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Sun Founders' Push For Open Source Education

kdawson posted more than 3 years ago | from the network-is-the-textbook dept.

Education 169

theodp writes "Unfortunately for textbook publishers, Scott McNealy has some extra time on his hands since Oracle acquired Sun and put him out of a job. The Sun co-founder has turned his attention to the problem of math textbooks, the price of which keeps rising while the core information inside of them stays the same. 'Ten plus 10 has been 20 for a long time,' McNealy quips. 'We are spending $8 billion to $15 billion per year on textbooks' in the US, he adds. 'It seems to me we could put that all online for free.' McNealy's Curriki is an online hub for free textbooks and other course material. Others hoping to bring elements of the Open Source model to the school textbook world include Vinod Khosla (who co-founded Sun with McNealy), whose wife Neeru heads up the CK-12 Foundation, which has already developed nine of the core textbooks for high school."

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169 comments

Information... (3, Funny)

iceaxe (18903) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117344)

$8-15 billion wants to be free?

Re:Information... (4, Informative)

grcumb (781340) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117756)

$8-15 billion wants to be free?

Yes, but...

Important distinction: You don't put stuff online for free, you make it free when you put it online. I work for a 'free' legal information service that spends hundreds of thousands of dollars a year being Free. People give us money because they understand that if ignorance of the law is no excuse, then free access to legal materials is kind of an important corollary.

McNealy's right - there are tons of good reasons to make educational materials available online, free of charge. It will take a considerable investment to do so.

Re:Information... (4, Insightful)

HungryHobo (1314109) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117986)

This one's sat at the back of my mind ever since I read Feynmans account of reviewing math books.

I mean for some things like history every country/area would want significantly different books to focus on local history etc but how is it that basic math books haven't been supplanted by a handful of public domain high quality books?
of course I know the answer is that companies making thin margins printing public domain books don't have so much money to spend on guys in suits to go around and convince the people in charge to use their textbooks.

I know how terrible some of the schoolbooks are yet they get chosen by schools year after year.

Re:Information... (1)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118516)

I always thought the colleges were accomplices as it was another source of revenue for them having an on-campus book store without raising tuition.

Schools I'm not so sure, as they often have to answer to their state capital although I'm sure there are kickbacks there as well (like the annual chocolate selling scheme and/or gift catalog is one major kickback to the school).

Re:Information... (3, Informative)

WillDraven (760005) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118852)

This one's sat at the back of my mind ever since I read Feynmans account of reviewing math books.

I was curious about this so i googled around and came across a copy here [textbookleague.org] . It seems that not a day goes by in which I fail to see more evidence reinforcing my decision to home-school.

Re:Information... (1)

Reginald2 (1859758) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118588)

There are also a huge honey pot with a lot of piggies firmly planted in those pies. Recent history has taught us that a couple of well lucrative contracts = a couple of helpful politicians.

If textbooks were online, I would think OLPC or netbooks (even if they only lasted a couple of years) could probably be used for the same, or less cost. They would also add a lot of utility. Hopefully it is not just a would-be-cool thought.

Training would be a bitch though.

Re:Information... (1)

iceaxe (18903) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118856)

Actually, I was just sharing a thought that briefly amused me.

You're right about the costs of being free, of course.

I'm very much in favor of sharing knowledge with as few barriers as possible. In the end, it makes the world better for everyone.

Re:Information... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33119194)

But hey, wait. I understand that online is expensive, but if done in certain ways, it could be wildly less expensive than it is now. The Khan Academy already has a lot of (pretty darn free) material online (and its pretty darn good too). Yes, Mr. Khan took a lot of his time to create the information and then post it. YouTube hosts it, but it costs them money to host it (although to be fair, its not the only stuff that they host), and last but not least, it costs money to read (internet connection and computer). I understand what the former Sun folk are trying to do though, and encourage them in their goals.

Maybe they could add (3, Informative)

bugs2squash (1132591) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117428)

Some of Benjamin Crowell's [lightandmatter.com] work, of which I am a fan.

CK12.org - Probability and Stastics - nice book (1)

rsborg (111459) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117454)

Downloaded it directly and reading it on my iPad.
Looks nice, and very readable... will be nice to refresh my knowledge.
The effort to reduce cost of schooling in general is admirable and book publishers are a leech on society so I hope McNealy and Khosla are successful.

Re:CK12.org - Probability and Stastics - nice book (3, Interesting)

kroyd (29866) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117542)

Another quite good book on statistics is Edward Tufte's "Data Analysis for Politics and Policy", which is posted at http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/dapp/ [edwardtufte.com]

(All the examples are real life examples, often quite important ones as well.)

Re:CK12.org - Probability and Stastics - nice book (1)

PsychicX (866028) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117784)

Classic Sun style move. There are plenty of open source textbook efforts out there. Instead of contributing to them, start a new effort, pull a bunch of media hype, and generally sabotage everyone else without even acknowledging them -- all while providing mediocre results. Sun did it for twenty years and I guess it's a McNealy signature.

Re:CK12.org - Probability and Stastics - nice book (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33117892)

Actually, it is VERY important that there be more than one textbook for each topic-grade level combination.

Competition will be important for:

* Quality
* Differing viewpoints
* Different teaching styles
* etc.

Re:CK12.org - Probability and Stastics - nice book (2, Insightful)

king neckbeard (1801738) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117998)

Indeed. Half of the reason book prices are so outrageous is because students for all practical purposes have to get the same book the professor demands. If I could shop around, I could get much better prices.

Re:CK12.org - Probability and Stastics - nice book (2, Insightful)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118700)

Indeed, one of my pals used to say that the best book on any subject is two books.

Re:CK12.org - Probability and Stastics - nice book (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118174)

I've talked with them about an iPad app specifically for their content, and it's in the works.

K-12 level... (2, Interesting)

starseeker (141897) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117456)

Does anyone know of any pre-1923 (i.e. out of copyright) series of educational books for early education that could serve as the foundation for some "open source" textbooks?

Perhaps Google's book scanning project will be digitizing some relevant books, or is there some other on-line resource? Ideally it would be the original books that would be scanned, to preclude any argument of copyright being held by re-publishers via minor changes.

Surely for basic education technology won't have made much of a significant difference in content (I'm a big fan of old-school education at basic levels - calculators are to be used AFTER you learn the basics, not instead of)

Re:K-12 level... (1)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117516)

Write your own.

Early education has some pretty clear goalposts.
Any teacher worth his salt (there are still a few, I assure you!) can write their own lesson plans. A year's worth of lesson plans bound together and typed up would be a ... get this ... textbook!

Seriously.

Re:K-12 level... (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117984)

Write your own.

So we should all start reinventing the wheel from zero?

Just to give you an example, many years ago I bought a wonderful book on statistics [google.com] in a used book store in London.

This book is a classic, everybody who has read it says so. But it's out of print. And still in copyright.

If I knew how to do it, I would gladly pay M. J. Moroney a good price for his book. But it's in copyright and out of print...

Re:K-12 level... (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117772)

Does anyone know of any pre-1923 (i.e. out of copyright) series of educational books for early education that could serve as the foundation for some "open source" textbooks?

Not sure when he was born, but there was this dude called Euclid or something.

Re:K-12 level... (1)

jd (1658) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117902)

Archimedes' textbooks might be useful, too. No, wait, they don't teach calculus or combinatorics at that age. Sorry.

Re:K-12 level... (1)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 3 years ago | (#33119080)

calculus

Don't worry, both Newton and Leibniz lived well before the cut-off date for copyright, as well. (They even died long enough ago for the current copyright terms to expire, though the growing copyright terms might soon fix that.)

Re:K-12 level... (1)

jd (1658) | more than 3 years ago | (#33119168)

Is it true that Congress is going to change copyright to expire 75 years after cryogenic containment fails or the sun explodes, whichever happens later?

Re:K-12 level... (1)

Marcika (1003625) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117930)

You must admit that this [wikisource.org] is probably not the most straightforward way to teach basic geometry to an 11-year-old... (To a highly-intelligent and highly-motivated adult, maybe -- but then, those would already know it in most cases...)

Re:K-12 level... (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118110)

You must admit that this [wikisource.org] is probably not the most straightforward way to teach basic geometry to an 11-year-old

Great Ceasar's ghost, you're right - axiom 23(c)XVI says exactly that!

USSR science texbooks. (4, Informative)

Cyberax (705495) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118302)

USSR science textbooks. Seriously, they are great (with some obvious exceptions :) ) and they are out of copyright.

For example, Fichtenholz's "Differential and Integral Calculus" is THE best textbook on calculus ever created. It's so clear and written in so beautiful language that I had actually re-read it just for fun. I don't know if there are translations into English, alas.

Landau and Lifshitz's "Course of Theoretical Physics" is the one of the best reference books for the modern physics, and it's available in English. It's out of copyright but its translations might be copyrighted.

I'm certain it's possible to create a decent course on math/physics without much problem. Also, other countries should also have a lot of good material.

It'd be different for the modern fast-moving fields of biology, chemistry, etc. But there's no reason for math/physics books to change every year (or even every decade).

Re:USSR science texbooks. (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118392)

For example, Fichtenholz's "Differential and Integral Calculus" is THE best textbook on calculus ever created. It's so clear and written in so beautiful language that I had actually re-read it just for fun. I don't know if there are translations into English, alas.

Opportunity: produce one.

Re:USSR science texbooks. (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 3 years ago | (#33119026)

While I don't know the Russian language myself (although I'm 1/4 Russian), I'd be happy to chip in $100 towards a collective effort to have them translated.

Re:USSR science texbooks. (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33118906)

There were some great math and physics books put out by the old Soviet publishing house, Mir Publishers, intended for foreign audiences. The books were translated into English and other languages, and were dirt cheap back in the 70s and 80s. Fichtenholz' book on calculus was never translated into English, sadly; I've seen German versions on Amazon. My favorite was Piskunov's two-volume "Differential and Integral Calculus". It's better than any current calculus textbook in the US (and that includes Spivak and Apostol). Unfortunately, it's hard to find now, and it's a bit expensive on Amazon. Back in the 80s you could get it brand new for under $20.

Re:USSR science texbooks. (4, Interesting)

nbauman (624611) | more than 3 years ago | (#33119178)

One of the most popular science books ever printed was Physics for Entertainment, http://www.archive.org/details/physicsforentert035428mbp [archive.org] by Yakov Perelman http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yakov_Perelman [wikipedia.org]

During the great days of the Soviet Union, the Russian Foreign Languages Printing House translated it into every major language, and sold copies at third-world prices. Those devious Communists -- promoting socialism by distributing cheap science books! Many scientists, engineers and mathematicians working today were inspired to go into their careers by this book.

The most notable was Grigory Perelman (no relation) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grigory_Perelman [wikipedia.org] who solved the last step of the Poincaré conjecture and was eccentric even by Slashdot standards. Grigory's father gave him Physics for Entertainment.

It used to sell for $3.99. Then it went out of print, and I tried to buy it, but it was going for $200. Now somebody reprinted it in a (probably) unauthorized edition, and it's also in the Internet Archive.

The Soviet publishing house had an army of editors translating Russian books into all the world's languages, and they probably did Fichtenholz if it's that good.

Dover Publications got started reprinting out-of-print and out-of-copyright science books, and as I recall, a lot of their trade list was Soviet books translated into English. At that time, the Soviet Union didn't believe in copyright, and they were happy to see their work reprinted. One thing the Soviets did well was science education. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergei_Brin)

You might check out the old Dover catalog to see if there are any out-of-copyright English translations. Scan them and put them on the Internet.

Re:K-12 level... (1)

shadowofwind (1209890) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118498)

Does anyone know of any pre-1923 (i.e. out of copyright) series of educational books for early education that could serve as the foundation for some "open source" textbooks?

Surely for basic education technology won't have made much of a significant difference in content (I'm a big fan of old-school education at basic levels - calculators are to be used AFTER you learn the basics, not instead of)

I would think that the presentation would be too outdated. While in theory the content hasn't changed, the way things are described has changed enough to make it hard to follow. Though I suppose if you're just talking arithmetic, with no word descriptions, that hasn't changed much.

Re:K-12 level... (1)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 3 years ago | (#33119104)

Does anyone know of any pre-1923 (i.e. out of copyright) series of educational books for early education that could serve as the foundation for some "open source" textbooks?

Thompson's Calculus Made Easy is PD, and it's quite a good book IMO. Actually 1923 isn't really the dividing line. Nearly all books published in the 20's, 30's, and 40's are PD now. If books from that era didn't get their copyrights renewed after an initial 28 years (and only a tiny percentage did), then they went PD. You can check whether a book's copyright was renewed using links from this page [blogspot.com] .

It's very easy to find old PD algebra books, spellers, etc. In most cases, they're not anything that 99% of today's teachers would consider using.

Build the new and they will come (3, Interesting)

jDeepbeep (913892) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117466)

The reception to this effort will be especially positive after the Higher Education Opportunity Act [uwire.com] goes into effect (requiring a list of changes for a new edition of a textbook showing how it differs from the older edition). As it currently stands, the author could change a few equations, and add a couple graphs, and call it a new edition.

Re:Build the new and they will come (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117514)

It's worse than that. Often times they'd do something asinine and pointless like making some of the picture people of color or in wheel chairs and pass it off as being sensitive to divers communities. Never mind the fact that apart from changing the names and the pictures nothing else was changed.

Re:Build the new and they will come (0)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117754)

Um, if before the pictures were all of middle-class white people walking home from church, then yes, something significant was changed.

Re:Build the new and they will come (1)

king neckbeard (1801738) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117898)

You could have Hitler, the KKK, and Cobra Commander in the pictures and the educational value of a math textbook wouldn't be changed.

Re:Build the new and they will come (1)

walshy007 (906710) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117962)

I have a feeling your and our definition of 'significant' is somewhat different, especially in instances where said pictures had little to do with the learning material anyway and were merely there to spruce things up a bit.

Re:Build the new and they will come (0, Flamebait)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117742)

So he spends a minute changing the name of the base font and the whole book becomes redlines.

Trust me, every kid sees every book as "new", and every school has to buy books continuously as they wear out, get lost, etc. Adding information isn't the reason textbooks are expensive. Politicizing the purchasing process is.

Re:Build the new and they will come (2, Informative)

Urza9814 (883915) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117770)

As it currently stands, the author could change a few equations, and add a couple graphs, and call it a new edition.

Or they can just do nothing at all and call it a new edition. They can literally throw on a different cover and call it a different edition. I've seen quite a few "international editions" that don't have a single difference except the cover art. Sometimes it's not even different art, it just has "international edition, not for sale in the US" stamped on it in big red letters. And it's paperback instead of hardcover...which I highly prefer anyway.

Re:Build the new and they will come (2, Informative)

Niris (1443675) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118960)

Yeah I've noticed this with a few different books. Last Java book I had to buy for school had an International edition that just had a forward that was a few pages long so the page numbers didn't line up, but everything else was spot on. Also cost about 100 dollars less and shipped from Malaysia :D

But wait... (3, Insightful)

Just_Say_Duhhh (1318603) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117488)

That would make it much harder for me, as an educator, to require my students to use a textbook written by one of my colleagues, who just happens to require his students to use the textbook I wrote (because, of course, it would be unethical to require your students to purchase your own textbook.

Once we have that tidy arrangement going, we merely have to make minor changes to the texts (new pictures - you know, the important stuff), and then obsolete the previous editions.

Mr. McNealy, you already got your payday - why are you trying to prevent me from getting mine?

Re:But wait... (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117536)

Unethical, I assume that you're not really a teacher and that you haven't gone to college. It happens far more often than it should. And it's definitely not a new occurrence, my parents told me about it happening to them back in the 60s. Which I imagine was hardly the first time it happened. Failing to pay enough for workers tends to lend itself well to that sort of entrepreneurial spirit.

Re:But wait... (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117726)

Failure to pay enough?
If the pay was too low they would find other jobs, that is just a scam. Happened to me once, we went and complained to the ombudsman who got us a good deal of the money back. She got a mark against her that would come up in any tenure preceding.

Re:But wait... (2, Insightful)

jd (1658) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118018)

If the pay was too low --- ummm, the pay isn't a hell of a lot more than burger-flippers get, for many teaching jobs. My first professional software engineering job paid more than my father's senior lecturer job at one of Britain's top Universities. Difference? He wanted to teach and he wanted to research. Those were his life-blood. When he retired (and he only semi-retired at that) he continued teaching and researching, just on his own time and out of his own house. Most people thought he'd die rather than quit. His final research papers went up online less than a month before he died of cancer.

Someone like that is not going to "work somewhere else" if they get paid too little. If they can keep a roof over their heads and food on the table, the rest of the world be damned. They're going to stay at what they love. And when it comes to something like teaching - unlike any other profession on Earth - that is an attitude that deserves respect, because that is the only attitude that can survive the stress, the politics, the noise, the abuse from those who complain teachers are all whiners, etc, ad nausium. It's the kind of attitude that allows one to teach and teach well, no matter what.

The reason a lot of modern teachers are crappy is that they do NOT have that attitude. They're in there to pick up a paycheck and keep their backsides (and the rest of their anatomy) covered from lawsuits. Those are not interested in teaching, but frankly they can't go out and get anything else either. They don't have the ability.

And that's the crux of it. Teachers are either damn good and pay is immaterial, or they're no good and pay is whatever they can get.

Re:But wait... (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118124)

Someone like that is not going to "work somewhere else" if they get paid too little. If they can keep a roof over their heads and food on the table, the rest of the world be damned.

Which means they are being paid enough. Jobs only pay enough to fill them, if the jobs are filled they pay enough.

Re:But wait... (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118424)

But "filled" covers quite a range, don't you think?

Re:But wait... (3, Insightful)

jd (1658) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118552)

Depends on how you define "enough" and "filled". Classrooms are often understaffed and a healthy teacher getting good nutrition and good access to fresh material will teach better than an unhealthy teacher who survives on Burger King and hasn't seen a new idea in a decade.

I have a preference for a well-educated populace, with "well-educated" being defined as being the least-educated can function well in multiple branches of society (ie: nobody is deprived of a choice in life through circumstance), the average person has the ability to get into a middle-of-the-road University, and the brightest person is never deprived of the opportunity to learn, with the additional proviso that all people have the necessary knowledge, skills and means to make choices that are sensible for them if they so wish.

It is impossible to have a well-educated populace if you work purely on paying the least that will fill fewest positions you can get away with. In fact, it's almost impossible to educate people at all like that. It is impossible to have a well-educated populace if you work purely on paying the least but have just enough positions to actually teach sensibly. You will, however, likely get the least-able and even some of the average-able up to par.

Re:But wait... (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118554)

But, you get what you paid for, and that's the ultimate problem. You can get security officers here for a little over $10 hour if they're non-union, but even if you pay the union rate, you're not going to get any meaningful quality.

You'll get people that are unambitious, probably not willing to get extra training and almost certainly not provided with the resources to do a good job.

Teaching is similar in that respect, you might fill the position, but if you're not paying enough to get qualified, competent professionals, you're just going to get people that are clocking in and trying not to waste too much energy on it.

Re:But wait... (1)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 3 years ago | (#33119170)

If the pay was too low they would find other jobs

Those who can, get six figure jobs doing. Those who can't, teach.

Re:But wait... (1)

Trepidity (597) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117798)

The conflict of interest is pretty obvious, but it also makes some sense--- if a physics prof is going to choose a physics book to teach from, why would he choose any book besides the one he wrote himself? Of all the books out there, it's presumably the one that: 1) he is most familiar with; and that 2) covers the material closest to the way he wants to cover it in his class.

The advantages of using your own textbook are high enough that I've had profs actually assign their own unpublished book for free (sent us PDFs to download), rather than deal with adapting someone else's textbook to the goals of their course.

Re:But wait... (1)

Krahar (1655029) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117812)

If you went to the trouble of writing a textbook, obviously you will want to use that one. It has exactly the stuff you think is important, in a format that supports your lectures and if you don't think it improves on whatever else is out there, then probably you have better things to do than to write a textbook on your own - you'd just use the better one already written. If you think academics write books to obtain money for themselves, then you are mistaken - it takes a lot of time and pays poorly indeed compared to that.

Authors could still be paid ... (2, Insightful)

JoeBuck (7947) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118450)

If a school district decides to commission a textbook as a work made for hire, and pays the authors handsomely, and then makes the work free, it can be a win-win. The authors get a guaranteed amount, but they won't collect royalties going forward. The schools don't go broke buying expensive textbooks, and poorer districts can benefit. Textbook writers can be booked again when revisions are made. Of course, it will be possible to identify people that make less money. That's life.

Re:But wait... (1)

Niris (1443675) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118970)

It may be unethical to have students use a text book written by you, but it happens a fair bit. My political science class had a book written by the instructor, as did a programming class I took (though that one was easy enough to not use since the language was very publicly written about online). It's just another giant scam that adds to the college bullshit.

Re:But wait... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33119094)

I'm not sure why it's unethical. How else are leading edge theories and techniques supposed to be taught if not by the professor who originated them?

When I was a grad student at a top engineering school my professors developed new control theory and taught us using their books. In fact, we were part of the feedback loop involving the next editions!

In Other News (-1, Flamebait)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117490)

SUN struggles to remain relevant.

Re:In Other News (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117552)

Well, it does now only have 8 planets orbiting around it. Of course there's going to be an identity crisis involved.

Re:In Other News (1)

Just_Say_Duhhh (1318603) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117714)

which explains that Coronal Mass Ejection [slashdot.org] it just spewed at us.

It's not just math books (4, Insightful)

DesScorp (410532) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117506)

The whole textbook business is one of the biggest scams in education, and it only gets worse in college. New editions are churned out for the college market simply to ensure a fresh revenue stream for all involved. I think in 95% of math, science, lit, and history courses, you could go to Dover Publishers (the people that basically make their living reprinting stuff in the public domain), get the books in paperback, and actually get better textbooks in the end. I have a weird hobby of collecting pre-1950 textbooks, and frankly I think kids learned "more" back then from their textbooks than they do today. Obviously, some knowledge has been added here and there, but I've got an 8th grade science textbook that does a much better job imparting the principles of physics and chemistry to kids because of the practical examples used.

I have to disagree with McNealy's push to go all-online though. There's no substitute for having a physical book at times. We just need to get off of the "new textbook" gravy-train.

Re:It's not just math books (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33117758)

At the university I attend, the physics department require a £60~ textbook for the course. Normally students would try to get a second hand copy, but this is not posisble seeing as how the book is needed for its "online content" - a system providing a very simmilar functionallity to that offered by software already deployed university wide. If we didn't buy the book first hand we couldnt access the weekly tests and would be penalised. One of my 10 lecture courses this year used it, and the book itself isn't the greatest imho. (I do think the online access was available to purchase seperately for ~£25 and then add in most second hand books would be around £45...)

Re:It's not just math books (0, Troll)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117844)

I have a weird hobby of collecting pre-1950 textbooks, and frankly I think kids learned "more" back then from their textbooks than they do today.

Go back farther and it's even more pronounced.

But, consider that as you go back in time you find fewer people in school as a proportion of the population. Which means that (a) they were probably the smarter ones, a tranche we would now label as A or B students; and (b) the teachers were a smaller and probably a smarter subset of the population as well, as opportunities to use bookish intelligence as an adult are rare in agrarian economies and teaching would be the obvious job. And the schools were deliberately more selective and demanding. Requiring better performance and gearing your lessons to attain it from the beginning means the students remaining later on will be higher on the scale. Resting on adequate performance and spending the time making students with the least learning capacity achieve average results will not have that effect.

Re:It's not just math books (2, Insightful)

kappa962 (1583621) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118136)

I think it's a lot more than a difference of culture. You'll notice a sharp decline in textbook quality after the launch of Sputnik. Sputnik freaked out Americans, so they started pumping loads of money into revamping math and science education. Money, unfortunately is not the main thing that makes a good textbook. Basically, after Sputnik, for some reason, it became necessary to cram as much set theory into every single math book as possible, whether it needed it or not.

Re:It's not just math books (2, Insightful)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118530)

But, consider that as you go back in time you find fewer people in school as a proportion of the population. Which means that (a) they were probably the smarter ones, a tranche we would now label as A or B students

You think society has been as egalitarian and meritocratic in the past[1] as it is now? Are you seriously suggesting that in 1830 an inherently smart slum kid has a much chance of getting into Oxford as the slightly inbred son of a baronet?

If so, you're a fucking twerp.

[1] By "the past" I mean roughly a generation ago. On shorter timescales it probably is - in the USA and UK at least, to our mutual shame - less so.

Re:It's not just math books (1)

Nemyst (1383049) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118218)

It's not mutually exclusive. Combine online availability with a printing service at minimal pricing and you have something flexible and easier on the chequebooks. I can easily spend in the hundreds in books every semester; any improvement will be a good improvement.

Re:It's not just math books (3, Informative)

Smallpond (221300) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118414)

Foner [fonerbooks.com] claims they can profitably sell a 168-page print-on-demand book for $14.95.

Re:It's not just math books (2, Insightful)

turing_m (1030530) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118328)

I have to disagree with McNealy's push to go all-online though. There's no substitute for having a physical book at times. We just need to get off of the "new textbook" gravy-train.

That's what printers are for. I suppose you could also get a more rugged book produced by getting it done at a print shop. But a manilla folder of printouts would accomplish the same thing, really.

The other benefit of going open source is that bugs can get fixed very easily. And the number of people capable of fixing spelling and grammatical error is greater than the number of people who can fix programming errors. Perhaps.

Re:It's not just math books (2, Informative)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 3 years ago | (#33119046)

CK-12, the nonprofit listed in the summary, makes "flexbooks". They're basically PDFs, which of course they allow you to print out. Total cost for books? Whatever it costs to print the PDFs.

Japan has a good model (2, Insightful)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118480)

at least in school (can't speak for higher education). The have softcover booklets, with about 8-10 weeks worth of material. That means they are about 100 pages long, maybe shorter. Plus, they contain the practice problems and you can write in them. I never understood the practice of carry these heavy tomes called textbooks around, especially even after a year, that half of it is never relevant to the course in many instances. You also get to keep the booklets and don't have to go through the nonsense of putting covers on them or otherwise.

As for online books, I always thought wikibooks was a worthy effort:
http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Main_Page [wikibooks.org]

But people aren't as eager to write textbooks/practice problems as they are to make articles about their obsession. I wish Wikimedia Foundation made use of their mature efforts like Wikipedia and allowed a single banner ad per page (clearly labeled as sponsor, offer a no-ad subscriber version) and then funnel the money toward immature efforts such as these.

Re:It's not just math books (2, Interesting)

tyrione (134248) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118978)

Agreed. I'm trying to see how they've managed to take a Calculus book I bought in 1987 and by 2000 the same book with some Calculator additions, change in color examples, a pointless DVD/CD to some crappy Windows Only Software program and extra problem sets managed to go from $50 to $150. I'm sorry, but the technology to make books has actually decreased in cost, yet the cost for the actual product has tripled, in just over a decade? Now I see Physics for Scientists and Engineers using worse materials [thinner paper weight/cheaper pulp, weaker spines] and have managed to add a crap load of useless filler [not relevant historical information around the theories and how they came to it [a secondary softcover book companion being the perfect solution for such material]] while spreading it out over 3 books. So I can either buy an all-in-one for around $200 or three books for more than $200 that will fall apart much sooner than the same material covered in Physics books back in the late 80s/early 90s or back in the 60s/70s when two volumes for Physics by Resnick/Halliday came out in high quality print materials, superior examples and at around 1800 pages put you back around $35 for both. I just picked up Volume 1 for $2 and Volume 2 is going to cost me [in mint condition] around $7 from Amazon. I'd expect to pay $40 for each hardbound today, as reasonable, totaling $80 plus tax, not > $200. I'll even concede $100 if they add the companions book of all the historical background information on the theories discussed with current research fields and their application. That would be worth it.

Re:It's not just math books (2, Insightful)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 3 years ago | (#33119060)

In my opinion, the NY Times article focuses mostly on aspects of the free textbook movement that have been the least successful. It focuses on K-12, but actually there are very few high-quality, free K-12 textbooks; most of the high-quality, free texts are at the college level, and especially at the graduate level. This is probably partly because the opportunities for profit in a non-free book get thinner and thinner as you go to higher and higher levels, and also partly because most states' public K-12 systems have very restrictive requirements for textbooks, which make it virtually impossible for the schools to adopt free books. I've written some free physics textbooks, which are college level. I do have a bunch of high school adoptions, but those are almost 100% from private high schools, mainly Catholic schools.

Another thing the article focuses on is group-organized efforts such as Curriki and CK-12. If you look at the free textbooks that are out there (see my sig), the vast majority are purely individual efforts.

I have a weird hobby of collecting pre-1950 textbooks, and frankly I think kids learned "more" back then from their textbooks than they do today.

I share your idiosyncrasy. I have a fairly big collection of old physics textbooks, mostly college-level books from the 20's and 30's. Actually IMO they're far worse than today's textbooks. They have a lot of detailed diagrams of devices like butter churns and arc lights, but the underlying concepts are very poorly developed.

knowledge (1)

devobtch (1660545) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117526)

knowledge should be free to all to better mankind devobtch

Not a New Idea (1)

brit74 (831798) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117650)

To be fair, I've heard stuff about open-source textbooks for a while. This isn't really a "Scott McNealy and his friends" idea, more of a "Scott McNeally showed up to put some weight behind his version of an idea that other people have already been working hard to do."
http://www.google.com/search?q=open+source+textbooks [google.com]

I also thought that the 10 + 10 = 20 example was a bit simplistic, since textbooks get updated frequently. Although, to be fair, if people can create open-source textbooks, it's a benefit to society - that means $8 billion to $15 billion per year that stays in the pockets of society or state governments to be used elsewhere. Although I suppose there's still printing costs.

From the article:
"At first, Sun fought the open-source set, and then it joined the party by making the source code to its most valuable software available to anyone. Too little, too late. Sun’s sales continued to decline, making it vulnerable to a takeover."

Uh, what? It's weird to act like Sun's decline was due to the fact that they went "too little, too late" with open-source. Open Source was never going to save Sun no matter when they "switched over".

Re:Not a New Idea (1)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117810)

> Uh, what? It's weird to act like Sun's decline was due to the fact that they went "too little, too late"
> with open-source. Open Source was never going to save Sun no matter when they "switched over".

Trying to ignore x86 is generally what DOOMED Sun and allowed for the rise of Free Unix.

They tried to fight the future and it ran them over like a freight train.

Re:Not a New Idea (2, Interesting)

king neckbeard (1801738) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117980)

To me, it seems Sun's problem was that they didn't really 'get' how to foster a FOSS project and build a community (it takes more than just hiring Ian Murdock). Sun had other problems, but being smarter and more proactive about FOSS could have helped, although I'm not sure how much of an impact it would have had.

Re:Not a New Idea (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118158)

Linux was announced to the world in 1991 with the following announcement:
I'm doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won't be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones.

SunOS started in 1982, that means they had 9+ years to get their OS into the hands of kids using x86. They failed and it killed them. They might not have seen it coming, no one really did, but it still did them in.

Re:Not a New Idea (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118220)

Heck, solaris started in 1992 had they made it FREE software to begin with it would have prevented linux killing them.

Re:Not a New Idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33118984)

Sun did not have the right to Open Source Solaris until it bought out the Unix license from Novell. Prior to that, it was not theirs to Open Source.

Standardization? (0, Troll)

Anne_Nonymous (313852) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117690)

>> Ten plus 10 has been 20 for a long time,' McNealy quips

Nonetheless, Mississippi is going to complain if a standardized math textbook doesn't include information about Jesus riding a Brontosaurus.

Re:Standardization? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33117906)

When I went to the Social Studies page on Curriki, the three books that were featured are about slavery in the US, healthcare provided by communities, and civil rights in the US. Nancy Pelosi would certainly approve of Mr. McNealy's agenda.

Re:Standardization? (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118180)

You mean people who tend to think people should be educated for little to no cost are going to be more involved in this than those who think they should be paid to get up in the morning? What a shock.

If people with other opinions, like maybe you, want their side represented I suggest they take an active role and write a book for Curriki.

Re:Standardization? (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118580)

If people with other opinions, like maybe you, want their side represented I suggest they take an active role and write a book for Curriki.

That would be totally awesome. I keep a stack of old magazines in the netty, but when they run out what could be better?

Re:Standardization? (1)

Tr3vin (1220548) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117922)

Nonetheless, Mississippi is going to complain if a standardized math textbook doesn't include information about Jesus riding an Apatosaurus.

Fixed that for you. Even the creationists know that the Brontosaurus belongs in the Apatosaurus genus.

Re:Standardization? (1)

pjabardo (977600) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118436)

Even the creationists? They should be experts on that since the Brontosaurus (or whatever) died off a few tens of centuries ago...

Re:Standardization? (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118794)

If someone is riding a member of $class, they are automatically[1] riding a member of $superclass_of_aforementioned_class.

If someone said Babe was a movie about a pig, would you "correct" the poster by saying that it's about an even-toed ungulate?

I suspect, sadly, that y'all would.

[1] Assuming single inheritance - a reasonable assumption in zoological taxonomy.

From the same folks who brought you HCL games.... (1)

sethstorm (512897) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117700)

Will they just drop support for an old edition of a book on a whim a la Sun? Or will they do the right thing and not follow in the publishers' footsteps?

Anyone here tried searching on the Curriki site? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33117728)

It is unbelievably slow, and seems quite broken.

theodp is a cunt (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117872)

Perhaps McNearly should lobby for a decent textbook on how to use apostrophes.

Re:theodp (1)

LambdaWolf (1561517) | more than 3 years ago | (#33117926)

"Push" is a noun in the headline. That is, it is about a push, by the Sun founders, for open source education.

Also, the editor usually writes the headline, not the submitter.

If you're going to post flamebait, at least try to be correct.

Re:theodp (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118090)

McNealy is (thankfully) singular, so just die in a fire.

Re:theodp (1)

LambdaWolf (1561517) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118196)

Others hoping to bring elements of the Open Source model to the school textbook world include Vinod Khosla (who co-founded Sun with McNealy)

Re:theodp (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118606)

You read the whole of the article? LOL @ ur phale, n00b.

Re:theodp (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33118634)

McNealy is (thankfully) singular

True, but that still doesn't make your comment correct, as he is not the only founder involved. So perhaps instead of inviting him to die in a fire you could, ya know, just admit your mistake.
(Admittedly, the headline is probably acceptable only by accident.)

Re:theodp (0, Flamebait)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118880)

he is not the only founder involved.

Fail. From TFBCA: "Scott McNealy [and, according to some cunt called "Anonymous Coward", the invisible bastard man and an entire legion of undetectable phantom asshats who are not mentioned anyflappingwhere] has some extra time on his hands since Oracle acquired Sun and put him out of a job. The Sun co-founder[<-- look, no "s" you twerp] has turned his attention to the problem of math textbooks"

Singular for the win.

So perhaps instead of inviting him to die in a fire you could, ya know, just admit your mistake.

And you could just eat donkey bollock curry on a bed of shit-smeared samphire. Which do you think is more likely?

Re:theodp is a cunt (1)

king neckbeard (1801738) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118068)

I see McNealy and Khosla mentioned. That would be founders, and their push for Open Source Education is described.

Re:theodp is a cunt (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118620)

I see McNealy and Khosla mentioned.

[citation needed]

Re:theodp is a cunt (1)

Smallpond (221300) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118460)

Perhaps McNearly should lobby for a decent textbook on how to use apostrophes.

There's already a good resource [angryflower.com] available.

Availability of free books is not the problem (2, Informative)

Beetle B. (516615) | more than 3 years ago | (#33118458)

When it comes to college level stuff, mathematics has more free books available online than any other discipline.

Yet, most universities use either James Stewart or one other book for calculus.

Why? I really don't know. I asked a math grad student friend of mine, and he said it ultimately boiled down to politics: Calculus level textbooks are decided by a committee, and the professor teaching it only has some say - and it's hard to convince a committee. As hundreds of students will take calculus every semester, they need the warm and fuzzy feeling an established textbook gives them.

To be fair, the mathematics departments are also perhaps the most likely to use free/cheap textbooks (compared to sciences and engineering). This usually happens for upper division courses, though.

Hong Kong's solution (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33118522)

http://www.legco.gov.hk/yr97-98/english/panels/ed/papers/ed1601-3.htm [legco.gov.hk]

The Education Department (ED) issues a Recommended Textbook List. If the publishers want to be on that list, they have to reduce the unnecessary revisions. That seems to work extremely well:

>According to the Consumer Council's surveys, unnecessary textbook revisions have been greatly reduced in recent years, dropping from 21% in 1992 (six out of 28 textbooks) to 2% in 1996 (one out of 44 textbooks). From a random selection of revised textbooks in 1997, no unnecessary revision was detected (out of the eight sets of books examined, revisions to two were found necessary and those to the remaining six quite necessary).

wikibooks.org (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33119036)

hasn't he heard of wikibooks.org?

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