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Education

Collaborative Online Textbook Project 192

Posted by michael
from the this-assumes-you-actually-want-to-learn dept.
rocketjam writes "OpenTextBook.org is a new project to create a free, open text book 'collaboratively written by anyone on the internet', using a Creative Commons license. Citing the free software development model and the philosophy that underlies much of that effort, OpenTextBook.org's introduction says this philosophy should apply 'at its most basic to the learning of science.' They hope the project will help to counter the current governmental trend of strengthening the scope, duration and rights of intellectual property owners while cutting back on the fair use rights of individuals. The current state of the project is available as a daily snapshot pdf file which contains the introduction to the project and 9 chapters mostly covering math at this time."
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Collaborative Online Textbook Project

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  • WikkiBooks (Score:5, Interesting)

    by slpalmer (6337) * <slpalmer@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @04:03PM (#9433960)
    Why not collaberate this with the WikiBooks Project [wikibooks.org] which is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License [wikipedia.org].

    Are the two licenses incompatable, or are they just trying to start a competing product? This is a serious question, I've not read the details of either license, and I think competition is good for all involved.

    On the other hand, if the licenses are compatable, why not borrow (attributed of course) material back and forth between the two.

    It certainly seems (by looking at the two sites) that WikiBooks are quite a bit further along in the game.

    • Re:WikkiBooks (Score:3, Informative)

      by jjhlk (678725)
      Competition might be good when all project involved have a lot of people (or money) behind them, but I think these free book projects are lacking volunteers.
      • Re:WikkiBooks (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Theresa1 (748664) on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @04:17PM (#9434125) Homepage Journal
        You'd be surprised how many people are willing to give up their time for free. Last time I looked the english wikipedia has around 4 thousand logged in editors. It has around 250 admins of which about 200 ish edit practically every day! for no money at all.

        The thought of doing something worthwile is a bigger motivator than money for a lot of people.
        • Re:WikkiBooks (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Unfortunately, thinking that one is doing something worthwhile does not mean that one is actually doing anything worthwhile.

          Pity.
          • Re:WikkiBooks (Score:3, Insightful)

            by JohnFluxx (413620)
            I think that the odds of actually doing something worthwhile is far far higher if you do something that you think is worthwhile.
      • Re:WikkiBooks (Score:3, Insightful)

        by kfg (145172)
        How much money was behind Dr. Johnson's dictionary, and how many volunteers did it take to produce it?

        Not every project can be improved by increasing the budget and the manpower.

        Some of them are distinctly degrades by it.

        When it comes to textbooks only the quality of minds is an issue, not their quantity.

        KFG
      • Actually I know 2 math profs here at Berkeley who are working on free math texts. We are said to have one of the best math programs in the world (top 3?) so the quality of the contributors should be superb.
    • Re:WikkiBooks (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Theresa1 (748664)
      "It certainly seems (by looking at the two sites) that WikiBooks are quite a bit further along in the game"

      It has been going for nearly a year now, plus it has the link with wikipedia which means a plentiful supply of editors, so it's bound to be further along in the game

    • If OpenTextBooks.org use a license with a strong copyleft, then they are likely incompatible (i cannot get to the page with thier license right now b/c of stupid webfilters at work), but the two groups could probably come to a consensus (most copyleft licenses, I've noticed, don't differ from one another much). Also if their is some kind of forced contribution, ala the MPL, then there is a conflict with the licenses, which would leave WikkiBooks able to share, but not able to freely take.

      If OTB.org is usi
    • by Alexis de Torquemada (785848) on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @04:23PM (#9434198)
      Are the two licenses incompatable, or are they just trying to start a competing product? This is a serious question, I've not read the details of either license, and I think competition is good for all involved.

      The given Creative Commons license prohibits commercial usage of the material. The GNU FDL permits it - for example, the German Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] is now selling printed copies of its first WikiReader [wikipedia.org] book. This makes it impossible to import OpenTextBook content into Wikipedia.

      The other way round, the GNU FDL requires that all derivative works permit commercial usage as well, which makes it impossible to put WikiBooks content into OpenTextBook (copyleft [wikipedia.org]). Fair use would be an exception.

    • Re:WikkiBooks (Score:3, Informative)

      by Craig Shergold (19756)
      The two licenses are CERTAINLY incompatible. Prohibiting commercial usage of the materials is in express opposition to the great work of the GFDL folks, who far from prohibiting commercial redistribution, actually encourage such behavior with this phrase from the license: "either commercially or noncommercially."

      That particular Creative Commons license totally bites. If I contribute to one of the books, I can't sell a copy of it when I'm done. Huh?
      • Re:WikkiBooks (Score:4, Insightful)

        by iabervon (1971) on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @04:56PM (#9434571) Homepage Journal
        You can sell a copy of your contribution, if you want. Since you're the copyright holder on your work, you can do whatever you want with it, and they don't seem to be requiring copyright assignment. Sure, you can't sell a book with everybody else's contributions in it as well, but that doesn't affect your use of your own work, and it means that nobody but you can sell a book with your contribution in it, either; you get the whole commercial market for your section, should you want to try to make money on it.
    • Re:WikkiBooks (Score:3, Insightful)

      by arvindn (542080)
      Apparently there are licensing compatibility issues. I mean, nobody who contributes under either of the licenses wants it to be incompatible with the other, its just that the two licenses were created for slightly different purposes. Wikipedia doesn't use CC-SA mainly because CC didn't exist back then, and wikibooks uses GFDL because wikipedia uses GFDL. There's been a lot of discussion about moving wikibooks to CC-SA or allowing new books to use CC-SA, but I don't know what came of them. The attribution cl
    • Re:WikkiBooks (Score:3, Informative)

      by crazyeddie740 (785275)
      Yes the two licenses are incompatible. I'm a contributor to both the Wikipedia (GFDL) and the linuxquestions.org wiki (Creative Commons). It's a real pain to have to do an article on RMS over again, with all the inevitable flamewars involved, when there's an "open" article just over there... The Creative Commons (by-sa to be exact) is better for this sort of thing (the GFDL can mean that a 1-2 page article comes with 12 pages of legalese). But the Wikipedia was started before the Creative Commons, and migr
  • First Page! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gothmolly (148874) on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @04:05PM (#9433982)
    And other posts, trolls, and crapfloods will make the editing of such a text a continual headache.
    • Re:First Page! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @04:13PM (#9434062) Journal
      Well wikipedia seem to be quite good at countering those sort of trolls since the number of sane contributers outweigh the trolls so much so that the trolls end up not bothering. BTW, whoever modded the parent 'troll' obviously didn't read it very carefully.
    • Re:First Page! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nyekulturniy (413420)
      "And other posts, trolls, and crapfloods will make the editing of such a text a continual headache."

      The same constant editorial process that has improved Wikipedia will improve Wikibooks.

      However, one needs a critical mass after which the editorial process becomes constant and from diversified views. As of now, the other Wikimedia projects haven't hit them. I'm still defining basic entries in the Wiktionary, for example.
      • Yes. It is trivial to detect and revert vandalism, and simple to ban the vandals, on Wikipedia and Wikibooks both. Each page has a page history, and can be reverted to earlier versions (administrators can do this with a single click per page); "bot rollback" can be used to revert all edits done by a certain user, and the developers of the project with SQL access don't report much trouble with reverting, say, IP range blocks.

        The real problem with Wikipedia (and Wikibooks) is not dealing with petty vandalism

    • Re:First Page! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by lukewarmfusion (726141) on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @04:14PM (#9434084) Homepage Journal
      Bad moderation alert!

      The parent post isn't off-topic; if you open a project up to public input and contribution, you'll also be open to those that want to contribute worthlessness.

      The most dangerous thing I can think of is a user contributing materials that they don't have the right to use. A solid lawsuit might knock the entire project off its feet.

      Most trolls or crapfloods can be easily found and deleted, but someone who contributes useful (but illegally used) information might never be detected. How do you account for such users and posts?
      • Re:First Page! (Score:3, Interesting)

        by lawpoop (604919)
        Before someone can submit, they must 'digitally sign' (read: click an [I Agree] button) a statement stating that what they are posting is their own original material, fully licensed under the CPL, etc. etc. That's how you prevent lawsuits: put the liablility in the poster's hands. That also shows any judge that you made an effort to prevent copyright infringement.
  • by bunburyist (664958) on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @04:07PM (#9433996)
    Ok kids, grab the latest CVS textbook binaries off the server and go compile your shell scripts, once or twice...then uhh edit your config scripts...check your dependencies...and then DO YOUR HOMEWORK!
  • by teslatug (543527) on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @04:10PM (#9434027)
    Wikimedia Foundation, the one that also hosts Wikipedia, has a similar project called Wikibooks [wikibooks.org]. It also runs on the same MediaWiki software as Wikipedia, and the contents are licensed under the GFDL.
    • "The California Open Source Textbook Project (COSTP)

      - - http://www.opensourcetext.org - -

      has been collaborating with Wikipedia on a K-12 (public high school) World History project. The project is based on California State Board of Education Framework standards.

      The idea is to create a pilot basd on strict curriculum framework adherence, as this is the **only** way to get **any** state board of education to approve the end product for local school district use.

      I would encourage anyone who is expert

  • A little vague? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sean80 (567340) on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @04:10PM (#9434030)
    I have to admit I'm not quite clear on what this is about. A textbook, huh? About what? Math? The first 9 chapters are "mostly" about Math?
    • So something about that just doesn't add up to you?
    • Re:A little vague? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by TheGavster (774657) on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @04:16PM (#9434103) Homepage
      I read the beginning of it, and it looks like the book will be divided into sections by subject (so I guess you can think of it as a set of books?). The style at the moment reads more like lecture notes than an instructional text (in fact, the formatting and writing style is almost exactly like lecture notes from the CS department at school ...). From reading the section on elementary algebra, I strongly doubt that I could have picked up how to do stuff simply by reading (I guess that's where your educational professional comes in). Its got a bit of a way to go before I would compare it to textbooks I've actually used for those topics.
      • Re:A little vague? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by EvanED (569694)
        I agree. The calc section is only comprehensible because I know calc already. And they don't even cover limits, just pick up with differentiation.

        I don't even see how to turn what they have into a coherent book; I'd start from scratch sooner than I would build upon what's there.
        • Re:A little vague? (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Ra5pu7in (603513)
          I have to agree with this. Even the algebra section would be completely over the heads of someone who doesn't fully recall their high school algebra. Presumably it would require adding in later.
    • Class, your assignment tonight is to read chapters 1 and 2 in OpenTextBook. If you find any problems, please fix them and notify a WikiEditor.

      Your project is to write chapter 10. It should be about Philosophy.
  • by suso (153703) on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @04:10PM (#9434031) Homepage Journal
    Good for them. But they should have someone experienced in professional writing to lead each textbook project. I would worry about bloat and lack of focus in the books. Some people might try to include to much, etc. Or each chapter that is written by a different person have different philosophical ideas.
    • I couldn't agree more. As an English major, reading much of the documentation out there is hard enough. I can't imagine what will happen when people try to form a cohesive book. I guess I will just have to, instead of sitting in fear and bitching, actually contribute the skills I have learned in school. Hopefully there are other writers/editors out there who will do the same.
    • Good point. How is this going to be useful to educators who frequently have to follow a specific strict syllabus? And as for teaching English, how are they going to handle the differing requirements of British and American teachers? It'll be an interesting one to watch.
      • Hell, how about the differing requirements of (let's say) Texas and New York educators. Both states have very stringent (believe it or not) well-defined standards, such that textbook companies cater and fawn over them, making special Texas-only editions of their textbooks and the like. The same holds true for any other reasonably wealthy, populous state (CA, anyone?).

        On the otherhand, this kind of project could be great for states without much political, economic, social, etc. clout (MT, WY, WV, etc.) to
      • "Good point. How is this going to be useful to educators who frequently have to follow a specific strict syllabus? And as for teaching English, how are they going to handle the differing requirements of British and American teachers? It'll be an interesting one to watch."

        Many years ago I worked for a textbook company. No textbook, save one written by the professor, follows the syllabus exactly, nor does it meet the requirements of every state and local government. For example, a social sciences textbook
    • If this is a textbook about basic math, it's been done routinely, with minor notational differences perhaps, for more than a century. Certainly there are good, even great, math books that are now public domain. I would suggest picking one and copying it verbatim as a starting point. That author has already done the hard part. From there modernize it, improve it, add new stuff to it, turn it into something even greater than the orginal author produced.

      As it stands now, it seems to be wandering inefficie

  • by stinkyfingers (588428) on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @04:11PM (#9434037)
    Where do I turn in my Open textbook for some much needed beach week money?
  • Oh no... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @04:11PM (#9434042)
    Expect to see a fight. Do you have any idea how much money is made from the sale of outrageously over-priced textbooks? I fully expect to see our publishing corporate taskmasters to fight this. I would love to see universities and colleges actually start using these online books as the required texts for their classes.
    • Re:Oh no... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by lukewarmfusion (726141) on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @04:19PM (#9434147) Homepage Journal
      My profs often had no idea how expensive the textbooks were. One professor, bless him, found out that his recommended book was $70 and he immediately told us not to buy it (or return it if you had).

      We used a lot of course packets, too. They get expensive when they're hundreds of pages, so many profs began just giving us links to the articles and letting us print them ourselves if we wanted them on paper.

      Our University Bookstore was outrageous; if you can buy elsewhere, do it!
      • Re:Oh no... (Score:2, Informative)

        by questioner (147810)
        www.campusbookstore.com

        This is the student-owned-and-non-profit-organization-run bookstore at Queen's. Originally formed by the Engineering Society some 80-odd years ago to sell supplies to eng students, it is now the source of all textbooks sold NEW on campus.

        Their prices are basically as low as they can go and still break even (non-profit). However, if you check out Amazon.com.uk and compare some prices there, you'll soon find that textbooks there are cheaper in some cases.

        Why?

        Because publishing compa
      • Re:Oh no... (Score:3, Informative)

        by Eil (82413)

        Our University Bookstore was outrageous; if you can buy elsewhere, do it!

        After spending nearly $400 on two semesters' worth of books at a community college, I got fed up and went online to see what I could find. I found that buying used books online almost *always* saved you money as compared to the exame same books (even used) at a college bookstore.

        Although I hate to promote eBay and its ilk, sellers on half.com came in as the best bargain. You just have to order the books well in advance and well bef
      • You've complaining about a $70 textbook?! In engineering, new textbooks often cost between $100 and $150, and I've bought one used textbook for $150 (it would have been $200 new! :-o).
    • Re:Oh no... (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by johnnyb (4816)
      Making money is not wrong. The price of textbooks is often because of the small print runs. However, I can see print-on-demand making these costs go down. The technology exists today through companies like CafePress.com and LightningSource.com to make as few as 1 copy of a book for very low prices.

      Of course, my book isn't expensive. In fact, it's the least-expensive book on assembly language that is available (see my sig).
    • For one, at least at my school which is fairly well rated (top 50 but not top 10), many of my courses the required texts are by the professors themselves -- being a cashcow for the professors. Do you really think those professors would want to lose the money they get (and intellectual control) from teaching from their own book? And on top of that, even if they use another professors book, wouldn't many consider it a backstab on their profession to edge away from their colleagues books and towards online b
    • Re:Oh no... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mandalayx (674042) *
      Actually you'd be surprised.

      Out of every dollar of a textbook sold, only about 13 cents goes to the author. The rest is distributed amongst printing/shipping/editing costs, profit to publisher, a cut to the retailer (often a college bookstore with high overhead), and so on.

      If you do want to see change, let your prof know. Two of the math profs I've had at Berkeley are on board; one will write an open-source calculus text and the other is on public record in a local campaign for affordable textbooks.
  • Might be tricky... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gphinch (722686) on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @04:11PM (#9434048) Homepage
    The thing about OSS vs. OS Books is that software requires individuals who have a knowledge of coding and developing software to write it, there-by limiting the number of yokels who attempt to contribute. With text-books, especially interperative subjects such as History or English, much of the material may end up weighted unfairly. Now the same could be said of traditional books, but with only one or a few authors, accountability is fairly easy. Perhaps this effort would be better served towards checking existing books' material for accuracy. But most of this arguement is nil when applied to this particular book, since in Math there are generally only right and wrong answers (the lower math that this covers at least).
    • by rlandrum (714497)
      I disagree. Poorly written information, or information that is biased will naturally be eliminated as people identify what it is and what purpose it has. The same is true with bloat. No one wants to read 5000 words about a war that last 3 days, when a mere sentance or two will convey the most important aspects. Diane Ravich wrote an excellent book called "The Language Police" about the state of current textbooks, and I thought, while reading it, that an open-source text book might solve many of the prob
    • Open source can lead to pretty nice software. A problem I have is that coders like to code for free, but often won't document worth a damn. This makes me wonder if the open textbooks will ever amount to anything.
  • Finally (Score:5, Funny)

    by Himring (646324) on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @04:13PM (#9434075) Homepage Journal
    Finally, I can cut out that bothersome part where I actually have to type what I plagiarize....
  • Soviet Textbooks (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Euphonious Coward (189818) on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @04:14PM (#9434077)
    The Soviet Union used to publish positively wonderful introductory textbooks, in multiple languages, written by heads of major institutes. In many cases, these texts are still the best book in their respective fields (e.g. electromagnetics).

    These texts can still be found occasionally in used-book stores. They would make an excellent basis for a library of Free texts, if they could be liberated.

    • I have one! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by hkfczrqj (671146) on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @05:09PM (#9434775)
      It's called 'Physics Handbook' (well, in spanish :P), from MIR Editors. The notation was a little different than the usual, but if you have one of Landau's books, you should have no problem. The funny thing is that the books were available to us under the right-wing dictatorship we lived at that time ("they're SOVIET books, it's just communist propaganda"), and they were unbelieveably cheap (it is more expensive to photocopy the book). Dover books seem expensive in comparison.

      I don't know if there was such a thing as a copyright in Soviet Russia (can somebody shed some light on this?), but I agree with the parent poster: it would be a really Good Thing(TM) to have these books around again: maybe reedited in dead-tree form by some editor, maybe an online version...
  • Cohesion = 1/Authors (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Doesn't_Comment_Code (692510) on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @04:16PM (#9434109)
    I just hope they can maintain a strong cohesion with disparate authors. They have the potential to gather many viewpoints (a wonderful tool in teaching) of the same topic so that there are high odds of a reader understanding at least one of them.

    At the same time, every truly great text book that I've read has come from a great author. That author has made each chapter build on the one before, and follow a similar form. In other words, buy the second or third chapter, you're starting to understand how the author thinks and writes, which helps you pick up the material faster. It will be more difficult to acheive the same flow - not impossible mind you (there are many good collaboratively written books) - but difficult.
    • by Yewbert (708667)
      I just hope they can maintain a strong cohesion with disparate authors.

      Good point. Seems that some of the 'purer' subjects wouldn't suffer so much from this effect - and I noted that they've started with math, which seems appropriate.

      Suppose they move on to physics, mechanics, earth science, biology, physiology, psychology, philosophy, comparative religion, etc., - will every successively more 'debatable' subject be more fractious and harder to edit?

      My other big question, that ties into this somewh

    • Indeed. It reminds me of the group projects we used to do in uni. I'd always insisted on taking everyone's contribution and editing it to ensure consistency.
  • Textbook? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by aardvarkjoe (156801) on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @04:17PM (#9434123)
    Glancing at this, this really isn't much of a textbook. It's more just a collection of short definitions and notes. It might be useful as a quick reference -- perhaps as a review if your math is a little rusty -- but it doesn't fill the role of a real textbook.

    It seems to me that the authors (or "project leaders," or whatever you want to call them) thought that an "open textbook" would be really cool, but failed to realize that just declaring something open doesn't make it write itself. They haven't even settled on a topic for the book!

  • by GillBates0 (664202) on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @04:18PM (#9434136) Homepage Journal
    with added insight, examples, explanations and suitable dumbing down for the intended audience of the book.

    The best books are written (IMHO) by professors/instructors (AS Tanenbaum comes to mind) with ample experience in understanding the subject matter and explaining it effectively to potentially ignorant readers.

    Writing a book is an art - just like technical writing is. That's one reason the documentation in OSS projects is seldom at par with documentation written by professional technical/document writers.

    Anybody working towards contributed/open work is doing a Good (TM) thing, but I'm not sure the quality of books will be upto par with published books written by established authors. Note that I'm *not* questioning the intentions/knowledge/experience of the contributors - they may be the best in the field - but putting the knowledge down into words requires a certain amount of skill which I'm not sure many of them (us) possess.

    Note that an encyclopedia (wikipedia) is different in this respect because it is essentially just a statement/collection of facts. Textbooks IMHO require more than a mere statement of facts.

    • I think the big issue is that just like code, books need to undergo several rewrites because the first version usually doesn't cut it. I wrote my book over a period of three years. I would put it down for a few months and come back to it, and find all the ways in which it needed to be improved. That was followed by a rewriting of that section, much the same way we refactor and replace code to make it more beneficial within the system.
  • by InternationalCow (681980) <<mauricevansteensel> <at> <mac.com>> on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @04:21PM (#9434170) Journal
    What struck me most on their page (apart from the subject being mostly maths - why?) was the statement that they were "going for a book". What's a book, then? Apparently, they intend to publish something on paper. That costs money. How to get that in a F/OSS setting? Also, why should a book be on paper? They could be really innovative here, reinvent the textbook and have it available as an online, CVS-updated resource (i believe some other group does that already, I forget which one). How do we choose to define a book? If we really want this kind of endeavor to take off, methinks we need to rethink the definition of "book" and maybe also include web-based knowledge repositories as such. What's your take?
    • by johnnyb (4816) <jonathan@bartlettpublishing.com> on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @04:39PM (#9434391) Homepage
      "Apparently, they intend to publish something on paper. That costs money."

      Not much. You can get a book published and on Amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and the other internet bookstores for under $500, assuming you have all of the talent to produce the content. Basically, all you _have_ to have are ISBN's ($350 for 10, I think) and a lightningsource.com account ($150 per ISBN), and everything is taken care of. Well, you need to promote it :) But I'm just talking about getting a book into print. Not much to it.

      Actually, if you don't care about which distribution channels you go through, you can do it through CafePress.com for free (they don't care if you don't have an ISBN).
  • Credentials? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by manduwok (610836)
    Surely there has to be some sort of standard to measure each contribution (or contributor).

    I'm a college student and would probably just get the info from one of my own textbooks...
  • what kind of software they're using to generate these equations? The fact that it's going into pdf format (a format that I happen to have an aversion to) and contributions are by email would suggest that this is going to be a lot harder to contribute to than a straightforward wiki.
    • Re:Anyone know.. (Score:4, Informative)

      by double_h (21284) on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @04:31PM (#9434305) Homepage
      The introduction to the text explains all of this; it's written in TeX (PDF is just used as a common publishing format) with the graphics rendered via gnuplot or as an .eps file; it sounds like they're making it a priority to stick to free, open, commonly available formats and protocols (no Mathematica plots for instance).
  • by Darth Cider (320236) on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @04:30PM (#9434296)
    My bad experiences with college textbooks fall into two categories:

    1. Overpriced and worthless
    2. Overpriced

    My first Fortran textbook, in 1975, read like a PhD dissertation and taught nothing about coding but cost a bundle. (I'm sure the author felt great pride that his book had been assigned.) The same trend has followed in almost every tech course I've taken, until recently--books seem to be getting better, more practical.

    I've learned more from two weeks of Googling on some subjects than in entire college courses. Education has to change to accommodate new modes of learning, and open textbooks make sense. At least they introduce into the diploma-mill sensibility of college accreditation the egalitarian notion that ideas are what matter, not who wrote what.
    • Publishing is one place where higher education has run amok. Basically a lot of uni profs HAVE to publish something more often than a specific intervals. Quality of material doesn't enter into the equation.

      They also change editions often to discourage re-using books. Often the new editions are slight changes to the actual text, and drastically revised problem sets so you have to have the book or access to them to get the correct problems.
  • to find text books at a book store that are of acceptable quality. From what I've seen, these "open source" books have a long, long way to go before anyone can even consider using them for their studies. For now, a few make decent desk references. However, most of the material, as of now, appears half-ass written, with very little content and poor explanations.

    This is not to say that i hope they stop, on the contrary, I hope they continue this work but that they start to focus on the details, rather t
  • And I have to say that I expected so much more. The snapshot is a basic introduction to algebra. Dry material, so enliven it a little. Make the book different. Make it count for chrissakes.

    If I wanted another courier-font algebra book I's look in my granddad's attic (which is free too).
  • Target audience ? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Seculus (788503) on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @04:37PM (#9434370)
    The authors need to spend more time thinking about what the intended target audience is. In the current state of the book, I can't really think of any audience that could benefit from it.
    For example:
    To make it useful for students new to calculus, it would be helpful to discuss limits _before_ defining the derivative.
    To make it useful for students comfortable with calculus, there is less need for motivating the derivative, but there should be lots of easily referenced results.
    Online dictionaries are very different since the target audience is more or less defined as the people who would need to look up the term .. you don't expect too many precalculus students to look up the definitions in differential geometry.
  • Shameless Plug (Score:5, Informative)

    by pete-classic (75983) <hutnick@gmail.com> on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @04:37PM (#9434373) Homepage Journal
    If you find this interesting, check out my Free Curriculum Project [nongnu.org] and the Free High School Science Texts [nongnu.org] project (to which I am a very minor contributor).

    Both of these projects use the FDL.

    -Peter
  • A couple of ideas: (Score:4, Interesting)

    by lawpoop (604919) on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @04:49PM (#9434512) Homepage Journal
    After lurking the wikipedia and discussing it with a professor, here's what I think an academically-oriented online collaboration suite needs: extensive filtering and a reputation system. Articles must have a rating system, based on the author's historical reputation (like the slashdot karma bonus) and the rating of the article itself (actually a lot like slashdot). Casual browsers need a default 'high' filter so they don't see too much trolling and get turned off.

    The reputation system should be based on PGP technology, so that the poster's claim to authorship is based on something of value, their pgp signature.

  • Two in particular I'd like to mention. There are probably a lot of great ones I'm forgetting and terrible ones which deserve to be well raked over the coals, but ... life is short.

    1) Math textbooks by John Saxon [saxonpublishers.com]. Few illustrations, but well written and helpful. As a genuine mathophobe, for me to like any math textbook is high praise. These are often used in home-schooling, while public schools get the books with more pictures and worse grammar ;) Of the few Eureka moments I've ever had wrt math beyond arit
  • by bludstone (103539) on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @04:55PM (#9434562)
    If we could just get textbooks that are written on a competent level, many educators would be happy.

    Currently, textbooks are written by commitee and have to be "acceptable to community standards".. IN EVERY COMMUNITY IN THE COUNTRY (being ethnocentric today, sorry folks.)

    This causes textbooks to be written so incredibly bland and/or biased, that it makes them near-worthless.

    I had a professor in college who was/is a fairly renowned individual on the "educational circuit." She would get invited to exorbatantly expensive and lavish dinner parties, by TEXTBOOK makers. Why? Because they wanted her to "support." The books. All they needed was her to say a single line of support, and they could put it on their textbook.

    To her credit, she didnt cave, and watched what she said the entire night.

    But it makes you think. The people who write these textbooks are not in it for the education of our youth, but for the high profit margins.

    (Mostly middle/highschool textbooks, but still applicable.)
  • You know, with MIT offering their classes online for free, and this service providing the textbooks for free, what's stopping us from getting a free diploma? The greed of the universities forces us to pay tens of thousands for simple proof. Ugh.
  • Ugh. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by teamhasnoi (554944) <teamhasnoi AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @04:57PM (#9434585) Homepage Journal
    I grabbed the pdf and instantly was turned off. This is the *dryest* read ever.

    I appreciate the open-ness, but good god, it needs a writer who explains terms, gives real world examples, and doesn't assume that the reader is of a certain education.

    I could see this being far more useful if you could choose skill levels, or progressively longer intros to the subject at hand. Maybe a drooling idiot mode just for me.

    Entertain as you educate! Get people engrossed in what you are showing (not telling) them and they'll find themselves learning in spite of themselves.

    Hell, this makes MAN pages seem like Neal Stephenson wrote them.

    • Neal Stephenson wrote the man pages? No wonder 'man ls' weighs in at 953 pages. :)

      I agree. The book is horrible. It's dry, clumsily organized, and seems to take a lot for granted.

      I'm okay with the idea of assuming a certain level of understanding, so long as it's consistent. In fact, a book that tries to cover anything high-level without taking anything for granted quickly becomes useless. There's also weird advice, like the insistence that the student avoid memorizing the quadratic equation.

      Th
  • by jdavidb (449077)

    Is use of the plural term "maths" a Britishism? I have never heard it in America but see it all the time on the Internet.

    The only time we would use the plural, maths, is in reference to several types of math: "Geometry, Algebra, and Calculus are all maths," or something like that. But everyone from anywhere else seems to speak as if the word must be plural when it refers to the general educational subject of math. Can anyone explain this for me?

    • Never mind; I got my own answer.

      In case anyone was wondering, from Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]: Mathematics is often abbreviated to math (in American English) or maths (in British English).

      It makes sense if you see it as an abbreviation of mathematics.

  • While it does mention that most of the entries so far are mathematical, it doesn't seem to specify what other subjects it will eventually seek to encompass. Based on the current style and layout, I would guess it is leaning toward the sciences. Some subjects that might be worth adding: chemistry, physics and biology.

    From what I can see, this is intended to be more of a textbook style as opposed to a comprehensive dictionary/encyclopedia style. A textbook is far more focused on a progressive curve of in
  • by shnives (763003)
    There is a serious flaw in this concept. Textbooks are a very big industry. They are expensive for a reason: a captive audience can't dictate prices. For anyone who has done undergrad, just look at the way students are fleeced for textbooks. Sure most universities have a used text book store/system to help recoop the cost of that book you will only use once. However the text book manufacturers also have a system to deal with this. Every couple of years (shorter in some cases) there is a "major revision" But
  • by circusnews (618726) <steven.stevensantos@com> on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @06:19PM (#9435709) Homepage
    I am, (and have been for almost a year now) leading a small project that is creating a whole series of open textbooks. The topic of our textbooks is circus arts, but it seems that the same principals that are making my project sucessful would apply to most other topics as well.

    First, I took the time to develop a format and methodology that would both work for any of the skills involved, and that could be implimented by ANYONE with a little learning.

    Second, I wrote the first textbook using this method. After all, how could I expect others to use the system if I could not?

    Third, I outlined and otherwise documented my system in a way others could use. This includes writing a new liceance, AND requiering that derivitives be signed back over to the project.

    Forth, I taught the system to a few others. We are now meeting weekly, with each author working on writing for their individual strengths, and the classes they teach. We will be in this step at least over the summer, perhaps for a full year.

    The next steps we forsee in our very long process are (in no particular order):

    - teaching the methods to more textbook developers

    - Training editors to help keep a consistiant feel throughout the various skills, and books

    - Teaching textbook developers to reuse other skills where appropreate (aka reuse code from another textbook)

    - Teaching developers to expand there own art by incorperating simmilar skills from other arts.

    - Finish developing the new database system that will move the entire thing online.

    - Turn the resulting textbooks into industry standards

    (if you want more information on this project, please feel free to contact me off list.)

    It's a lot of work to make such a project a sucess. Much more than I think most people understand. I wish them luck, but I also hope they find a better methodology than they are using.
  • A bit misguided (Score:4, Insightful)

    by davidoff404 (764733) on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @06:23PM (#9435761)
    This is nothing that has not been seen before. The current state of the OpenTextbook is pretty suspect - completely arbitrary subject matter compiled without any thought for the student. For example, what's the point in having a section on introductory algebra in the same book as complex analysis and fractal geometry?

    The whole thing is terribly amateurish, with the typesetting being singularly unattractive (a major feat considering it's set in LaTeX). Further, the people behind this don't seem to know whether it's a book on mathematics, physics, or both; in the event it comes out as neither.

    If people really want useful resources to aid learning physics or mathematics they're better off looking in their library, or one of the well-known websites where mature lecture notes already exist.
    • Re:A bit misguided (Score:2, Informative)

      by glasnost (253849)
      I totally agree. I am extremely disoriented regarding this project. I can't even figure out how they think makes sense to produce "a textbook" -- a textbook of what? For whom? Even a series of textbooks in some discipline needs some further narrowing-down... say, what is the approach, what is the audience, etc.

      If they want to toss together a bunch of math definitions, they should be more honest that they are just creating a reference. Yet PlanetMath is already doing this, with the Free Encyclopedia of [planetmath.org]

  • by Noksagt (69097) on Tuesday June 15, 2004 @06:32PM (#9435871) Homepage
    A good open source Applied Math [caltech.edu] text.
  • I'm of the opinion that invoking the Creative Commons' "noncommercial" clause is a bad idea. If you really want to get this book into the hands of the widest audience, why not allow third parties to print them out, market them, and sell them for money? So long as the sharealike clause exists, there's no danger of the material getting hijacked.

    I'm guessing a wide variety of printers would converge around a set of quality books. Some might target readers who will pay a premium for a hardbound book, w
  • There is an extensive listing (with ratings) of free books at . This listing is administered by Ben Crowell a physics prof out in California who has some texts available at with an open source license. Some of the other listed books are free of cost but not open source. His "Light and Matter" physics series is "an introductory physics textbook for life-science students" available in PDF as well as some sections in LaTeX format. His "Simple Nature" text is "a physics textbook intended for students in a
    • Re:theassayer.org (Score:3, Informative)

      by j-beda (85386)
      Let's try that again:

      There is an extensive listing (with ratings) of free books at http://www.theassayer.org/. This listing is administered by Ben Crowell a physics prof out in California who has some physics texts available at http://www.lightandmatter.com/ with an open source license. Some of the other listed books are free of cost but not open source.

      His "Light and Matter" physics series is "an introductory physics textbook for life-science students" available in PDF as well as some sections in

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