×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

California State Senator Proposes Funding Open-Source Textbooks

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the benefit-the-commonwealth dept.

Education 193

bcrowell writes "Although former Governor Schwarzenegger's free digital textbook initiative for K-12 education was a failure, state senator Darrell Steinberg has a new idea for the state-subsidized publication of college textbooks (details in the PDF links at the bottom). Newspaper editorials seem positive. It will be interesting to see if this works any better at the college level than it did for K-12, where textbook selection has traditionally been very bureaucratic. This is also different from Schwarzenegger's FDTI because Steinberg proposes spending state money to help create the books. The K-12 version suffered from legal uncertainty about the Williams case, which requires equal access to books for all students — many of whom might not have computers at home. At the symposium where the results of the FDTI's first round were announced, it became apparent that the only businesses interested in participating actively were not the publishers but computer manufacturers like Dell and Apple, who wanted to sell lots of hardware to schools."

cancel ×
This is a preview of your comment

No Comment Title Entered

Anonymous Coward 1 minute ago

No Comment Entered

193 comments

Don't mess with the publishing industry, man (5, Funny)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#38597924)

I hear Houghton Mifflin has goons who break legs. When you make $150 profit on a simple 600-page textbook, you can afford the muscle.

WMF is a charity (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 2 years ago | (#38597984)

How do you "break the legs" of a registered charity like Wikimedia Foundation, which operates the Wikibooks project to create collaborative textbooks licensed as free cultural works?

Re:WMF is a charity (5, Insightful)

alphatel (1450715) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598094)

How do you "break the legs" of a registered charity like Wikimedia Foundation?

Press charges in your country against their leader, extradite him, and then try him for "terrorism"

Leaders, plural (2)

tepples (727027) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598318)

Good luck doing that against all the trustees of the WMF [wikimediafoundation.org] at once.

Re:Leaders, plural (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38598496)

Do you believe it would be business as usual for the remaining trustees if one or two of them were to end up in Gitmo?

International incident (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598736)

Do you believe it would be business as usual for the remaining trustees if one or two of them were to end up in Gitmo?

That depends on this: Would it be business as usual for the home countries of the remaining trustees? I'm guessing that some of the countries where WMF trustees live are richer than those where Guantanamo Bay detainees lived and can thus make a credible threat to vote with their wallets against the United States if it p(er|ro)secutes any more WMF personnel.

Re:WMF is a charity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38599324)

Wrong. In this particular case you claim they are in copyright violation. When SOPA gets passed, Wikimedia will be blocked, and have to spend lots of money on legal fees to get back online. Then, you claim they are in copyright violation again. Repeat until wikimedia is out of money, or their user base is so frustrated with down-time that they start using commercial alternative.
You have to admit, the system works (for our almighty "Job Creators")

Re:WMF is a charity (1)

Deus.1.01 (946808) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598750)

Lobby for a copyright extension(s).

Re:WMF is a charity (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598872)

An extension to the term of copyright would just extend the period of attribution and share-alike licensing of the textbooks developed using WMF's infrastructure.

Re:WMF is a charity (1)

Deus.1.01 (946808) | more than 2 years ago | (#38599078)

Sorry, got a bit confused by your use of "cultural work", which is what books with expired copyright generally is called.

Re:WMF is a charity (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 2 years ago | (#38599216)

Sorry, got a bit confused by your use of "cultural work", which is what books with expired copyright generally is called.

In the United States, books with expired or abandoned copyright are called "works in the public domain". The term "cultural work", as seen in a page linked prominently from all WMF projects' file upload pages [freedomdefined.org] appears to refer to any work of authorship that's not a computer program, as the licensing issues for computer programs and other kinds of work are very different.

Re:WMF is a charity (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | more than 2 years ago | (#38599590)

How do you "break the legs" of a registered charity like Wikimedia Foundation, which operates the Wikibooks project to create collaborative textbooks licensed as free cultural works?

By making it hard to donate. You know, by making it really hard to whip out your card and click the "donate" button. Donations to online things drop rather quickly if you force everyone who wants to donate to have to write a cheque and mail it off. No credit card instant donation. No online bank transfers. Snail mail.

Not only that, but since processing out of contry cheques is significantly more expensive, international donations would basically dry up - international postage and inability to cash the donations.

Re:Don't mess with the publishing industry, man (1)

Deus.1.01 (946808) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598126)

Damn straight, the publishing cartels have become super rich on the HUGE book consumption of the Americans.

Sorry :3 I'l do a Swede joke next.

Re:Don't mess with the publishing industry, man (2, Informative)

jimicus (737525) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598768)

When you make $150 profit on a simple 600-page textbook, you can afford the muscle.

You don't, as it happens. It's a very similar business model to records, in many ways. There's vast costs that the general public not only doesn't see, they're barely aware even exist - things like proofreading, editing, marketing - over and above the basic print and distribute bits that we all know about. (Free clue: A lot of books on the market today would be borderline unreadable without massive editing and proofreading effort.)

The only difference between textbooks and records in this case is that the publisher has a better idea how many buyers they'll attract - and that buyers are less likely to be put off by a high price - so they've got a pretty good idea how much they'll need to charge to cover all these costs. Even so, quite a few books never really make much money.

Re:Don't mess with the publishing industry, man (1)

mehrotra.akash (1539473) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598870)

There's vast costs that the general public not only doesn't see, they're barely aware even exist - things like proofreading, editing, marketing - over and above the basic print and distribute bits that we all know about

Not valid as the books are usually available at 10% of the price developed countries pay in developing countries
Usually slightly thinner paper and monochrome printing, but thats acceptable for academic use

Re:Don't mess with the publishing industry, man (5, Informative)

Baloroth (2370816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598976)

Except when you change a handful of diagrams and re-order a few chapters to produce a new edition of a text-book, your editing costs go towards zero, and even with the relatively few buyers, profits are incredible. Plus, you completely eliminate the second hand-market. This is routine practice for college (and to a lesser degree high-school) textbooks.

Re:Don't mess with the publishing industry, man (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38599336)

I could see this being the case with a big title for the general public, but not for an open textbook.

Professional editing is going to cost unless you can get educators to do it for free.

Content is largely free. After that, there's no marketing overhead because the work is effectively mandatory. Printing costs are printing costs, which can be done for a few dollars per copy, or nearly $0 for digital copies.

All-in-all, almost nothing like the cost of a commercial work.

Warning: this post is in breach of WC:PGW (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 2 years ago | (#38599860)

Professional editing is going to cost unless you can get educators to do it for free.

Just let anybody who feels like it pitch in.

WC:PGW?

Re:Don't mess with the publishing industry, man (1)

ghbpyper (653231) | more than 2 years ago | (#38599366)

All the textbook vendors do this. It's such a rackett. God forbid they leave any money on the table. BTW, they SUCK at software. Many of their packages require local installation of software to each workstation. No web-based options. Works for any OS you want as long as it's winderz. I HATE dealing with those jack-wagons. CDE and CA state legislature would be wise to either promote open source textbooks or start holding the vendors' feet to the fire., esp given the current fiscal climate.

Tuition (5, Insightful)

aztrailerpunk (1971174) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598068)

Trying to lower the cost of books is a great idea but what stops schools from not raising tuition on the back end when they see those funds become available. Get school tuition under control first and then worry about the books.

Re:Tuition (2)

Ragun (1885816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598376)

In the case of textbooks, its not the schools robbing the students so much as publishers robbing students. I am sure there are kickbacks involved to keep the whole thing rolling, but cutting out the middleman is probably in the student's best interests.

Re:Tuition (4, Insightful)

jcombel (1557059) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598440)

all of my classes that i felt required a textbook to get an A, the book happened to have been (co)authored by the professor.

academic instruction as an avenue for royalties hooooo

Re:Tuition (3, Insightful)

ByOhTek (1181381) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598564)

I don't think I've ever had a class where the professor [co]authored the book, but plenty where it was necessary.

Books certainly are a nice way to get some royalties, but it isn't a universal method.

Re:Tuition (1)

rollingcalf (605357) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598662)

Professors are not allowed to collect royalties for books sold at the same college where they teach.

Re:Tuition (2)

SydShamino (547793) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598758)

Books don't cost less at the school where the professor teaches though. Otherwise there would be a thriving business buying textbooks at the schools where their authors teach and selling them to all the other schools.

If the professor isn't collecting the royalty, then either the publisher or the school's book store is. And using the book at the professor's school has to be good for marketing, which leads to greater adoption and more royalties.

Advance (2)

Comboman (895500) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598834)

That's why they ask the publisher for an advance fee. And publisher are willing to pay it for a book with a guaranteed market. Also, only some schools enforce that rule.

Re:Tuition (1)

Sarius64 (880298) | more than 2 years ago | (#38599046)

Professors are not allowed to collect royalties for books sold at the same college where they teach.

Having sold those books for professors to the same schools they teach at in California, I call bullshit.

At the very least, citation please?

Re:Tuition (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38599774)

Also Professors don't make significant money on books they write.

Re:Tuition (1)

uniquename72 (1169497) | more than 2 years ago | (#38599816)

Professors are not allowed to collect royalties for books sold at the same college where they teach.

As an academic librarian, I can say with absolute certainty that this is only true at a handful of universities [insidehighered.com], and is nearly impossible to enforce.

Fixed since last time? (3, Interesting)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598108)

A while back slashdot had a story about Open Source text books. I scanned through the books they had available and they were absolute junk. It appeared to be written in word with formulas printed out then scanned in as images and inserted inline. Needless to say they looked horrible.

Has the opensource Calculus book moved on to LaTeX since then or does it still look the same?

Re:Fixed since last time? (1)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598818)

The open text books are also terribly devoid of content, with what appear to be arbitrary chapters missing outright.

I'll stick to The Pirate Bay and other Torrent sites' free as-in-beer textbooks that I can actually use. They're very competitive (heh heh) with the big-name publishers.

Re:Fixed since last time? (1)

Sarius64 (880298) | more than 2 years ago | (#38599138)

Which rightly points out that someone is capable of producing ebooks for calculus and other high-end subjects because I see them torrented constantly. Are these ebooks not sold publicly?

Re:Fixed since last time? (1)

spopepro (1302967) | more than 2 years ago | (#38599352)

I'm an author of one of the digital textbooks out there (I did the teacher's guide for Prob&Stats and Calculus), but maybe not the ones you looked at. I don't have any idea why, but they insisted that the manuscript be done in MS Word. My options were to use equation editor, or use eps output from LaTeX for each individual piece of math. The whole thing kind of made my head bleed, and I have no understanding of why it was all done that way. Maybe something about the backend that they use... I know that many of them encourage you to arrange and organize your own "books" out of the source material. But, yeah, ouch.

State-Mandated textbooks work so well in TX (5, Funny)

ElmoGonzo (627753) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598128)

Can you imagine the politics over what the textbooks should say about evolution, climate change, economics, history,etc. First edition says Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia but by the second edition, Eurasia has become Oceania's ally.

Re:State-Mandated textbooks work so well in TX (4, Insightful)

taiwanjohn (103839) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598328)

This. The problem with "state mandated" open-source anything is that it's (by definition) not "open" anymore. Apart from that, it's a great idea.

In fact, it's such a great idea, that you almost don't need the "school" part anymore. Between wikipedia (et. al.) and the plethora of lecture videos on various topics available online, the only thing left is interaction with a teacher/mentor for any questions or skill-building exercises, and even that is probably available online these days too.

The only problem is: this is only enough to actually learn the material... you still don't get that "accredited" piece of paper. Given the skyrocketing costs of modern education (in the USA at least), how long will it be before people start leapfrogging the bricks-and-mortar education system altogether?

Re:State-Mandated textbooks work so well in TX (1)

AngryDeuce (2205124) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598772)

The only problem is: this is only enough to actually learn the material... you still don't get that "accredited" piece of paper.

Which is what it's all about, unfortunately. If employers stopped basing their decisions on where that magic piece of paper came from, and started basing their decisions on what the applicant actually knows and is capable of doing, then you would see the need for that magic piece of paper decline precipitously.

It's ridiculous, I know people that are completely self-taught with regards to IT that easily exceed the capabilities of their accredited counterparts, but they're forced to basically go throw money at a university just to buy a piece of paper, taking classes for no reason.

eeoc thinks that way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38598952)

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/jan/1/eeoc-high-school-diploma-might-violate-americans-w/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS

http://thenewamerican.com/usnews/politics/10409-eeoc-to-employers-requiring-hs-diploma-may-violate-disabilities-act

THE same is very true with higher EDU as well.

jobs stop asking for diplomals the EEOC seems to (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38599306)

Employers should not fear the EEOC warning. In fact, employers should use it to focus their attention on identifying the actual essential qualifications needed to perform a job...and how to assess whether or not a candidate has these qualifications. Because education has been so dumb-downed in the last 50 years, a high school graduation diploma or a high school equivalency certification simply is not evidence that an individual possesses the essential qualifications to perform a job. The same is true for many if not most post high school degrees. Check out the new book "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses" by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa. Also check out the new Skills Gap research report from A.C.T. showing that just having a diploma or certificate is no evidence an applicant possesses the foundational skills of reading for information, locating information, and applied math needed for almost every job today. Jim Collison, President, Employers of America, Inc."

The education systems needs rethinking and tech needs trades / apprenticeship.

Now the online schools are a stat but the Traditional methods are not the best for today's would much less the faster pass of tech. Traditional methods have left us with a BIG GAP form what is part of the class on College Campuses and real work skills. And a lot of the tech schools / on line schools fill that gap. But there is a lot that only comes from doing real work as there is a lot in tech that is not in the book or the test.

Re:State-Mandated textbooks work so well in TX (1)

Jawnn (445279) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598336)

Yes, I can. I live in Texas, where certain idiots on the state board of education have been doing just that, dicking with the truth in their children's textbooks, to suit their backwards religious and political predilections. I doubt that it could get much worse if we were to change the publishing medium.

Re:State-Mandated textbooks work so well in TX (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#38599042)

What's even worse is that since TX is one of the largest buyers of textbooks in the US, those changes don't just stay in TX making Texans stupid, they wind up in schools across the country making students stupid.

Re:State-Mandated textbooks work so well in TX (1)

Deus.1.01 (946808) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598544)

The universities writes the books and compendiums.
And the universities in turn can use and revise the materials to their needs.

The State simply provides the presses and repositories.

MiniTru would suck(in BB's eyes that is) if Goldstein could provide revisions to their publications.

Re:State-Mandated textbooks work so well in TX (1)

Archangel Michael (180766) | more than 2 years ago | (#38599204)

Actually, this would be easy to work around. AND would expose the crazies for what they are. All we need are COMPILED books, where you have switches for each locality driven items and requirements and the book is reconfigured for that District's standards.

It might require getting an application built that handles the formatting the book into a format that works, but that shouldn't be too hard. It could make just about everyone happy getting everything they want/need in a single source. We (collective) need to just figure out some sort of XML that would work.

And it isn't just about evolution, or other things, there are people who complain about "cultural"* items like "snow", where some poor black person from Watts may have never seen snow and therefore they can't relate to the math problem that mentions it.

*Yes, I realize that Snow is not cultural, but you get my point.

I'm for open textbooks, but from another state. (0, Flamebait)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598172)

Everybody likes to beat-up Texas for using right wing textbooks.

But come on. CA text books are at least as bad in the opposite direction.

Re:I'm for open textbooks, but from another state. (1)

Jawnn (445279) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598352)

Not even close, my friend. Not even remotely close.

Re:I'm for open textbooks, but from another state. (2)

toadlife (301863) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598374)

Care to cite some examples or left-wingery in textbooks used by CA schools?

Re:I'm for open textbooks, but from another state. (5, Funny)

Hatta (162192) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598538)

Of course they are, they're accurate. Reality has a well known liberal bias.

Re:I'm for open textbooks, but from another state. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38599298)

Yeap and Greece is riding that liberal bias all the way to the bank.

Re:I'm for open textbooks, but from another state. (1)

brainzach (2032950) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598800)

California might have controversial subjects like science.

Re:I'm for open textbooks, but from another state. (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 2 years ago | (#38599178)

'Sciences' like * studies?

Learning more about Ceasar Chavez then George Washington?

Who creates the content? (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598224)

That is the key. Will it also be 'government supported'? Will it be the first guy they can get that will 'work for free'?

While i'm all in support of more openness, i want to be sure what data we are the feeding children is quality, and accurate.

Re:Who creates the content? (1)

necro81 (917438) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598702)

This is my major concern. Unless the textbooks are produced by salaried professions (i.e., not just those that have the expertise, but can also f*#king communicate and know how make a polished product), how to do you prevent the whole enterprise from being monopolized by ethusiastic, self-aggrandizing idiots that can't write their way out of a paper bag?

And while certain subjects (math, most of physics, most of biology and medicine) aren't particularly vulnerable to ideology, there are plenty of subjects (history (especially American history), economics, cosmology, evolution) that can't even be brought up in civilized conversation without the political and ideological aspects taking center stage. The controversial aspects have pedagogical value, but it's essential that those who shout loudest don't get to win by default.

Re:Who creates the content? (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#38599132)

Textbooks are always subject to approval, just because you write a textbook doesn't mean that it has any hope of being used. There are committees and the materials are gone through for accuracy and for areas that are thin. The results aren't always correct, but it's not like books get approved without any consideration. With the possible exception of stand alone courses that don't need to move students to the next course, those may or may not be particularly well reviewed.

Mistakes do happen, for instance the local school district decided to choose discovering math or some bullshit like that to replace the also completely incompetent integrated math books that they had been using for the previous couple decades.

But when all is said and done, just because the books are open source doesn't mean that they're going to be worse or less reviewed. In all likelihood they'll be a net gain as they can remove or fix material. Even if they don't chances are that they'll be looking more closely at it for the reasons you outlined.

Textbook authors, duh. (1)

KingSkippus (799657) | more than 2 years ago | (#38599146)

Who said that anyone will be working for free?

To use an analogy, there's nothing stopping me from paying millions of dollars to someone to develop software for me, then turn around and release it under an open source license.

All they need to do is pay normal market prices for competent people who can write textbooks to write textbooks, make sure that the contract specifies that the government--not the author--retains copyright, and then release the textbooks under some sort of freedoc license.

Bias? (0)

Feyshtey (1523799) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598230)

I guess since it's now taken for granted that a hard left-leaning state like CA pushes left wing agenda in the classrooms, they may as well write textbooks that support their policies too. A bankrupt state creating the textbooks to teach ideas that cause bankruptcy... What could possibly go wrong?

Obviously this program will reduce the costs of college tuition also, right? Because we're all quite aware that when government does something it's always cheaper. Our kids are already getting a bachelor's degree funded by Sallie Mae they might be able to pay off in about 30 years. I cant imagine that getting any worse than it already is, right?

Re:Bias? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38598704)

Obviously this program will reduce the costs of college tuition also, right?

Only for illegal aliens.

Seriously, California is openly giving tuition to illegal aliens while citizens are turned away. Voted it into law an everything.

Re:Bias? (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#38599214)

First off, do you have any credible evidence that CA pushes a left wing agenda in the classrooms via text book selection? Or are you bitching because they don't teach creationism, that climate change is a lie or the frequently popular rethinking of US history to make white people not look like the monsters that would enslave people?

Secondly, my mother taught out of an open source text book for a while and it was significantly cheaper than the ones she had been using. The students were on the hook for about $24 a book. And yes, she receives her salary from the state.

While we're at it, nice straw man argument with Sallie Mae, Sallie Mae wasn't the problem, the tax cuts for the rich were. Education was a lot less expensive for students back before funding was cut by the government.

Re:Bias? (1)

Sarius64 (880298) | more than 2 years ago | (#38599648)

Having put two kids through the San Diego system, I have plenty. I particularly liked the week my daughter was ordered to wear a burqa and threatened with failure for not doing so at my direction. Funny how American History class turned into teaching the foundations of Islam for about a month. I can do more... At Otay high school the school board tried to replace the entire music program with hip-hop dancing; an obvious job enhancer.

Re:Bias? (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38599628)

"The enormous cost savings for students also translates into greater efficiencies in the use of California student aid. Cal Grant B recipients are currently allotted a $1551 annual stipend for books and living expenses. By significantly reducing textbook costs, the students will have more resources to cover the array of others costs necessary for pursuing higher education. "

"government does something it's always cheaper" depends, but infrastructure items? yes.

Open Source text books? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38598236)

What's up with Open Source textbooks? Is it good or is it whack?

I tried this once... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38598254)

I started to write a Computer Science Textbook about a year ago.

The trouble was that I could not get anyone interested in using it or working on the project.

This is what I have so far:

opentextbook.info [opentextbook.info]

Feynmans ghost approves (1)

buback (144189) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598268)

I'm sure if Richard Feynman were alive today he would be a very vocal proponent of OS text books. In fact, I'm sure he'd probably spend an inordinate amount of time editing them himself!

Inevitable, I Hope (5, Insightful)

dcollins (135727) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598274)

As a college math teacher, my gut instinct is that this is the only damn thing that really makes any sense. Math books are probably ground-zero in that they have no need or right to change very much from year-to-year. They ought to be written once, and released for free for anyone to download and use (and modify and improve if you need to). If there's any more compelling use of computing technology to distribute knowledge, I frankly don't know what it is.

What I see happening currently is one of two options: (a) Use a mass-market book that the publisher churns with a not-quite-compatible edition every year or two. The statistics text used in my classes (picked by department, not me) is excellent, but a new copy costs $180 to students, which kind of breaks my heart (multiply that by all their classes each year, holy damn!). (b) Use an in-house written textbook custom to the department (done in a lot of lower-level classes) which will be cheaper, lets the department recoup some of the money, but is of much lower quality (fewer exercises by an order-of-magnitude, no proofreading for errors, no graphic design, no color, hand-drawn sketches, etc.) And this work is probably repeated thousands of times at schools across the country.

Just write the damn thing once, somehow, and give it away free to everyone. Seems inevitable, and I'm eager to see it.

Re:Inevitable, I Hope (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38598624)

What about CK12 Flexbooks? http://www.ck12.org/flexbook/browse/

Re:Inevitable, I Hope (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38598732)

While the math maybe fixed, the methods of teaching and presenting math may change.

Kickstart It? (3, Informative)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 2 years ago | (#38599010)

Just write the damn thing once, somehow, and give it away free to everyone. Seems inevitable, and I'm eager to see it.

Hey man if you're up for writing it, I'd definitely chuck $25 at a thing like this. I donated $25 to Daniel Shiffman's Nature of Code [kickstarter.com] book and plan on reviewing it on Slashdot once he's done. Here's some examples of his latest products for it: PDF of Chapter 10 [shiffman.net] and Code [shiffman.net].

Figure out how much money you would need to have your department make some creative common texts and see how Kickstarter responds ...

Re:Inevitable, I Hope (1)

colinrichardday (768814) | more than 2 years ago | (#38599020)

(b) Use an in-house written textbook custom to the department (done in a lot of lower-level classes) which will be cheaper, lets the department recoup some of the money, but is of much lower quality (fewer exercises by an order-of-magnitude, no proofreading for errors, no graphic design, no color, hand-drawn sketches, etc.)

LaTeX supports color and diagrams; why would you not include them?

Re:Inevitable, I Hope (1)

myc (105406) | more than 2 years ago | (#38599252)

IAABP (I am a biology professor).

For basic maths or physics, I agree with you that open source textbooks would be a great idea. The problem is when you talk about textbooks for more rapidly evolving fields, such as the life sciences. I can see how open source textbooks would be a very difficult proposition for biology texts. If the government wanted to fund such an endeavor it would not be "write once then forget about it", you would have to constantly update and revise it every few years. This means that there would need to be a permanent editorial board with support staff. The editorial board would have to have sufficient expertise in the field(s) to recognize what constitutes a significant advance in biology, as well as be able to decide what is an appropriate level of knowledge to present in textbook format. What with my teaching schedule and research demands, I just don't see me or anyone else in my field doing this, because it would be a full time endeavor that would take me out of the loop of my other professional duties. Unless there is a permanent position created for this (e.g., an NSF directorate with program officers and associated staff), I just don't see anyone risking their career for this.

A completely open and crowd-sourced book in the vein of Wikibooks is also doomed from the get-go, because any dolt can come along and edit things that have been carefully considered and written by an expert in the field (this is why I no longer contribute to Wikipedia). I suppose a hybrid model is possible, wherein edits may be submitted to a transparent editorial board for consideration, but again there is the issue of who would be willing to act as editor?

I suppose a third possibility to hold down costs is the formation of a non-profit publishing corporation that would publish works just as traditional publishing houses would, except that with a non-profit charter it would be able to keep prices low.

Re:Inevitable, I Hope (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38599726)

A) IT doesn't have to be revised every year. Ideally, yes. But when was the last time soneone showed up to revise a textbook while a student was using it?

B) wikibook would work. Nothing about Wiki means everyone can edit it. Some places, such as wikipedia allow it, but you can also create a wiki where only experts can edit it.

WIkipedia is still the best source for a lot of information, even with it's flaws.

I mean, they pay people to write textbooks now, correct?

Re:Inevitable, I Hope (2)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#38599268)

I mostly agree. The main problem that math text books have is in terms of format. The concepts haven't changed much if at all in many decades, at least for the courses most folks take.

The bigger issue tends to be format, and an open source textbook could definitely deal with that in a way that you could have several different books in use in the same course that all use the same examples, problem sets and solutions, but were slightly different in organization. As in larger print or explanations next to the example or different coloring for those with learning disorders.

Re:Inevitable, I Hope (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 2 years ago | (#38599824)

(b) Use an in-house written textbook custom to the department (done in a lot of lower-level classes) which will be cheaper, lets the department recoup some of the money, but is of much lower quality (fewer exercises by an order-of-magnitude, no proofreading for errors, no graphic design, no color, hand-drawn sketches, etc.) And this work is probably repeated thousands of times at schools across the country. Just write the damn thing once, somehow, and give it away free to everyone. Seems inevitable, and I'm eager to see it.

All that may be true for the 1st edition, but with each passing year, classes can write their own exercises, and retire the ones that don't illustrate the problem well.

Why would you just write it once, and make it static? The students themselves can edit and improve. If every class did this, after a few years the book would be near perfect. There's probably a Master's level thesis in Education just proving that one method of exercise is better than another.

Don't we already have this? (1)

Ragun (1885816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598282)

So basically they want Wikipedia in a book form?

We Don't Need More Statements of Definitions (1)

mx+b (2078162) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598948)

Wikipedia provides a lot of information if you know what to do with it, but frankly it doesn't often have good example problems, walkthroughs, or other insight that is useful to applying mathematics to solving problems. Wikipedia just gives statements of definitions, maybe with some proofs mixed in. Good as reference, not helpful to a newbie. However, with those additions, Wikipedia is a good first step to a "write once, distribute to all" math text for a large spectrum of mathematics courses.

What really is required IMO is not so much a textbook (since as you pointed out, the information already exists out there), but rather an open free set of very good sample exercises, prompts, and projects that teachers may use in their courses. It's very difficult to find good homework problems that engage a student to think about what they are doing (and not simply apply formulas by rote), and even more so to find a more long-term project to test their understanding of the material in a way that holds their interest. Sample topics for in-class discussions are another good one; finding interesting problems to get the students talking with each other and the instructor is also hard to do, but every once in a while you find a gem that gets students arguing with each other over the best way to proceed before we work out a solution together. A catalog of things like that would be fantastic.

Re:Don't we already have this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38599048)

Which would be a disaster. Wikipedia needed to be changed to a pier review system where for each edit, a panel is chosen at random. The edit is reviewed and scored on by the reviewer. The scores are averaged together and if the score is above a certain threshold, the edit goes live on the article. If the edit is below the threshold the submitter can revise and resubmit. This would solve the problem of having a single person having the power to control an article.

Language Choices (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38598312)

Barrio Spanish and Ebonics.

State subsidized? With what money? (1)

phobos512 (766371) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598324)

And just where do these people think the funds are going to come from to pay for these books in this all but bankrupt state? Oh I know, let's raise the sales tax and vehicle registration fees again. What a joke.

Re:State subsidized? With what money? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38598618)

Bingo. California is broke. State senator Steinberg must not have received the memo.

Re:State subsidized? With what money? (1)

necro81 (917438) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598730)

Would you rather that the state continue to pay for new textbooks, over and over and over?

Re:State subsidized? With what money? (1)

Rolgar (556636) | more than 2 years ago | (#38599064)

I'd rather have the federal government reform copyright, then we could give the students access to better materials than textbooks, and the schools could get a dozen different printers to print them at the lowest cost (or encourage parents to buy their student's ereaders for a discount on book fees).

Re:State subsidized? With what money? (2)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38599764)

You are spouting nonsense.

1) reforming copyright has no bearing on student material

2) Copyright isn't likely to expire while a student is using the book

3) textbooks get updated. Which would also update the copyright for the NEW version.

Re:State subsidized? With what money? (1)

Deus.1.01 (946808) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598930)

Raising taxes and other means of revenues is what you should have done instead of getting to much debt.

Re:State subsidized? With what money? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38599752)

California's not bankrupt. They're just refusing to normalize their tax rates, and fix their messed up property tax system.

Economically, they have tons of activity and could probably outlast the rest of the country on their own.

It would be about time (1)

youn (1516637) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598486)

Access to knowledge should be universal... of course it does not replace schools but at least one has the possibility to learn on their own if they want to. This is particularely true when as tablet usage becomes universal... allowing to carry a whole bookshelf in one tiny object.

Also, it would enable knowledge access to poorer neighborhoods/countries, allowing the usage of other books when they neither can afford to create material or buy books.

"spending state money to help create the books" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38598510)

Sieg heil!

How about using the free market? (1)

seyfarth (323827) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598568)

No, I'm not suggesting that the current system is ideal. I'm suggesting using print-on-demand services like CreateSpace to produce cheaper textbooks. The author can sell a book for about $30 and make more money per copy. Also the author can sell a digital copy on Amazon and B&N for $9.99 and make 70% on Amazon and 65% on B&N. There are other similar digital alternatives. This allows competition for book production. Authors across the nation can compete for part of the California market, based on price and quality. I see no need for California to subsidize the effort.

I have self-published an assembly language textbook, so I am somewhat familiar with the choices. There is no real need for textbooks to be mass-produced and sold by the big publishers. The Internet and modern technology offer better alternatives.

There are 2 big questions: How to get instructors to try an author-published book and how to get instructors to care about the students' money. An individual author trying to sell an inexpensive book can't afford to send out thousands of free copies. Competing with the big publishers is hard, but I see this as part of the solution.

Re:How about using the free market? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38598916)

One doesn't "use" the free market. One sits back and tries to not think hot the free market doesn't serve their needs as it's not the most profitable course of action.

This is something that should be done (1)

LordZardoz (155141) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598570)

There is no reason for college text books to be as expensive as they are now. Any educational institution that takes money from any level of government should be using text books that are open sourced. Anything that can drive down the costs of getting an education without decreasing the quality of that education should be encouraged.

END COMMUNICATION

Re:This is something that should be done (1)

cdrguru (88047) | more than 2 years ago | (#38599012)

There is no reason that textbooks should cost anywhere near what they do... except you assume that a textbook and a Stephen King novel go through the same process at the publishing house.

You can find "textbooks" that have a single author, no peer review process, no technical editing, no educational review and no state board approvals and they are much cheaper. Nobody uses them, but they are much cheaper. The problem is all of the reviewing and editing costs a lot of money and the publishing house gets to front all of it. So they want to be paid. The alternative is to drop all the reviewing and such - but then you end up with something that isn't used.

One place where this does work fairly well is with computer course books. There are classes that use the Foley & Van Damm book as a textbook and that works out quite well. It doesn't fit the model of any textbook at all - it isn't an educational book. I suspect there are other very technically oriented books that are used as a textbook for a class without it being a textbook of the usual sort. Works fine at the college level.

In elementary school there is almost no way a non-peer reviewed book would be used, nor in most places would a book be considered if it wasn't also reviewed by educators. And approved. And then filtered through a bunch of state level committees. Finally, the school district gets a list of five different books they can choose from that are the result of a lot of different committees and such. It isn't a great process, but considering what some school districts have done in the past, there are actual reasons why the state level approval processes are in place. Just as an example, the class that was the subject of the Scopes Monkey Trial wasn't using a state-approved textbook.

Bypassing the state review process would open things up to non-textbook books being used and books that didn't have the complex, expensive review process. It would also open the doors to some school district in Indiana deciding to use the Bible as the textbook in a biology class.

Re:This is something that should be done (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38599552)

Limited runs. See how much it will cost you to publish and print 10000 books.

Stupid (1)

TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598666)

What exactly is an "open source" textbook? Stop using this term to apply to anything but software development because it is almost always used incorrectly.

The "source" of any text book is inherently open. If you can think you can write a book and thus no-one controls the content of the book you write.

There is a differences between opening up the standards used to select textbooks in schools systems, but the source content of a book is always open, there is no proprietary source for learning.

Re:Stupid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38599022)

Then call it creative commons if you prefer. The "open source" I believe refers to being able to redistribute the text and possibly contribute to it. Fixing mistakes in the text, changing it from a .pdf to .html, .epub, .mobi, or whatever format you prefer, or even printing and binding it.

Re:Stupid (1)

colinrichardday (768814) | more than 2 years ago | (#38599096)

An open-source textbook would be one that you can modify without having to write the whole thing over. If I give you the LaTeX source code for the book, you can modify and recompile it.

Greed (here) is good (4, Interesting)

MacAndrew (463832) | more than 2 years ago | (#38598700)

It's not just a good idea, it's inevitable. The immediate drive, always a convincing one in politics, is money. the interesting Q is HOW to do it, but whether to start, and to do it with public money is a no-brainer. You might otherwise as well question whether public-financed education is relevant. That ship has sailed, and this is just one part of that critical project. Feynman's essay on textbook adoption is timeless: http://www.textbookleague.org/103feyn.htm [textbookleague.org]

Current textbooks are overweight, expensive, and boring. Many schools including ours have been reduced into getting students two copies because they were to heavy to take to school and back (really). Now the kids rarely even open the things.

Textbooks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38599090)

Why can't we use tablets and free pdf textbooks to teach the subjects?

The williams case (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38599478)

was uses as a red herring by the textbook industry.

You can have digital books AND PRINT THEM OUT for those who need them.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Account

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>
Sign up for Slashdot Newsletters
Create a Slashdot Account

Loading...