average teacher is both intelligent and enthusiastic. Try arguing with a PhD in Mathematics; he will claim that he is more logical than you because he knows advanced calculus. Not so bright, many of these PhDs.

Without a teacher pointing out flaws and showing the student where they are going wrong the student doesn't know if they get it.

You are talking about evaluating progress. This does not have to be in real time, and it doesn't even have to be done by a teacher. Granted a (thoughtful and intelligent) teacher may make the process a lot more efficient. Unfortunately it doesn't appear that teachers get hired based on thoughtfulness, but rather on the salesmanship skills of socialization like volunteering and references and grades (did any teacher ever have the honest and insightful proclamation that high grades does not make a person intelligent or less likely to amputate the wrong organ during surgery? and that grades don't demonstrate mastery of a subject or even basic knowledge of the material?... if not then you probably had mainly incompetent and dishonest teachers who strive to promote the status quo).

Teachers provide a vital role in learning that has no substitute.

That's where the whole mythology in these type of topics come to fruition. Teachers will above all teach you what they have been taught. The vast majority of actual in-class "teaching" is just regurgitation. We have Cable in the Classroom for that.

Teachers are also needed to answer questions and promote insightful thought processes.

I don't know where you live, but anything that is original or creative is likely to get a person sent to jail in the U.S.A. and many other Western countries. I wrote about this in one of my journals about Zombiism (Ref [slashdot.org] . Read the links I have in the journal; they are quite lucid as to the type of status quo education people receive in the U.S. and places like Canada, and the type of teachers that end up getting careers).

Russia is currently looking at how the US teaches art because their students lack insight and creativity. Art is delectably the most important subject to have a teacher to look over your shoulder and give insight into your learning.

Same answer as above. You will not find anything useful to learn in a U.S. school.

Teachers in Russia teach as if they were walking textbooks, they just give facts and ask for those facts to be repeated. The result is little innovation, little creativity, and a whole bunch of robots that can do the same thing really well. I think if people were taught with textbooks they would be 'learning' but they would have little idea how humans actually interact with the subject which even if it could all be articulated into words, may still not provide the equivalent to a teacher.

I grew up in Canada, and it's basically the same here. In fact in college in Canada I've had at least one Russian teacher. I don't think the U.S. is that different from Canada.

I have a perfect example of this that I just went through yesterday. Teaching someone to wake board.

Yes some hands on things like auto mechanics, dentistry etc are sometimes easier to learn with a teacher. But I'm talking from theory; now that I think of it most of the hands on things that I learned very well I actually taught myself to do. In school or in the workplace I always did poorly when trying to learn off somebody else but I always excelled when I taught myself. Again, if the student is lucky enough to have an exceptional teacher then this would be ideal. Unfortunately most people are not exceptional. Most people are more average than they would like to believe.

As somewhat of a coincidence I did a journal entry about the school system shortly before I came across this article. It's interesting how bad status quo qualities get rewarded;

Question; "What are your most important principles in teaching?"
Teacher of the Year (for the entire U.S.); "Well you test them when they come into school and you figure out whether they are worthwhile, and if they are worthwhile you really pay attention to them, and you don't waist time on the ones who aren't."
- Norman Doidge, The Brain that Changes Itself

- Ref. Ref [slashdot.org] .

Re:No need (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#29002731)

Yes, I'll admit that there most of education is mostly regurgitation... or frankly even more important a bunch of diploma mills that go through the motions of delivering information (not the same thing as teaching) and hoping that some of it sticks when they graduate. Or even worse, it is a windowing process that gives a variation of trade guild journeyman status upon its graduates, but deliberately tries to cull out as much cruft as they can to maintain higher wages for the respective professions that earn these credentials.

None of this is actually related to learning... as that isn't the point of the educational process. Indeed a great portion of the educational process is actually dedicated to deliberately occupying a significant part of the labor force (children and young adults) so that they won't be competing for wages against older adults. Other objectives for the educational process also include teaching conformity, social behaviors like not starting a revolution (even if teaching about previous revolutions), and all kinds of social conditioning.

If you happen to learn something along the way, you have actually accomplished something above and beyond what the overall objective of the educational process was really about.

Getting back to the journeyman status in various trade guilds... and keeping in mind that the ranks and titles are not the same for every profession.... it is generally assumed that a "journeyman" or somebody newly initiated into a profession ought to have at least a basic knowledge of that profession. It would look bad to the profession if somebody with the proper credentials can't really do what they claim to be able to do... so there are some information presentation standards that some of the brighter students do pick up.

All this said, in the USA with its overlapping levels of jurisdiction (federal, state, county, municipality, and even neighborhood levels of government sometimes... and other governing bodies that cross various jurisdictional boundaries) there is room for an instructor who actually teaches. As an ordinary teacher, one of the real pleasures that you get out of the process of instruction is to be able to see a student who "gets it" that didn't understand a concept before. Typical school district tenure policies... while they do protect the incompetent and politically motivated... also protect those who genuinely have a love of learning and want to inspire the next generation of students.

In this I'd have to agree that most of what happens is to pound in information in a rather robotic fashion, but there are scattered around to have enough of these would-be real instructors who actually help students to learn that it allows the system to actually work. These instructors (they can be grade school teachers or university professors... found at all levels and kinds of educational institutions) usually just quietly do their job and get things done, and it is because of the humble and quiet nature of what they do that they are able to stay beneath the radar of those who would drive out this sort of creativity.

Likewise... (1)

gerf (532474) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998315)

He can just have good notes and ideas of what he wants to teach, then print copies of those for each class. Add in a few projects or assignments to drill specifics into the students, and viola, you're good to go! It's a lot more work, but if you're willing to save the kids the money on books, it's a possibility.

Re:Likewise... (1)

unlametheweak (1102159) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998425)

He can just have good notes and ideas of what he wants to teach, then print copies of those for each class. Add in a few projects or assignments to drill specifics into the students, and viola, you're good to go! It's a lot more work, but if you're willing to save the kids the money on books, it's a possibility.

That's something that I was thinking as well (as a substitute for a textbook). To add to my previous comment; there will never be enough time to truly learn what is in a textbook because school curricula will always outpace the amount of information that are in these text books.

Your method of course is not particularly good either, because a large part of the learning process is in taking notes, organizing information in your own notes, etc. I hope things have changed since I was a kid, but nobody ever taught me how to learn, or spoon fed me for that matter, so I ended up getting a lot of C's and D's in school before I finally learned on my own how to learn. I now use mind maps, flash card techniques, outlining techniques, etc and so on. I'm not in school any more, but I'm learning more through my own initiative right now than I ever learned in high school or college. Formal education is over-priced and over-lame.

Re:Likewise... (1)

DeadSeaTrolls (591736) | more than 4 years ago | (#29013823)

Bravo, to me you are making a whole lot more sense than most of the posters here. You are not alone.

I remember getting a lot of C's too, the fallacy here is that it was not because I was lazy, but because the material was boring or lacking strong practical applicability, and I was frankly not interested. The C's were a result of proving I understood the minimum required to get to something more interesting, or of doing something more interesting instead of the work the teacher actually proposed, or expected. It is ok to rock the boat. Kids should be encouraged to find things they enjoy and excel at, the one-size-fits-all teaching methods are fundamentally flawed and damaging. And the medicate to achieve conformity is nothing short of criminal. ADHD is a symptom of the failure to achieve real engagement.

I have found that the process of taking notes, transcribing white/black board writings, or even retyping someone elses notes is far more effective than just reading them, or reading a text book. It is a function of "crossing the brain", where the information enters, is actually processed, and exits. I can also scan things, but that is more of an immediate operation where the content is mostly discarded, but I know where to go find it later if it becomes important.

This whole expectation that you can spoon feed people, or beat it into them with repetition is what flaws the US and UK systems, and the damage that has been done to them over the last few decades by people that are supposedly qualified and certified to teach, or set teaching environments.

Everyone learns in different ways, but I've always found that reading a book, or multiple books covering a topic from a couple of perspectives, and then applying that information in some practical way, or trial and error, are the best ways to truly understand a topic. Unfortunately most people want to "learn" enough to earn the qualification, and not actually "understand" what they are doing. For it is understanding that permits you to do things that aren't printed in a book, or a Google search away.

Formal education is over-priced and over-lame.

Indeed, and I'd hire someone who had actual demonstrable skills, over someone with a shelf full of supposed certifications.

Re:No need (-1, Offtopic)

unlametheweak (1102159) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998699)

These negative moderations that I get whenever I comment on education is really indicative to the audience. It reminds me of when Mathematicians were flaming me because I told them that the average person does not need to know calculus in order to drive a car. People like YOU may call me stupid, but YOU are just an ASSHOLE. GO fuck yourself.

Re:No need (1)

gabebear (251933) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998723)

These classes are basically certificate courses... no real learning goes on in them.

In my experience, these computer literacy classes are a waste of time for 95% of the people taking them. I proctored a couple of these classes and had a hard time staying awake and would have skipped the classes if it had been an option. "Teaching" these classes is very hard (I'm not even sure it's possible). These classes cover such exciting things as "opening files" and then finish with advanced topics like "Excel functions". Freshmen think it will be an easy "A" and don't bother testing out of it, then don't bother attending the classes and fail it.

I think these "literacy" courses should not count towards your GPA, this would motivate people to test out of them and clear enough of the chaff to allow the classes to be taught to the 5% who couldn't figure this stuff out on their own and need to be taught. Anyhoo... the bureaucracy in most universities makes it nearly impossible to encourage people to NOT take a class.

Free and easy (3, Informative)

XPeter (1429763) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998031)

First, there's Wikibooks http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Main_Page [wikibooks.org] which includes a large number of references, but the quality isn't always superb.

Then, there's Flat World http://www.flatworldknowledge.com/ [flatworldknowledge.com] (A relatively new, growing site) that contains not as numerous titles as Wikibooks, but the writing is thorough and usually better than the textbooks themselves. The big downside to Flat World is that in your case (since it's still developing), it doesn't contain a computer science section, but it's being worked on and is expected to be released soon.

Though I have not personally used Wikibooks and Flat World extensively, I've heard from others that they're amazing resources.

"Open Source" (1, Insightful)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998055)

I guess free/open concept has been hijacked into becoming free/cheap. I don't think that was the point at all.

Anyway, if you want "cheap" option, cobbling together various Wikipedia pages may be a feasible option?

Re:"Open Source" (1)

michaelmanus (1529735) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998413)

It's funny that wikipedia is probably the best for both uses of the term.
The new "open source" - free.
The old "open source" - you can look at the source of the work - revision history, contributors, etc.

Re:"Open Source" (2, Interesting)

st0rmshad0w (412661) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998703)

I fail to see the college's angle on this. They are refusing to order a textbook (we are told) that will be required for the class, a class they approved to be taught for which they are happy to collect tuition money from students. But they won't order textbooks? Which are (in every college I have ever seen) ordered by the school bookstore and sold to students taking the courses for a profit? What the hell? There is something more to this story that we aren't being told because it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Re:"Open Source" (2, Insightful)

Magic5Ball (188725) | more than 4 years ago | (#29000737)

The timing of this question one month before classes start suggests that the department or instructor missed the bookstore's deadline to order sufficient copies for sale in September, due to unexpected increases in enrollment, recently discovered issues with the old text, or to lack of administrative support/orientation to a new or sessional instructor who would be expected to adhere to bookstore or publisher/distributor deadlines.

Also, university bookstores are increasingly encouraged to operate as profitable or self-sustaining business units, putting other objectives in front of servicing students and faculty. Ordering and shelving a low/high number of copies on a rush basis may not be sufficiently profitable at the margins involved.

Re:"Open Source" (1)

kubulai (768474) | more than 4 years ago | (#29000911)

Perhaps the University simply feels that a person qualified to teach is capable of writing material with which to teach? Or that material written now would be more up to date in a fast changing field.

Re:"Open Source" (1)

An Onerous Coward (222037) | more than 4 years ago | (#29013139)

Yeah, the idea that a professor might actually want to save his students money just doesn't pass the sniff test. There must be a conspiracy afoot.

Here's my lessons.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28998069)

1. Google
2. RTFM*

* If you don't know what this means, refer to Lesson 1.

This is college level stuff?? (2, Interesting)

Krakadoom (1407635) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998071)

"overview of hardware, software, operating systems, and file systems"

I have a hard time reconciling that this should be college level course material. What kinds of students actually need to be given this information in 2009?

Re:This is college level stuff?? (2, Interesting)

unlametheweak (1102159) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998123)

"overview of hardware, software, operating systems, and file systems"

I have a hard time reconciling that this should be college level course material. What kinds of students actually need to be given this information in 2009?

That sounds incredibly arrogant (and quite stupid IMHO). One could always wonder why people would need to review the different functions of various parts of the brain for an introductory psychology course, because well, everybody has a brain so they should know how it works. Unfortunately this line of thinking has very little to do with reality.

Re:This is college level stuff?? (5, Informative)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998199)

"overview of hardware, software, operating systems, and file systems"

I have a hard time reconciling that this should be college level course material. What kinds of students actually need to be given this information in 2009?

I have a hard time reconciling that an educated person would be unaware there are college students enrolled in majors other than Computer Science.

If you've been to college, you almost certainly have been required to take courses outside of your major - usually known as survey courses. You're usually given a range of classes that meet the basic requirement. A CS survey course would likely satisfy a general science requirement for, say, a history major or an art major. You might even see students from other science programs (e.g. geology, chemistry).

Re:This is college level stuff?? (1)

narratorDan (137402) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998529)

Well done sir, I believe you have check-mate.

Re:This is college level stuff?? (1)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | more than 4 years ago | (#29000861)

Well, I could've made the same point without the snarky phrasing in the first paragraph... my apologies to Krakadoom for that.

Obvious innit (3, Funny)

Anne Thwacks (531696) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998081)

Just read /. - an education in itself!

Re:Obvious innit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28999065)

Right, innit, bloody wanker. A right numpty he is.

Cringely (1)

zackhugh (127338) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998119)

It's not open source, but for $0.01, you can buy Robert X. Cringely's wonderful though dated Accidental Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can't Get a Date [amazon.com] . Not only does Bob give you first-hand accounts of the people who pioneered computer hardware, software, and operating systems, he's also pretty damn funny. You could also point your students to his free sites: the current site [cringely.com] or the old site [pbs.org] .

 

He's not always right, but he's usually knows what he's talking about and he's frequently entertaining.

You're asking the wrong question (2, Informative)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998121)

"Does anyone know of a free, open-source textbook for basic computer literacy concepts (overview of hardware, software, operating systems, and file systems)?"

Physical books don't have source code. :D It sounds like you are looking for a "creative commons license" for a text that covers the aforementioned. However, those licenses are "free as in beer, not free as in freedom", to quote an old adage. There are write-ups on the various topics, but I haven't seen a book published under any kind of open license available in print. You may have to do what many instructors do -- which is create a workbook instead with various works. If you're looking to create a curriculum, I'd look past just text books. Take this for example; It's a short video with some of these concepts covered.

Google has an option for searching by "Usage rights". Consider using it to find some of these works.

Re:You're asking the wrong question (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998131)

Achem. Cough. Anchor tag eaten. I mean this [oedb.org] .

Re:You're asking the wrong question (1)

v1z (126905) | more than 4 years ago | (#29003273)

Physical books don't have source code

Ofcourse they do. It's a lot easier to work with the (in almost all cases) original electronic text than the printed form. It's why word processors are so popular. Personally I'd prefer Vim and (La)TeX -- but the fact remains that most written works from the 90s onwards has something that could very well be described as source text (I agree, it's not really code, not even if it's in plan TeX).

I haven't seen a book published under any kind of open license available in print.

How about: http://diveintopython.org/ [diveintopython.org] ? And depending on your definition of "available in print": http://www.lulu.com/browse/search.php?fKeywords=gnu [lulu.com] (along with pretty much any book available in ps/pdf/tex that you can print for yourself at lulu, licence permitting...).

Also found this which is available as a gratis download, and might be of help to the original poster:

http://www.lulu.com/content/paperback-book/intro-to-computers/2230846 [lulu.com]

man.... (1)

JWSmythe (446288) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998161)

    Not to be too obvious, but...

    man man

Re:man.... (1)

buchner.johannes (1139593) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998509)

no, not just one page about how to read a book, a book!

ls /bin/ /usr/bin/ |xargs man

Re:man.... (1)

JWSmythe (446288) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998847)

    How does that saying go? Give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, he'll open a fish market. Or something like that, I can't be sure. Maybe that was the capitalist spin, before capitalism was outlawed.

 

Wikipedia? (1)

Comatose51 (687974) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998227)

Seriously, for introductions to subjects, the Wikipedia is often very good.

Re:Wikipedia? (1)

Magic5Ball (188725) | more than 4 years ago | (#29000761)

Verifiability overlaps haphazardly with intractability. See explicitly:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:NOTGUIDE#Wikipedia_is_not_a_manual.2C_guidebook.2C_textbook.2C_or_scientific_journal [wikipedia.org]

"Wikipedia is an encyclopedic reference, not a textbook. The purpose of Wikipedia is to present facts, not to teach subject matter. It"

RE: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28998253)

I was always pointed to www.pcguide.com for nice answers. They're fairly frank in their articles, but they have lots of information if you can get past the unusually colours.

Open Source Textbook For Computer Literacy (3, Funny)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998257)

I know one, but your readers will have to fetch the newest sources from a Git repository an then build it with pdfTeX. But mind you, they will be pretty computer literate afterwards!

Re:Open Source Textbook For Computer Literacy (1)

Jeremy Erwin (2054) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998319)

pdftex builds a pdf, which can easily be distributed to students, or even printed at the copy shop into spiral bound books. What's the link?

Re:Open Source Textbook For Computer Literacy (2, Funny)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998475)

The link is http://www.whoosh.net/ [whoosh.net] .

Re:Open Source Textbook For Computer Literacy (1)

narratorDan (137402) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998513)

Insightful, I will have to remember that link.

Re:Open Source Textbook For Computer Literacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29000891)

Nope, it's actually ssh://username@computerliteracy.net/~jenkins/courses/cl/repo.git but on this course you have to use the fall2009 branch, and this week we're studying revision dae86e1950b1277e545cee180551750029cfe735. But note that you need a login on the repository server. I've set up a nice web service to create a restricted login for anyone who has an NTLM authentication token for the school network...

Re:Open Source Textbook For Computer Literacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29003485)

Why isn't the link working??

Re:Open Source Textbook For Computer Literacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28998499)

I think the idea is that the "link" points to an empty document, and each student accidentally learns while trying to retrieve and compile it.

MIT OpenCourseWare (1)

raboofje (538591) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998275)

Take a browse though http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/Electrical-Engineering-and-Computer-Science/index.htm [mit.edu] There doesn't seem to be an 'overview' class like the one you're describing, but perhaps you could combine some of the introductions of the various courses.

Re:MIT OpenCourseWare (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28998667)

+1.

I actually used these at the same time as taking the lower level equivalent courses locally, 2000 miles away. I was out of school for 10 years prior and worked full time while in school full time. When study time finally came around, I couldn't always make sense of the notes I took in class. When I fired up the lectures on the same topics from http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/web/home/home/index.htm [mit.edu] , I could effectively pause, and repeat segments of lectures until I fully grasped the concepts and ideas, then proceed at my own pace.

When I saw this topic, I knew I had to post about it.

TLDR: E;FB

Open source textbook (3, Insightful)

dhjdhj (1355079) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998285)

If you don't know how to find such a thing yourself, I would not want to be one of your students!

Introduction to Computer Science using Java (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28998411)

Re:Introduction to Computer Science using Java (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28998583)

Computer Aided Instruction Project [programmedlessons.org]
contains interactive tutorials for Java, MIPS assembly language,
vector algebra for computer graphics, and some other topics.

Introduction to Programming using QBasic (for students of all majors) [programmedlessons.org]

Source? (2, Insightful)

rm999 (775449) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998447)

What does "source" mean when you say open source? If you mean creative commons or some other open licensing scheme, don't refer to it as "source", which specifically refers to software.

If you want a really high level overview from a source with an open licensing scheme, Wikipedia is probably good enough. Wikipedia actually has very good coverage of basic computing concepts. I realize that is a bit unprofessional though, but any open source will potentially have the same issues that Wikipedia does.

Re:Source? (1)

vnaughtdeltat (1167485) | more than 4 years ago | (#29003863)

What does "source" mean when you say open source? If you mean creative commons or some other open licensing scheme, don't refer to it as "source", which specifically refers to software.

There are plenty of extensions of the phrase "open source" that have nothing to do with software. See Terms based on open source [wikipedia.org] for examples, which include "Open source political campaign", "Open source record label", and "Open source religion".

I realize that technical people are the last people to criticize for being nitpicky about their terms, but, for the rest of the world, language changes. You should be glad that people have picked up on the ethos instead of jumping on them for inaccuracy.

Re:Source? (1)

rm999 (775449) | more than 4 years ago | (#29004999)

The problem is the term "open source" in this case is vague. Does it mean several people can work on it, like a wiki? Or just that it's free, as in beer?

I would normally assume the first, but in this case he probably would be fine with the latter. That is why the misapplication of "open source" troubles me - most consumers of information don't care about the libre aspect of free, i.e. the part that actually makes it open.

Re:Source? (1)

An Onerous Coward (222037) | more than 4 years ago | (#29015815)

Open source doesn't really mean either of those things, but I understand the confusion. The term seems to be getting looser as it makes its way into popular culture, and it's being applied to things where the official OSI definition doesn't really apply (textbooks, pictures, movies, etc.)

If the discussion were about software, we'd be best to adhere to the OSI definition. None of this "Microsoft Shared Source" crap. But for a textbook, here's what "open source" means to me:

* It is available to the user in a user-modifiable format. Tex, Quark, InDesign, whatever. The software itself needn't be free or open source, but it helps.

* All text in the book, and the layout, are under a license that allows redistribution and modification. Ideally, Creative Commons.

* All images in the book are available under a license that allows redistribution. Graphs should be available under a format and license that allows easy modification. Think SVG as opposed to, say, JPG.

Free beer textbooks are awesome, but I think we should be firm on the fact that they're not open source.

Re:Source? (1)

dcollins (135727) | more than 4 years ago | (#29007121)

"What does 'source' mean when you say open source? If you mean creative commons or some other open licensing scheme, don't refer to it as 'source', which specifically refers to software."

No, the use has expanded in publishing and academia.
See here in California -- http://www.opensourcetext.org/ [opensourcetext.org]
See here in the Federal government -- http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h111-1464&tab=summary [govtrack.us]

Connexions (1)

IQGQNAU (643228) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998677)

Connexions (http://cnx.org) is a project for open source book material that is designed to enable teachers to "mix & match" books that are then printed on demand. There are 2336 hits for "computer" in the catalog. No idea if any of that is useful to you. http://cnx.org/content/search?target=&words=computer&allterms=weakAND&search=Go [cnx.org] There is also content on "open source in education": http://cnx.org/lenses/rgardler/foss [cnx.org]

Adult Life Training, Inc. (1)

greenlead (841089) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998691)

My dad's non-profit: http://alt-fw.org/ [alt-fw.org] Download page: http://alt-fw.org/manuals/index.htm [alt-fw.org] From the page: "Computer Manuals available for free download under a Creative Commons license. All manuals are ©Copyright Adult Life Training, Inc. The manuals are provided "AS IS" in .pdf format. By downloading any of this material you agree to the terms specified therein. "

Poor Students (2, Insightful)

moehoward (668736) | more than 4 years ago | (#28998761)

You will never be able to get for free what you can get in a textbook. What book were you using before?

Good computer concepts textbooks are updated yearly or every other year to incorporate the latest technology. For example, 2 years ago you could buy an up-to-date book that included floppy drives, but no USB flash drive coverage. But today, a modern book would not include floppies but include flash drives. One example of hundreds.

A purchased textbook includes exercises, marginal elements that challenge students in a number of ways, copious instructor materials, supporting Web sites, and assessment software. You will NEVER find such a complete, up-to-date replacement for free. Good luck trying, though. Your school is doing both its instructors and students a disservice.

These days, textbook companies do quite a bit of work for instructors. Modern instructors of such computer concepts courses do not want to do grading, write exercises, and, god forbid, create their own lecture. They want it spoon fed, and textbook companies do that if you want it.

Just because students (and young instructors) have gotten "free" digital entertainment does not mean that this concept translates to educational material. I see so many young instructors who grew up on Napster now trying to transfer that experience to almost all published material. I'm not saying they want to steal content, just get high-quality for free. How sad. Do you next expect your students to ask you to lecture for free as well?

Re:Poor Students (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28999825)

Considering that most intro computer textbooks I've seen would, in fact, just be starting to offer information on USB Flash drives as you suggest - I'd say you'll never get decent quality computer lit information from a for-pay textbook either.

Dump the kids in a lab with triple-boot Macs (Ubuntu / Snow Leopard / Windows 7) and make 'em complete assignments on each in round-robin using Open Office / Apple Works / Microsoft Office, then turn the assignments in to you via burned CD's, email, etc. Then they'll actually learn the basics of using a modern computer.

Otherwise, they'll spend days reading about the wonders of SCSI termination, Floppy disk care, and RS-232 and it'll be like a Software Engineer taking a Haskell course :)

Re:Poor Students (1)

oheso (898435) | more than 4 years ago | (#29000853)

How is this insightful? This comment is akin to yelling at the cashier because you don't like the prices at Walmart. The OP didn't invent the policy; he's trying to cope with it.

Re:Poor Students (1)

creeva (1021101) | more than 4 years ago | (#29011123)

If a new up to date text book two years ago included floppy drives, yet no USB drives - I would say this part of the argument for an open source text book. I haven't used a floppy in a modern computer for at least 8 years - and I clung on to the floppy. .....

Re:Poor Students (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29013079)

Actually, yes...
MIT has classes online for free, and I have heard of more than one state that has talked about creating or sponsoring "opensource textbooks"
For less than 1% of what student's pay for textbooks, public universities could compile a textbook using reputable volunteers and could then update them on a yearly basis for even less than that (much the way wikipedia articles are maintained). I would guess that very quickly the problem would be keeping the amount of content down to a manageable level.

The idea that textbook companies should make massive profits by selling 90% of the the same material (maybe slightly less for CS) year after year is ridiculous.
Once content has been created and paid for by a public entity it should be available for everyone. The for-profit model is not the only way to create quality content.

Vocab and Proejcts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28999059)

The single most important thing you could teach the students is to find there own information. Wading through all the junk on the internet to find correct information. Using a text book that has some basic vocabulary that is over 5 years old is worthless. Having all in one place is worthless, they need to be able to find there own information.

Put together your own vocab list, be nice and tell them about wikipedia or let them find it on there own (They have all already found it)
As all students at that level 95% of them will expect to be spoon fed to quiz them weekly so that can see that they are not doing there work.

The hands on projects where problem not going to come 100% from the book any way, find some other instructors class projects and borrow them. Perhaps MIT open courseware has some basic assignments.

Basic File Managment (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28999863)

Although not a text book. this link [lucidsystems.org] has some basic data management tips. These tips could be considered pre-course information. Someone took some time to make this introduction. I think you could safely send the URL to your students in an email explaining that this information should be fully understood before they start the course.

I need more info (2, Insightful)

Atrox666 (957601) | more than 4 years ago | (#29000155)

Do you have a syllabus?
A description of where these people are going to be starting and what standard you want to bring them up to would be handy.
Do they need a description of how to use a mouse?
How many classes are going to be devoted to this?
How long are the classes?

Re:I need more info (1)

An Onerous Coward (222037) | more than 4 years ago | (#29016005)

Given the number of links to various introductions to computer science, or even -- omilord -- beginning Java, I don't see how this lack of information is an impediment to answering.

Seriously, though. If you have a resource that you think might fit the bill, post it. The dude will have to figure out for himself whether the book is right for his needs in any event.

Secret Guide? (2, Interesting)

Aryeh Goretsky (129230) | more than 4 years ago | (#29000533)

Hello,

Many years ago, I purchased an edition of The Seecret Guide to Computers [wikipedia.org] . I am not sure if it is still available in its entirety online, but it might be a good starting point for novice computer users.

Regards,

Aryeh Goretsky

Solution (1)

kubulai (768474) | more than 4 years ago | (#29000899)

You must create the material to fit the curriculum goals for your class. Take the goals listed for your class in your curriculum. Use the goals as an outline, sort it in order of logical progression, then make each major goal a chapter. You can actually begin with each chapter being only a simple outline and expand it to paragraphs eventually as you teach the same material semester after semester. Remember to include an abundance of graphics. I created material that I have used the last several years at Adult Life Training and released it under a Creative Commons attribution license around 2003. It is still available for free download at alt-fw.org. That material has worked well for mature adults (>55 years), but would be far too simple for young college students with normal learning skills.

Quick answer and research links (5, Informative)

mattr (78516) | more than 4 years ago | (#29001003)

Quick answer:

Introduction to Information & Communication Technology - Using Free Software and Open Technologies
Edited By: Will Brady
http://openbookproject.net/courses/intro2ict/index.xhtml [openbookproject.net]

The Non-nerds Guide to Computers
http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Non-nerds_Guide_to_Computers [wikibooks.org]

But seriously spend half an hour going through results of Google search on these terms: open textbooks computing

You will have to go through the texts yourself but there are many out there at many different levels.

Here are the main resources.

Wikibooks
http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Subject:Computing [wikibooks.org]
http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Non-nerds_Guide_to_Computers [wikibooks.org]
http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Computers_for_Beginners [wikibooks.org]

Flat World Knowledge
http://www.flatworldknowledge.com/ [flatworldknowledge.com]

MIT Open Courseware
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MIT_OpenCourseWare [wikipedia.org]
http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/Electrical-Engineering-and-Computer-Science/index.htm [mit.edu]

Make Textbooks Affordable open textbooks
http://www.maketextbooksaffordable.org/statement.asp?id2=37833 [maketextbo...rdable.org]

Student PIRGs
http://www.studentpirgs.org/open-textbooks-catalog#computersci [studentpirgs.org]

List at Walla Walla Community College
http://www.wwcc.edu/CMS/index.php?id=2835 [wwcc.edu]

The Assayer free books list
http://theassayer.org/ [theassayer.org]
http://www.theassayer.org/cgi-bin/asbrowsesubject.cgi?class=Q#freeclassQAc [theassayer.org]

California Learning Resource Network (only math and science)
http://clrn.org/FDTI/index.cfm [clrn.org]

OER Consortium
http://oerconsortium.org/discipline-specific/#Computer [oerconsortium.org]

Open Book Project
http://openbookproject.net/ [openbookproject.net]
http://www.openbookproject.net/courses/ [openbookproject.net]

Introduction to Information & Communication Technology - Using Free Software and Open Technologies
Edited By: Will Brady
http://openbookproject.net/courses/intro2ict/index.xhtml [openbookproject.net]

O'Reilly Open Books
http://oreilly.com/openbook/ [oreilly.com]

Textbook Revolution
http://www.textbookrevolution.org/index.php/Book:Lists/Subjects/Computer_Science [textbookrevolution.org]

http://www.opentextbook.org/ [opentextbook.org]
http://freelearning.bccampus.ca/openTextbook.php?page_id=221&bookmark=Computing [bccampus.ca]

Re:Quick answer and research links (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29002767)

That was a heck of a useful posting

Re:Quick answer and research links (1)

OldeClegg (32696) | more than 4 years ago | (#29005357)

Nice list'o'links. Thanks.

Re:Quick answer and research links (1)

An Onerous Coward (222037) | more than 4 years ago | (#29016525)

A handy and useful list. But did you actually read the "non-nerd's guide to computers?" I'm astonished that so much misinformation, bad writing, and inappropriate advertising for Intel could be squeezed into... the whole "book" must weigh in at less than 1000 words, and I'm sure 200 of them are devoted to a really confused explanation of hyperthreading.

Plus, it doesn't look like it's been updated since late 2007.

The book needs either vast quantities of TLC, or a merciful death.

The first link, though, seems like a good book. A+++++ WOULD DOWNLOAD AGAIN!!!

Free books (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29001709)

Hmm.. thepiratebay.org has a large section of free books. I am sure you can find some there, in an easy to use PDF format.
Not only that, but teaching your students how to go online with torrent can save them a lot of money on books, music, movies and other non-essentials, so they can better spend their money on beer and parties :D That is after all where the real world experience of college is, isn't it?

Enjoy

Linux: Rute User's Tutorial and Exposition (1)

Kwesadilo (942453) | more than 4 years ago | (#29003083)

Linux: Rute User's Tutorial and Exposition by Paul Sheer [2038bug.com] is what I used when I was first getting started using Linux. The first few chapters are about computers in general, and the rest of the book is about Linux. Approximately one third is about being a user, and the rest is about administration. The entire book would be a bit heavy for an introductory computer course, but you would have no difficulty finding in-depth explanations of the things you described (file systems, what the operating system does, etc.) in a Linux context. The book is intended to teach you how to administer Linux systems, but it really gives you a thorough understanding of how the systems you're configuring work. Even if you don't finish the chapter on configuring your box as a router, your students could get a lot out of the first part of that chapter that explains how IP works. It's a very long book. There's probably a section for whatever you would want to talk about in a basic computing course.

I can't recommend this book enough. It is by far the best book that I have found on how to use *NIX systems, but it is much more than that, and it significantly furthered my computer education.

Yes, there is a source of knowledge for your class (1)

LifesABeach (234436) | more than 4 years ago | (#29003179)

Google.com, "It Holds All Life's Answers." Maybe your class of beginners can codify their questions and learn from their results. Now that would be an interesting Dissertation.

Re:Yes, there is a source of knowledge for your cl (1)

DUdsen (545226) | more than 4 years ago | (#29003889)

the answer to the question would of cause be 42.

Re:Yes, there is a source of knowledge for your cl (1)

LifesABeach (234436) | more than 4 years ago | (#29016289)

That's the answer to one question, I was thinking of the other questions. But you may be correct, because the question for the answer 42 was the ultimate question.

Pearson, Wiley, OUP, McGraw will kill this cold (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29005539)

Face it, the major textbook publishers have spent the past ten years trying to stifle the dissemination of knowledge to extend their monopoly on textbooks. It's a fucking scam and you're all baa-baa sheep to fall for it. Pay your hundred bucks so I can go on vacation this year! I got a bonus last year, this year and probably next year, too! You know what's next? Subscriptions to their online learning environments. Get the kids hooked, make sure the professors assign work to lock in student participation and it's more money for the big book publishers. It's all a big business, including your participation in the system.

Rute is good book for basic computer literacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29009123)

http://rute.2038bug.com/index.html.gz

It's not the newest book, but it goes through a lot of interesting things.

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