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Teachers Write an Open Textbook In a Weekend Hackathon

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the get-it-right-the-first-time dept.

Education 109

linjaaho writes "A group of Finnish mathematics researchers, teachers and students write an upper secondary mathematics textbook in a three-day booksprint. The event started on Friday 28th September at 9:00 (GMT+3) and the book will be (hopefully) ready on Sunday evening. The book is written in Finnish. The result — LaTeX source code and the PDF — is published with open CC-BY-license. As far as the authors know, this is the first time a course textbook is written in three-day hackathon. The hackathon approach has been used earlier mainly for coding open source software and writing manuals for open source software. The progress can be followed by visiting the repository at GitHub or the project Facebook page."

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I hope they manage to (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41501869)

Finnish it... Get it? Finnish... it?

Re:I hope they manage to (4, Funny)

tomhath (637240) | about 2 years ago | (#41501939)

I doubt it, they're not Russian.

Re:I hope they manage to (4, Funny)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 2 years ago | (#41501989)

I fail to see how their nationality could be German to this discussion.

Re:I hope they manage to (5, Funny)

neapolitan (1100101) | about 2 years ago | (#41502039)

There were insufficient bathroom breaks; European in the seat.

Re:I hope they manage to (4, Funny)

Seumas (6865) | about 2 years ago | (#41503475)

They didn't have much time for meal breaks. They were so Hungary.

Re:I hope they manage to (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41503655)

They were offered a Turkey, but they turned it down.

Re:I hope they manage to (2)

SpzToid (869795) | about 2 years ago | (#41505965)

The Turkey had no gravy, because there was far far too much Greece to deal with, so everyone went Hungary. They had no choice, unless they could afford to go Dutch.

Re:I hope they manage to (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41507037)

There was Norway they could afford to go Dutch

Re:I hope they manage to (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 2 years ago | (#41504855)

They just couldn't decide whether to go Dutch or not.

Finland... (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | about 2 years ago | (#41501903)

The US could learn a lot from the Finnish approach to education...

Re:Finland... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41501915)

More tests?

Re:Finland... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41501997)

More Reindeer?

Re:Finland... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41502033)

Mmmm, reindeer... gaah

Re:Finland... (1)

kipling (24579) | about 2 years ago | (#41502051)

actually less tests:
http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/political-news/gillard-schools-plan-needs-more-work-says-foreign-education-chief-20120928-26qm0.html [smh.com.au]
This is reported from an Australian perspective - we have had the plague of standardised tests descend on the Australian system.

Re:Finland... (2)

Troyusrex (2446430) | about 2 years ago | (#41502457)

I'm not much of a grammar Nazi but I can't help myself here. It's FEWER test, If it can be counted it's "fewer" if not, it's "less".

Re:Finland... (1)

rolfwind (528248) | about 2 years ago | (#41503421)

If it can be counted?

Sorry, I don't see myself as saying I need fewer money in the future... and money can definitely be counted. Well, as much as the tests in your parent's post.

Re:Finland... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41503755)

If it can be counted?

Sorry, I don't see myself as saying I need fewer money in the future... and money can definitely be counted. Well, as much as the tests in your parent's post.

Let's see: 1 money, 2 monies, 3 monies, 4 monies,...nope, doesn't work.

However: 1 dollar, 2 dollars, 3 dollars, 4 dollars...that makes sense.

So, in the future you don't want less money. But equivalently you don't want fewer dollars.

The point? Money is a less specific concept than currency. When you say you're counting the former, you really mean you're counting the latter.

Re:Finland... (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | about 2 years ago | (#41504111)

When I'm counting my money, I'm definitely not counting my currencies. Indeed, when counting my currencies, I'd be finished quite fast, because all my money is in a single currency.

BTW, a simpler rule for "less" vs. "fewer" is that "less" goes with singular ("less water"), while "fewer" goes with a plural ("fewer waters"). So applying "fewer" to "money" would result in "fewer monies" which isn't possible because money has no plural.

Re:Finland... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41506995)

When I'm counting my money, I'm definitely not counting my currencies. Indeed, when counting my currencies, I'd be finished quite fast, because all my money is in a single currency.

Point taken. I meant units of currency. I was trying to generalize beyond dollars.

Still, I stand by what I meant. When you "count money" you're really counting units of currency (e.g., dollars.) So the phrase "less money" doesn't violate the counting rule.

Re:Finland... (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 2 years ago | (#41507305)

A simpler rule would be that if it makes sense to define it as an integer type, use "fewer".

There's no such thing as half a hole or half a rock, for example, so in those cases "less" would be wrong.

Re:Finland... (1)

rolfwind (528248) | about 2 years ago | (#41509797)

Yeah, you're correct.

However, the rule is relatively new and I don't think it's a very good one:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fewer_vs._less#Historical_usage [wikipedia.org]

For instance, you can use "more" with either case. Seems to me a rule for a rules sake and something no one on the street really does.

Re:Finland... (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about 2 years ago | (#41504741)

It's "fewer tests" or alternatively "less testing", but since tests is in plural form it's fewer. At least if I remember correctly my (Finnish) high school English lessons.

you'll never say that you have 32423 of money. that's why you'd say less money and possibly fewer dollars.

Re:Finland... (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 2 years ago | (#41507331)

Finns speak English almost as well as the English, that's to say considerably better than most Americans.

Mind you, if my native language was Finnish I'd learn something else. What is it, 23 noun cases?

Re:Finland... (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | about 2 years ago | (#41508283)

Only one plague of standardised tests? A good (for certain meanings of "good") half dozen at least to go then.

Re:Finland... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41502047)

Greets! I am Finnish. Our education system is not very good and a weekend text book doesn't change that. Having lived in Finland, Europe, US, etc. I think the only reason we score better on tests than US is because we don't have chocolate people. White and Asian US students are equal or better than Finnish student (sad but true).

Re:Finland... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41502565)

Actually, that isn't quite true. This article [theatlantic.com] states that Norway is also relatively homogenous like Finland, but their scores are still mediocre and this may be in part due to their American style education policy. America simply does not strive for equality in their education like Finland does. Furthermore, an increase in the immigrant population in Finland did not bring down their scores.

Re:Finland... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41504047)

I'm also Finnish and I think you are retarded .. "because we don't have chocolate people", jeezh ..

Re:Finland... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41506953)

I am Finnish.

Uh huh. Right. Suuuure you are.

Re:Finland... (1)

Forty Two Tenfold (1134125) | about a year ago | (#41517559)

Are you finnished already?

Re:Finland... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41502105)

The US could learn a lot from the Finnish approach to education...

I've been reading Susan Cain's book "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" and she mentions the Finnish people in there.

Anyway, the more I hear about the Finnish, the more it sounds like they're my kind of people.

Re:Finland... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41504091)

Make it really hard for students who don't speak Finnish to to study there?

Re:Finland... (1)

nobaloney (1012719) | about 2 years ago | (#41508043)

The US could learn a lot from the Finnish approach to education...

We have. We're Finnish-ed with the whole concept of bothering with education at all. Politics is so much more German to our continued failure to thrive as a country.

because teaching is *that* easy (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41501909)

The main thing which distinguishes a paedagogical material from bad paedagogical material is care.

There are lots of people who know lots of stuff. Almost all these people are able to quickly write down some information relating to this stuff quickly if you give them vague outlines.

But teaching is an interactive process, and finding out what teaching material works means spending time with students and developing your material based on that experience.

And then updating it regularly to reflect feedback.

I am a mathematics graduate and I could knock together an introduction to lots of things in a weekend. Hell, when chatting with intelligent researchers in other disciplines, I have done "introduction to blah" on-the-spot lectures *literally* on the back of a napkin in canteens or whatever. I really don't think I managed to convey enough to give the audience a solid foundation, and it certainly wouldn't have worked at a secondary school level where I don't know that I'm talking to exceptionally bright people.

Re:because teaching is *that* easy (5, Insightful)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 2 years ago | (#41502007)

Perhaps they've been teaching stuff for quite some time and now they're simply putting their notes together.

Re:because teaching is *that* easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41502037)

Meh. Kids who start learning to read at 5-6 never catch up to those who started at 3-4. Likewise, kids with stable family lives generally outperform those with unstable family lives. Those two ingredients pretty much bake the cake, giving teachers not much room for effectiveness beyond them.

Re:because teaching is *that* easy (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41502069)

I suspect most people don't understand mathematics anyway. They simply memorize routines and formulas, but they never know why they're used or even why they work.

Re:because teaching is *that* easy (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 2 years ago | (#41507363)

The main thing which distinguishes a paedagogical material from bad paedagogical material is care.

Careful, you can go to prison in the UK for using words like that.

The USA is the land of the free, so there you can only be fired for it.

Re:because teaching is *that* easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41507803)

In America, you can always criticise the government. In Soviet Russia, you can always criticise your employer.

No but seriously if freedom of speech doesn't mean freedom not to starve to death because your boss doesn't like what you have to say then you don't have freedom of speech at all.

Re:because teaching is *that* easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41510053)

The main thing which distinguishes a paedagogical material from bad paedagogical material is care.

Careful, you can go to prison in the UK for using words like that.

The USA is the land of the free, so there you can only be fired for it.

You use that word a lot. I do not think it means what you think it does.

Re:because teaching is *that* easy (1)

DoctorBonzo (2646833) | about a year ago | (#41512165)

Heartily agree.

This is an interesting approach, but I think it can only be a first cut and will likely die unless there's some mechanism for continuous revision based on in-class experience.

why use hipsterisms? (2)

Gothmolly (148874) | about 2 years ago | (#41501955)

Hackathon? Booksprint?

When did mundane events and tasks become faddish?

Re:why use hipsterisms? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41502059)

When it's fun.

It's the very definition of nerd.

I mean you may still be a nerd and not get it. Nerdish behavior is basically intellectual and social indept. You may still qualify for both of those, but you're not a fun nerd.

Re:why use hipsterisms? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41502799)

Inept is what I think you are..

Re:why use hipsterisms? (1)

GoodNewsJimDotCom (2244874) | about 2 years ago | (#41503579)

It all started with the success of the X games. Now we have extreme librarianism. Just don't mess with Conan the Librarian.

Density (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about 2 years ago | (#41502035)

> The book is written in Finnish.

When did they finnish it?

Is it any good? (5, Insightful)

phantomfive (622387) | about 2 years ago | (#41502147)

Richard Feynman is probably the most famous person to complain about textbooks, but he wasn't complaining about closed source, he was complaining because they weren't any good [textbookleague.org] .

So the question remains, is this textbook any good?

Re:Is it any good? (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41502275)

I think the basis for his complaints were that the people writing the books didn't know the field they were writing about. In this case the people behind the project are graduate students in math, one professor, a few Ph.D's and some teachers. I would guess that the problems with quality will not be of the type Feynman was complaining about, rather problems might occur with explanations that aren't detailed enough or lack the polish that inevitably follows from a project like this. However, if they put up a mailing list for the project and start incrementally improving it, I'm sure it will surpass in quality the commercially available texts in Finland. Especially, if someone actually teaches a class based on the book, asks feeback from students (e.g. what should be explained better), and uses the experience to improve the presentation.

Since they want something open, the ideal thing would most probably be to have a discussion forum for the book, where students could ask questions. This would give tons of data that can be used for improvement. It would also make the data public, further encouraging contributions from the public. It would also benefit the students that have to live with the beta versions.

Re:Is it any good? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41502433)

I would guess that the problems with quality will not be of the type Feynman was complaining about, rather problems might occur with explanations that aren't detailed enough or lack the polish that inevitably follows from a project like this.

Right, because this will be written in Finnish, not Polish.

Re:Is it any good? (2)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 2 years ago | (#41504495)

The problem with writing a textbook like this is that you need to know two fields: the topic of the textbook and education. It's very easy to find people who know one, finding people who know both is hard. It's also really hard to correctly pitch textbooks aimed at children so that they're approachable without being patronising. There's a reason I stick to writing books for adults: it's orders of magnitude easier.

Re:Is it any good? (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 2 years ago | (#41506681)

The problem with writing a textbook like this is that you need to know two fields: the topic of the textbook and education.

I am not so sure about that. Having a teacher educated about education (i.e., having a degree in education) is negatively correlated with student performance.

Re:Is it any good? (1)

tilante (2547392) | about a year ago | (#41517583)

You're confusing knowing a field with having been educated in it. ;-)

Re:Is it any good? (1)

volmtech (769154) | about 2 years ago | (#41508955)

If the students realize they are being patronized you are either a poor writer or the students are too old for the material any way.

Re:Is it any good? (2, Insightful)

fermion (181285) | about 2 years ago | (#41502601)

One thing that is good about it is that it is in LaTeX. That means that it could, for instance, be put on Github, and changes made and committed. This is different from so many other books that are written in,. say MS Word, that are less easily revisioned.

So quality is going to depend on basic initial construction and how much buy there is to improve the book. From my experience, there is often s good amount of personality conflicts in these things. The reason we have commercial books is because powerful individuals focus on what they want instead of simply whether the content is accurate.

Re:Is it any good? (3, Interesting)

Unnngh! (731758) | about 2 years ago | (#41503605)

I hate reviewing LaTeX documents, as the software doesn't come with any revisioning/collaboration tools to speak of. Word, on the other hand, PITA though it may be, comes with very good tools via track changes and comments. Not revisioning in the sense of version control, but in the sense of what most people actually need for document editing. For an open textbook a VCS would work great, but it's overkill for smaller, article-length papers.

Re:Is it any good? (1)

0100010001010011 (652467) | about 2 years ago | (#41503941)

You mean it needs something like... Git?

Re:Is it any good? (3, Informative)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 2 years ago | (#41504511)

You are doing it wrong. LaTeX is source code and so it can be put in any revision control system. We store a load of LaTeX documents in svn and it's very easy to review minor changes just by reading the commit emails. You can't do that with something like Word - everyone needs to check out the document and open it in Word. For reviewing larger sets of changes, I use the latexdiff tool. This annotates changed sections between two arbitrary versions. For stuff I'm sending off to my publisher, I just add change bars so that the copyeditor or proofreader can recheck those sections. For things I'm editing collaboratively, I'll make it highlight the old and new text.

I've also done collaborative work with Word and it was painful in comparison. The rest of the company agreed, and later paid me to produce a custom LaTeX document class for them that matched their publication style so that they could ditch Word. If you have more than two people collaborating, then the Word model is very cumbersome.

Re:Is it any good? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#41511927)

Not to mention that after a couple of edit sessions, Word's tracked changes become unintelligible. I'll take LaTeX and a revision control system over Word any day (not to mention that multiple authors can work on the same document at the same time, with all changes duly noted).

Re:Is it any good? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41509117)

You have it exactly backwards. Word is not only a PITA, it's a steaming pile of crap. If you are talking about a lack of revisioning and collaboration tools with LaTeX, you don't understand what LaTeX is. It's like saying plain text doesn't have revisioning and collaboration tools. And why should a VCS be any worse for a shorter paper than for a longer one? That just... doesn't make any sense.

Re:Is it any good? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41504531)

And, in fact, this textbook _is_ in Github and people can see it developing almost in real time.
https://github.com/linjaaho/oppikirjamaraton-maa1

Re:Is it any good? (1)

RabidReindeer (2625839) | about 2 years ago | (#41505263)

One thing that is good about it is that it is in LaTeX. That means that it could, for instance, be put on Github, and changes made and committed. This is different from so many other books that are written in,. say MS Word, that are less easily revisioned.

I can fault MS Word for a lot of things, but it was Word's built-in version tracking that helped bring down the author of the "Love" malware.

It's not an independent VCS - and one person in the chain can wipe the history - but it's still good enough for informal collaboration, it's automatic, doesn't require all participants to have accounts in a VCS, supports out-of-line commentary, and easy to use.

Still, for something more format, a real VCS is preferable. Many modern-day VCS systems can do binary diffs to the extent that even stuff like MS-Word documents don't necessarily mean discrete full copies of each generation.

More importantly, though. MS tinkers with file formats too freely. If you must use a Word-style format, ODF is more stable. And, of course, LaTeX is plain-text without all the XML clutter.

Re:Is it any good? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41502945)

I can appreciate this. Having just completed a physics masters, I am well acquainted with trying to find textbooks on various things, often referring to the Big Names In Physics Textbooks - that is Landau/Lifshitz, Griffiths, Hecht, Goldstein, Sakurai and the list goes on. The problem is that very few books are written to the levels that students need them.

Introductory undergraduate texts are often superficial enough for a first pass, but quickly become doorstops (e.g. Young and Freedman). Personally I still found them useful for occasional things, but by and large we forgot about them. When you graduate things become more tricky and you resort to reading peer publications and textbooks that fit your niche. This is tricky, but hey, it's research and you live with it. The problem is in between, those three or four years of undergrad where you need excellent concise explanations of, in reality, very complicated phenomena. Most of the time that simply doesn't exist.

After four years of my degree I hit problems. I understood what was taught in the lectures, but I had problems applying the information to other things. Why? Because I found myself asking whether something was possible or not. This was especially apparent in General Relativity with tensor calculus, I was hesitant to work through equations because I wasn't sure whether I could do operation X or if such and such was valid. It's that horrible feeling of knowing enough about a topic to understand that what you're about to do is wrong, but not enough to know the solution.

Let's take quantum mechanics as an example. The textbooks almost uniformly start in the same way, a quick overview of the observed phenomena, some stuff on wave-particle duality and a headfirst dive into the Schrödinger Equation followed by uses thereof. By the time you get to higher level QM and things like bra-ket notation is introduced, people get confused. They get even more confused when analogies to vectors start being bandied around and when operators come into the fray it gets worse. Why? Because they started the wrong way. Going in the other direction, the big well known books in QM are strictly graduate and often the people recommending them really have no idea what they're talking about. There simply aren't that many geniuses in most colleges/universities. Realistically 95% of students need simple, hand-holdy books with a lot of solid grounding.

There is only one textbook I've found at an undergraduate level that remedies this for QM, and that's Shankar. Whereas most books begin with historical waffle, Shankar immediately dives in with mathematics. Quantum mechanics barely gets mentioned until the third chapter. Why is this? Because it lets you get your head around the idea of a vector "not being a stick with an arrow" as he puts it. Once you understand that a vector is simply a mathematical object that obeys a set of rules and that position vectors happen to obey them also, things get easier. The second chapter is still no quantum and in fact deals with Hamiltonian mechanics, I know of no other book that does this in quite this way. As a result, by the time you get to introducing quantum effects, it is easy to explain the Schrödinger equation in terms of abstract maths and solving problems becomes more straight forward. In fact, you realise that you learned about operator notation, eigenvector/value/functions before you even learned about the wavefunction and it's simply a matter of applying your knowledge.

The rest of the book is fairly self explanatory, all the usual topics are covered in a decent amount of detail although there is no field theory. But that's not the point. The point is that the reader is given a rigorous mathematical explanation of the physics before the physics is taught. As a result, the physics becomes almost trivial and you can understand why things connect the way they do.

Extend this to the rest of textbooks and you have your problem. Authors need to step into the students' shoes and really understand what they need to be teaching. Secondly there needs to be an extremely strong focus on first principles, even if that means that science degrees become steadily more and more mathematical. Not to the extent that everything becomes an applied math degree, but basic courses in set theory and (as above) vector spaces wouldn't go amiss. There are books on mathematics for physicists like Szekeres that should be mandatory reading.

Mathematics fortunately doesn't have so much of an issue because it's very clear where the foundations are and you build up from there. With something like physics or chemistry, it's very easy to be told that something happens and even methods for solving problems without knowing what you're actually doing. As a result you're building your knowledge on a foundation of sand.

Re:Is it any good? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41504059)

Writing a text book is extremely difficult because it has to satisfy the needs of different groups of students - brilliant students, above average, average and not-teachable students. Maths books also make assumptions which are not spelled out anywhere and all you will hear is "recall....", which one to recall and from where? The books are written for academic promotions and show what the authors understand not what students should understand. There almost no good student friendly text books. Also, while the concepts can not be reduced, how it applies to real life situations - in science, engineering, life, society and so on are all creative ways of using the mathematical tools but seldom taught as such. Also, most "applied teachers" end up getting tenure in colleges and universities who prevent any creative person get an academic position, thus 90% of the colleges and universities in the US are dens of academic corruptions. It is about 99% in other parts of the world. Right from the elementary schools, we want to create skill less robots to obey their masters and make the rich richer. So, any attempt to improve teaching should be welcomed. It takes long time to come up with some good stuff. Khan's academy may not the best, but it is being appreciated. The same will apply to this Finnish effort.

Re:Is it any good? (1)

Rockoon (1252108) | about 2 years ago | (#41505133)

Writing a text book is extremely difficult because it has to satisfy the needs of different groups of students - brilliant students, above average, average and not-teachable students.

Wait... why are textbooks written to satisfy the needs of "not-teachable" students? This seems like a problem that cannot be satisfactorily addressed by the content of the textbook unless "satisfaction" is the score on a specific test that is either directly or indirectly a full-fledged companion to the textbook.

Re:Is it any good? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41504869)

To be quite honest, this should be scored 6 for brilliant. It addresses the primary problem of learning from textbooks today. We ignore the fact that the people who initially described deeply involved theories of [insert one] *Computation/Physics/Mathematics/Statistics* weren't operating in a subject-based bubble. They were basing their primary theories on things learned from other subjects, from earlier learning, and to truly teach something you should teach it from the ground up, even if the ground up involves simple summaries of things previously learned (or assumed to be learned).

Students learn in a bubble, the bubble consists of a semesters teaching, which is fairly quickly dismissed as no longer relevant. After all, they learned it. Textbooks choose to ignore this and leap directly into the meat of things, which is wonderful for discussing with a colleague, and terrible for teaching someone from the beginning.

Bad Public Relations (3, Insightful)

Bruce Perens (3872) | about 2 years ago | (#41503135)

If you want Open Textbooks, and there are many reasons to want them, you should not start by announcing to the world that you wrote the complete thing in a three day sprint. That's just handing a line to the commercial publishers to use in opposing such works.

If you are not going to do everything that a commercial publisher and their authors would do to ensure the quality of the work, please don't tell the world about it. Just put the work up for people to fix, and let them announce it when they're satisfied with it.

Re:Bad Public Relations (1)

GoodNewsJimDotCom (2244874) | about 2 years ago | (#41503565)

You have a good point that it isn't good to write them all at once. Isn't one of open source's strong points is that things only get better over time with more people checking for errors and polishing the product?

Re:Bad Public Relations (1)

Bruce Perens (3872) | about 2 years ago | (#41503675)

Isn't one of open source's strong points is that things only get better over time with more people checking for errors and polishing the product?

Absolutely.

And I don't object to having a three-day sprint to do the work that they did. But almost the entire announcement is about its being written in 3 days, and I do object to the announcement being written that way.

Next time, I think there should be more thought about what they're trying to sell to their country, what their opponents will say and how to deal with that, and how they can promote that this is a continuing effort.

Re:Bad Public Relations (2)

puhuri (701880) | about 2 years ago | (#41504631)

Many of those who are participating have experience on writing commercial i.e. closed text books and the work estimate is reasonable. With that group the amount of work done in a weekend is the same or larger that is done by the author on text book. Probably part of illustrations and editing work made by publisher will be missing by end of weekend. The text and content looks reasonable as I just pulled it from github and compiled.

There has already been lots of discussion in local media "those are stealing money from publishers", "how they are going to get living" and usual stuff related to open source software. And that is a good thing - specailly becase crowdsourced and crowdfunded language teaching book was killed by authorities [slashdot.org] .

The fact is, that only very few text book writers earn living just by making text books in Finland. If you have only a about 5 million speaking Finnish, you do not sell many books even if you get manage write a bestseller for elementary school. This book is for the first course in high school "long" mathematics, that is taken only by about 10000 students annually. In addition, aftermarkets are quite active, so at best one is able to sell 5000 books - and of course that is divided further between different publishers. Taken that writer gets some 2 € for a book, it is easy to make then math - annual salary for qualified high school math teacher (15y experience, additional education; i.e. one that would be able to write a book) is 50000 €. And typically there are at least 3 persons sharing the profits, so after marginal taxes one may afford to pay holiday flight tickets.

I, as a father of 3rd year high school student, would have welcomed this three years earlier.

Re:Bad Public Relations (1)

RabidReindeer (2625839) | about 2 years ago | (#41505353)

Like a lot of "too good to be true" things, I suspect that the REAL time involved was more than just the 3 days.

If someone called me up, said "we're going to be writing a book this weekend, can you do X"? then yes, I could probably slam out a chapter in 3 days. but that's not counting the in-between time where I'd be getting my thoughts together and digging out the notes I'd want to use.

Nor would it be counting the time spent getting people selected to sign up or determining who's doing what.

Re:Bad Public Relations (1)

volmtech (769154) | about 2 years ago | (#41509099)

I'm just curious, why should a mathematics text be any different for Finland than America? 2 + 2 is 4 no mater which country you're doing the addition. Language and history text will of course differ but shouldn't math, physics, chemistry be universal, only needing the narration to be accurately translated into the local language? I understand wanting to employ local publishers but we buy your cell phones, you should buy our text books. Snide remarks about wanting the students to actually learn math will be ignored.

Re:Bad Public Relations (1)

Bruce Perens (3872) | about 2 years ago | (#41510393)

5000 is a good size run for technical titles in the U.S. The publisher would be satisfied if they sold that many. I don't think most technical authors expect to support themselves by writing. They write to establish their credibility.

Re:Bad Public Relations (1)

RabidReindeer (2625839) | about 2 years ago | (#41505321)

Isn't one of open source's strong points is that things only get better over time with more people checking for errors and polishing the product?

Absolutely.

And I don't object to having a three-day sprint to do the work that they did. But almost the entire announcement is about its being written in 3 days, and I do object to the announcement being written that way.

Next time, I think there should be more thought about what they're trying to sell to their country, what their opponents will say and how to deal with that, and how they can promote that this is a continuing effort.

I would agree that this sort of thing could be used to legitimize the idea of "9 women having a baby in 1 month". And, alas, probably will be.

However, it's a false analogy in that what's being produced is not really a linear work or a work where there's tight coupling between the components. so it's not unreasonable that small teams could produce independent chapters in parallel (especially if they're working from existing notes), ship them out for review, then spend a day or so making sure that the book hangs together a whole.

So I applaud the effort, but dread the ways that clueless people will use it to justify things that don't work that way. Babies, for example.

Re:Bad Public Relations (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 2 years ago | (#41504549)

I disagree. Part of the reason that publishers of this kind of book can get away with charging schools so much for books is the perception that writing a textbook is really hard. Showing you can get to a first draft state in three days then that shows how it might be a better investment for school systems to pay authors directly. A big part of the problem is that textbook prices are not itemised. If you're a school district that wants to buy, say, 10,000 textbooks, then you get quoted a price by the publisher. You have no idea how much of this is the cost of the authors' time, the cost of copyediting, the cost of printing and distribution, and the publisher's profit. It is, however, very easy to get quotes for just the printing / binding part, especially now that there are so many on-demand printers online. Copyediting costs are typically close to fixed per page, irrespective of content. If you can work out that paying a few competent people to write a book that you then own the rights to costs the same amount as buying from a big publisher and then replacement copies are much cheaper then that's a huge win for open source textbooks.

Re:Bad Public Relations (1)

marcello_dl (667940) | about 2 years ago | (#41505025)

> That's just handing a line to the commercial publishers to use in opposing such works.

Given the ease of checking out the complete free work, I see more risks for the commercial publisher, if his product is not substantially better than a free offering hacked away in three days.

Re:Bad Public Relations (1)

JoonasD6 (912298) | about 2 years ago | (#41507495)

We wrote perhaps a 9 months' work in three days and you think publishers will mock this in an effective way? The PR has been enormously great and this gives the book even better chances to improve. :) Cleaning, editing and some graphics are still to be done, but it will still have been faster and better than our current books. And yet another great highlight of open materials which the general public don't really know about.

Re:Bad Public Relations (1)

Bruce Perens (3872) | about 2 years ago | (#41510285)

We wrote perhaps a 9 months' work in three days and you think publishers will mock this in an effective way?

To establish my credibility, I have published 24 titles that are Open Source as the series editor of the book series that is named after me. I got a reputable publisher to take the series on my terms, and to use the Open Source license I recommended. All but one of these titles made money even though everyone is free to copy them.

It is easy for people in the Open Source community to not understand how people who are not in the community perceive your team and your work. The publisher won't have to work very hard to mock your work, because most people who aren't associated with Open Source just won't see a three-day sprint as producing the sort of quality work that they would like to have taught to their children.

Those same folks won't have gotten a good impression from the crowdsourcing failure. You see yourself as victim of behind-the-times legislation. They see you as naive or worse.

I think you need someone on your team who understands public relations and can empathize with the folks you consider enemies (some of whom are, and some of whom you just don't understand well enough to work with them). You won't win without that sort of person.

Ensuring the Quality of Textbooks (1)

Rozzin (9910) | about 2 years ago | (#41507909)

If you want Open Textbooks, and there are many reasons to want them, you should not start by announcing to the world that you wrote the complete thing in a three day sprint. That's just handing a line to the commercial publishers to use in opposing such works.

Maybe not. But...:

If you are not going to do everything that a commercial publisher and their authors would do to ensure the quality of the work...

A teacher friend recently pointed out this quality of the work [tumblr.com] in textbooks to me. It seems like quality isn't what makes it hard to compete--rather, it's the same sort of things that made it hard for opensource software to compete with Microsoft et al.

Re:Ensuring the Quality of Textbooks (1)

Bruce Perens (3872) | about 2 years ago | (#41510333)

My book series wasn't intended to be used as textbooks in school, but as references for professionals. But we published 24 of them, and if Microsoft tried to interfere we didn't notice. All 24 titles are Open Source.

I think this Finnish group needs someone who is an insider on textbook selection committees to advise them. The last thing these committees want is to embarrass themselves by being seen to recommend a work that was produced in three days. They would lose their credibility, regardless of the quality of the work.

Sometimes, it isn't that the wold is against us. It's us that are incapable of working with the world.

Re:Ensuring the Quality of Textbooks (1)

joib (70841) | about a year ago | (#41511565)

I think this Finnish group needs someone who is an insider on textbook selection committees to advise them. The last thing these committees want is to embarrass themselves by being seen to recommend a work that was produced in three days. They would lose their credibility, regardless of the quality of the work.

IIRC there are no textbook selection committees in Finland. Teachers are free to choose whichever book they want; or indeed to not choose any book at all and teach the class based on their own material.

Re:Ensuring the Quality of Textbooks (1)

Bruce Perens (3872) | about a year ago | (#41515593)

Every teacher individually? Textbooks must teach to the content of the abitur and the standards being established by the Bologna Process. So, I guess the curricula are well defined. But I'm still surprised that this decision would be left to every teacher individually.

Re:Ensuring the Quality of Textbooks (1)

joib (70841) | about a year ago | (#41516473)

Every teacher individually?

AFAIU, yes. (That being said, while I have teached at the university level in Finland, I have no experience of the Finnish primary and high school system from the faculty viewpoint, so you might want to double-check with someone else). Also, consider that there are something like 5 million Finnish speakers, so it's not a particularly large market, so teachers are not exactly going to be overwhelmed by the number of available textbooks. E.g. in physics I think there are about 3-4 book series covering the high school curriculum. I suppose it's a bit different in the US, where one presumably cannot assume a teacher has time to evaluate all the available textbooks. Then again, at least from over here it seems that textbook selection in the US is extremely politicized (can a biology textbook cover evolution? WTF!?) which probably isn't conductive to a good outcome either.

Textbooks must teach to the content of the abitur and the standards being established by the Bologna Process. So, I guess the curricula are well defined. But I'm still surprised that this decision would be left to every teacher individually.

Yes, the Ministry of Education defines (broadly) the curriculum, so it's not like teachers are allowed to teach whatever they fancy. But generally, the large degree of autonomy given to teachers is often seen as one of the reasons why Finland does so well in these PISA tests. Teachers over here are pretty well educated, and it's a well regarded profession. Of course, there are other reasons as well, e.g. Finland is culturally pretty homogeneous and there are quite small socioeconomic differences compared to many other countries. Anyway, it's not like teachers are alone in choosing textbooks, of course they talk with colleagues etc., and professional societies do from time to time publish reviews of the available textbooks, which I assume teachers read carefully.

As an aside, the Bologna process AFAIK covers only higher education (at the polytechnic/university level, bachelor/master/Phd), not high school. Of course, it indirectly covers lower education as well in the sense that it effectively requires that students entering higher education have certain skills.

Re:Is it any good? (1)

Seumas (6865) | about 2 years ago | (#41503485)

Well, yeah, if you are a genius mathematician or astronomer or physicist or programmer, why would you waste time you could spend making money, exploring the world, or reaching new intellectual heights so that you can write a book for a bunch of students to learn stuff that has become trivial to you (because you're probably working in a realm that wont' be relevant to a codified educational content for twenty more years).

Anyway, in America, this would be deemed as something that should be presumed illegal to preserve old business models.

Re:Is it any good? (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about 2 years ago | (#41503719)

You're criticizing Feynman for not spending time on this? Do you know how much time Feynman spent on textbook review? At least read what he wrote (it was linked to) before saying idiotic things. Not only that, he actually DID write a very good book about quantum mechanics.

Re:Is it any good? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41503507)

That's a relevant question, because it just so happens that most open textbooks seriously fail to meet the standard of a helpful educational tool.

As for Feynman not liking textbooks, who the heck cares. The guy was one of the great minds of the 20th century. Of COURSE he thought textbooks were stupid!

When is the open textbook community going to realize that it's mostly comprised of a bunch of amateurs who pretend to be publishers. Most of these people don't know what they're doing, and it shows.

Instead of a textbook revolution, all I see is a bunch of academics who are running open textbook groups funded by the government and foundations. NIce for them, but are they really making a difference? Not really. The movement could have really been something, but it's been co-opted by stupidity and nonsense arguments about CC licenses and other minutiae. What more should one expect form the very academics that helped the publishing companies get to the point where they could charge outrageous prices in the first place.

Colleges and universities - along with most of their useless administrators and a large % of useless professors need to be disintermediated, and that can't happen fast enough.

Onwards, and upwards.

Re:Is it any good? (2)

gl4ss (559668) | about 2 years ago | (#41504767)

it's for (what's essentially) the first course in high school "long" mathematics. I don't think they can fuck it up too much(there's really not that much to fuck up in it).
as such though it's not very useful until they make the books for the rest of the courses(this is like 1/8th of the 3 year high school long mathematics).

And "long" mathematics because we have this choice of doing "long" or "short" in some subjects, like chemistry, physics, and mathematics. And free textbooks that don't change every other year would be nice because this is not elementary school, the pupils have to buy the books(however if you really couldn't afford them, I think you could get social services to pony up for them).

(it's not high school but "lukio", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gymnasium_(school) [wikipedia.org] ).

Hackathon? (1)

craigminah (1885846) | about 2 years ago | (#41502427)

Why is this considered a hackathon? Seems like the term "hack" is a little too cliche...kind of like "epic", "epic fail", etc. They wrote a textbook, wow. I wonder how many errors are in it and how biased it is. Prolly could use a little peer review but 3 days to fill a couple hundred pages...I mean "three days to hack some paper and not epic fail is swell."

Re:Hackathon? (1)

queazocotal (915608) | about 2 years ago | (#41502557)

I'm curious.
How do you have a biased math textbook?
No number 7s?

Re:Hackathon? (2)

martin-boundary (547041) | about 2 years ago | (#41502643)

He means, it contains the authors' favourite topics related to the basic material, and doesn't contain the authors' least favourite topics. For example, in calculus, optimizing functions (finding the max or min) is an important application of calculus. So if a textbook doesn't mention this application because the author finds it uninteresting, that's an example of a biased textbook.

Re:Hackathon? (1)

craigminah (1885846) | about 2 years ago | (#41505439)

Right. I'm impressed the authors banged out a textbook in a couple days but does it encompass all the subject matter equally, does it not include errors, etc.? I think a more rigorous and structured approach for something as important as a textbook should be the preferred method.

Re:Hackathon? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41502691)

I would have agreed with you a year ago, but read up on conservapedia's [scienceblogs.com] crazy leader.

Re:Hackathon? (1)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#41505775)

How do you have a biased math textbook?

One of the "jobs" available to teachers over the summer when I was a kid was multicultural review. I had an algebra (or was it geometry?) teacher who spent her summer determining the racial distribution of characters in word problems, for use in purchasing decisions and as justification that the old textbooks were obsolete. Also all minorities required to be displayed in a positive, superior manner, no hint of stereotypes allowed. Writing textbooks is actually quite restrictive and you need a team of qualified racists on staff merely to make sure you know all the stereotypes so as to avoid random accidental implementation. I have a couple teachers in my family, I should ask how this is done now. The publishers probably provide this data now, or school districts share it over the internet so each district so each district doesn't have to individually calculate the John/Juan/Sheniqua ratio for each book.

Rushed design by committee (2)

happyhamster (134378) | about 2 years ago | (#41503469)

It's going to end up being a steaming pile of crap, designed by a committee, rushed to finish. Why such a hurry? In my experience, great textbooks are labor of love of experts in the field with talent in writing.

Re:Rushed design by committee (1)

jones_supa (887896) | about 2 years ago | (#41504153)

Why such a hurry? It's a hackathon! So the answer is: just for fun!

But anyway, Finns don't like to put out crap in general, so I predict there will still be quite good quality control. And if you need something that has been marinated for a longer time, there's plenty of textbooks available already.

Re:Rushed design by committee (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41504563)

It's all in Github and developing can be continued after those three days. And I'm pretty sure, they will continue it and probably they will get contributions from others too.

And yeah, there are some other great open source things started from small Finnish projects. Ever heard of Linux, MySQL?

Re:Rushed design by committee (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41505615)

It's going to end up being a steaming pile of crap, designed by a committee, rushed to finish.

Congratulations, you just described the Texas method of producing text books! Well, as long as the committee is including certain views of non-reality....

Re:Rushed design by committee (1)

JoonasD6 (912298) | about 2 years ago | (#41507465)

It's going to end up being a steaming pile of crap, designed by a committee, rushed to finish. Why such a hurry? In my experience, great textbooks are labor of love of experts in the field with talent in writing.

It won't end up being a steaming pile of crap for a simple reason: it continues to develop for longer than this weekend. This sprint was a separate interesting idea from the book being open.

The problem with textbooks in math education (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41505623)

Textbooks are dense compilations of abstract content. They struggle poorly to contextualize their subject matter of the reader. The best a student can hope for is some example with a good diagram. They don't interact with the student, the student can't reprogram a mathematics example in a textbook by itself, they have to go and learn to use entirely separate tools and skills to do that. If you want to learn something, then you immerse yourself in it, you push yourself toward comprehension and you play with the components. A good teacher with LOGO and enough computers could teach a bunch of 11 year old kids deeper and more complex mathematical ideas than a good teacher with a textbook on Algebra with more mature students.

And if you want someone to learn something, the hardest way you can make them do it is by reading about it in a book. In order to understand an abstract concept in writing, you have to read and comprehend the material deeply. To do that, you have to burn through hours of mental effort or develop your own ways of interacting with the ideas you want to learn, like writing programs to graph them or making physical models involving their principles.

The only reason this project is good is because it makes no sense for schools to pay for a product as bad as a textbook.

I think I've read this before.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41505695)

An upper secondary mathematics textbook written in Finnish? Sounds to me like your average Linux man page.

Video in English (1)

JoonasD6 (912298) | about 2 years ago | (#41507471)

Here's a English-language video from Vesa Linja-aho, the submitter and the main boss guy in this project: http://youtu.be/ThbUiky4AKA [youtu.be]

This is not a good thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41507863)

Seriously, do you REALLY want your child taking data from something thrown together in a weekend?

I'm positive it was not fact checked. I'm positive it has not had any sort of consistency, its going to have several different writing styles which is bad. Its not going to focus on the proper things where students have difficulty, its going to focus on the things the writers know the most about, or THINK they know the most about.

'Open' doesn't make it better or more useful. In general if you compare ALL 'Open' things to closed, 'Open' pretty much universally sucks. Yes, there are exceptions like Linux, but the key word is EXCEPTION.

This is a stupid idea.

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