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Free MIT Engineering Text For Download 207

Posted by timothy
from the visit-manila-for-M1T-diploma dept.
An anonymous reader writes " The (sci-tech) Library Question is reporting, "The third edition of A Heat Transfer Textbook, written by John H Lienhard V (MIT) and John H Lienhard IV (U Houston), has been made available on the web. The book is an introduction to heat transfer, geared towards engineering students. It may be downloaded free of charge. The authors explain: We are placing a mechanical engineering textbook into an electronic format for worldwide, no-charge distribution. The aim of this effort is to explore the possibilities of placing textbooks online -- effectively giving them away. Two potential benefits should accrue from doing this. First, in electronic format, textbooks can be continually corrected and updated, without the delays inherent in printed books (second and later editions are typically published on a five-year cycle). Second, free textbooks hold the potential for fundamentally altering the economics of higher education, particularly in those environments where money is scarce."
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Free MIT Engineering Text For Download

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  • posting textbooks (Score:3, Insightful)

    by neuroinf (584577) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:25AM (#9099041) Homepage
    This is a great initiative. It promotes the idea that we should look at the real value in education. The real value is in the people students get to work with (eg. the authors), and the personal experiences they go through on the way to graduate. Why should publishers make profits in this process when they don't add value?
    • Re:posting textbooks (Score:5, Informative)

      by fbform (723771) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @07:06AM (#9099135)
      Brad Lucier [purdue.edu] at Purdue founded an online publishing group called Trillia [trillia.com], which does something similar.
      He has submitted a related story [slashdot.org] on Slashdot before.
    • by cmdrxizor (776632)
      Of course, it could also be asked why should the authors participate in this process if they don't make any profits?

      Writing a textbook is not an easy feat, and posting them online for free download doesn't give the author any sort of compensation for their work other than the satisfaction of making students happy.

      Also, I find it unlikely that this will really catch on, simply because most of the professors I've dealt with simply would not consider a textbook like this, or wouldn't even be aware of it. Th
      • by matthewr84 (469595)
        Authors generally don't make much money off of textbooks anyway, it's more about name recognition and being a productive member of academia.

        As far as other professors adopting the books, I could see it happening. I've had quite a few professors that seemingly complained about the price of textbooks more than the students did. I've even had a handful that put a textbook on the syllabus to keep the state happy but then told us not to waste our money on the textbook on the first day of class and instead mak
        • Authors generally don't make much money off of textbooks anyway, it's more about name recognition and being a productive member of academia.

          You'd think for the price more people would be profiting than the publisher; obviously this is a better idea. At least the author could make some money off of PayPal-whoring or banner ads or something.
      • Of course, it could also be asked why should the authors participate in this process if they don't make any profits?

        Generally, academic writers don't make any profit. Their reward is the recognition of being published by a big-name scientific publishing house. The only one who makes a monetary profit is the publisher.

        JP

      • Re:posting textbooks (Score:2, Interesting)

        by bcrowell (177657)
        Also, I find it unlikely that this will really catch on, simply because most of the professors I've dealt with simply would not consider a textbook like this, or wouldn't even be aware of it.
        I've written some open-source physics textbooks [lightandmatter.com] that have been adopted at eighteen schools. Not trying to blow my own horn -- I just wanted to provide a counterexample.
      • bcrowell provided one counter example above. Another is Allen Hatcher's Algebraic Topology textbook which is used in many classes. It is available both online and in print form. Hatcher has a few other books in progress available as well. Robert Ash has an introductory abstract algebra book available online, along with a couple books on other subjects. I don't know anyone who has used Ash's book but google reveals that it has been used by at least one class. I could go on, but my point is that use of online
    • by Shisha (145964) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @08:02AM (#9099261) Homepage
      It is a well known fact that the authors don't get much (financially) for publishing a textbook. On the other hand I wouldn't go as far as saying that publishers don't add any value, but I'd say that the value they add is not proportional to the final price.

      The trouble, of course, is that with (especially graduate) textbooks, there are very few people who'd possibly buy it, making publishing them an expensive task.

      By the way, if you're intrested in mathematical analysis but you aren't prepared to spend an entire years budget on those nice yellow Springer books, check out Modern analysis online [kcl.ac.uk] for not so much books as lecture notes; still a good source.

      As a side note: The papers on "Modern Analysis Online" are still copyrighted by their respective authors. I'm sure you can download them, print them, but certainly not publish them. The website has all the boring details.

      • if you're intrested in mathematical analysis but you aren't prepared to spend an entire years budget on those nice yellow Springer books

        ...then you definitely owe it to yourself to check out Dover books [doverpublications.com].

        They buy up and republish as paperbacks some classic old textbooks such as

        • Hydrodynamics, Lamb
        • Principles of Statistical Mechanics, Tolman
        • Ordinary Differential Equations, Ince
        • Theory of Brownian Movement, Einstein
        • Radiative Transfer, Chandrasekhar

        for bargain prices, typically about US$10.

        The on

    • This is another in a continuing series of developments (including open content licesnsing - see www.creativecommons.org) that will change current models of textbook development and distribution forever.

      It's just a matter of time before public educational institutions at the K-12 and university level (in addition to many private educational institutions)procure all or most of their curriculum materials this way.

      American public educational institutions spend several billions of tax dollars per year for text
      • What confuses me is this:

        A monopoly only really works when the monopolist is much larger than the consumer. But if the consumer is the University of California (or it's students) it seems logical that the monopoly (or in the case of the publishing industry, oligopoly) wouldn't have power. But they do.

        The UC could just hire its own authors and save a lot of money, and even give away the material for free. It seems dumb to keep buying from publishers.
  • I think it'd be something nice to put a LOT more of college textbooks online, maybe just provide it as a free service to a university's students or something

    It cost almost $600 last time I bought books, anything is still something,
    • provide it as a free service to a university's students ... It cost almost $600 last time I bought books

      You do realize that you'd just be transfering the cost, right? "Free" means "included in your tuition", which means rather than paying $600 for your books at a book store, you're paying $600 more in tuition and get your books for free. Sure, some amortization is possible, but is it really fair for a student whose major typically requires $200 in books to subsidize a major that requires $600 in book

      • by rokzy (687636) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @07:24AM (#9099180)
        I've heard people talk of these ridiculously high costs for books in the US before. in my experience it isn't true here in the UK: to me an expensive book is above 30, and a book above 40 has no chance. also I've bought ~6 books over my 4 year degree, mostly because I wanted to, you are never required to buy a book.

        in my courses (physics) the point of lectures is to obtain a set of notes good enough to work completely on their own in most cases. questions and answers are also provided by lecturers.

        without wanting to sound like a flame or anything, is it possible that in the US lecturers just can't be bothered or aren't given the resources to teach their pupils properly and so fall back on textbooks which the money-grabbing publishers are happy to exploit (I've heard tales of unnecessary book-CD bundles etc. all just to inflate prices).
        • by gnu-generation-one (717590) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @08:09AM (#9099278) Homepage
          "I've heard tales of unnecessary book-CD bundles etc. all just to inflate prices"

          "As stupid as I found the idea of printing a book about Web publishing, the idea of stuffing a CD-ROM in the back seemed to belong to a whole new category of stupidity. Macmillan initially wanted a CD-ROM, on the grounds that readers think such books have more value. I said that if we couldn't get some complete RDBMS packages for the CD-ROM then there was no point in having it (and in fact as my book came out Oracle decided to make all of its software available for download on the Web so there would not have been any point even if we could have gotten a full Oracle for the disk).


          I asked Macmillan to put in the standard CD-ROM pocket but fill it with a black cardboard disk, said disk to be printed with the URL for the book's virtual CD-ROM (http://demo.webho.com). Macmillan said that would be more expensive than a real disk so we ended up printing the inside back cover with a nice "no CD" symbol underneath which ran my text:

          Would you really want to take Web publishing advice from someone who had to burn a CD-ROM to distribute his software? Come to http://demo.webho.com for electronic versions of the source code examples in this book, for live demos of the software in use, and for the packaged source code to larger systems. IMHO, this URL is better than a CD-ROM. You can't lose it. You can't scratch it. You can't leave it in your office when you need it at home. You can give it to your friends and still keep it for yourself.

          People laugh when they read this so I think it worked."


          Philip Greenspun [greenspun.com], writing about his book Philip and Alex's Guide to Web Publishing [greenspun.com]
        • Not quite; in the US, you are expected to have a pretty sound grasp of a course's content before you start actual classes. This more or less necessitates a textbook. This system doesn't work in the UK, because we're far too lazy to do work before we really have to. But it does work well, from an educational standpoint; I had an American lecturer for one course at Uni, and he had us do this, and it made a huge huge difference to our understanding and ability at the end of it.
        • in my courses (physics) the point of lectures is to obtain a set of notes good enough to work completely on their own in most cases.

          So, if that's the point of the lecture, it would work just as well if your buddy took the notes and gave them to you, right? How about if your buddy bound the notes for you? How about if somebody else did this for you and called it a "book"?

          I'm sure lots of people had different educational experiences than mine. I purposefully went to college with relatively small classe

          • >How about if somebody else did this for you and called it a "book"?

            possible for some courses but not others where we are learning stuff that won't be published in a good text book until next year.
        • the point of lectures is to obtain a set of notes good enough to work completely on their own in most cases

          That's surprising. I can't think of many courses I took where there was remotely enough information given in class to learn the material thoroughly. Especially not physics. There was simply too much information for a 1 hour class period. Class was basically where you went to understand the trickier aspects of the text or to learn what the professor thought was important.
          I'd have to assume that your

  • Good Idea (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SeXy_Red (550409) <Meviper85@ho t m a i l . com> on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:30AM (#9099055)
    This is a very good idea; it would be nice not to have to pay $500+ a semester for books. I am concerned that if this catches on, that a company would find a way to profit from the online books, bringing the college students back into the same situation that they're currently in, which is paying out the ass for basicly renting books for a semester (assuming the college has a book buy back program).

    Another thing, will schools then start supplying laptops or tablet PC's to view these text books on while in class?
    • Re:Good Idea (Score:2, Informative)

      by cynyr (703126)
      My school Northern Michigan University [nmu.edu] already does [nmu.edu]. I was provided with a not quite stock IBM R40... At acost of something around $300USD a semester. I get the laptop for 4 semesters and 1 summer, and free repair(as long as it looks like normal use) and "tech support"(usually just being told that you have to back everything up and reimage). At the end of my lease I may purchase the laptop. Everything is works under Suse 9 pro. Not sure if the modem is supported elsewhere. I have no use for the modem.
      • Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia. Since the beginning of your life, since the beginning of the Party, since the beginning of history, the war has continued without a break, always the same war.
      Take one part secure eBook format, one part trusted computing, and one part extensible markup. Mix vigorously and serve with a side of Freedom fries.
  • by Denyer (717613) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:31AM (#9099057)
    ...on the part of people who complete the download form, this is also an opportunity for authors to gain feedback from parts of the readership demographic they wouldn't normally be in contact with.

    With some engineering and science -related courses suffering from low levels of interest, a wider availability of resources could (as the article suggests) draw out those who aren't applying for financial reasons, whilst giving others a taste of subjects and their potential uses in picking a career path and making a difference. After all, most people have felt they've had a good idea or two at some time or other... many have been discouraged only by the lack of readily available background knowledge.

    Yay for more open learning!

    • But I downloaded it. Gave them correct information. Plan to expand my horizons by finding out what it is about.

      On a side note, the Economist recently ran an article asking if Public Libraries are now out dated. If so then it is says a lot about society and not much of that is bad. Making texts of books like this available is a start, making the fact that they are available is the real task. Perhaps the government can use some of that money wasted on pork barrel projects to provide a public "Internet
  • Two potential benefits should accrue from doing this. First, in electronic format, textbooks can be continually corrected and updated, without the delays inherent in printed books. Second, free textbooks hold the potential for fundamentally altering the economics of higher education, particularly in those environments where money is scarce.

    It would also eliminate the need to carry around excessively heavy textbooks which often lead to back pain and other detrimental health issues.

    Schools and other edu

    • While not having to carry around textbooks is nice, and I'm never without a Palm or laptop, I have to admit I always prefer reading printed text. Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I just find printed text I can write on, fold, flip through, read in the sun, etc. to be a lot easier to read from.
    • It would also eliminate the need to carry around excessively heavy textbooks which often lead to back pain and other detrimental health issues.

      Unless one of your courses requires you to carry around the entire Encyclopedia Britainnica, you really need to start working out.

  • When can we start (Score:4, Interesting)

    by beachplum (777797) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:33AM (#9099061) Homepage
    Free textbooks online? The ability to continually update and correct errors and misinformation? Sign me up.

    Also, one of the big issues in textbook publication is that the information included sometimes can be determined by what state publishes the text - this is especially true in history and biology, both of which are full of political dynamite.

    Maybe eventually this will lead to a freer exchange of information.

    • Check out Wikibooks [wikibooks.org].

      (Keeping it short cuz I posted about it in a new thread).
    • Free textbooks online? The ability to continually update and correct errors and misinformation? Sign me up.

      We have taken this approach with possibly the earliest (to my knowledge) online textbook [utah.edu] available. This site is an online textbook of retinal biology and anatomy compiled by a number of folks. Please forgive the old-school design (early 90's web look, feel and code but that was when it went online) as I am redesigning it in my not so spare time and hope to start wrapping in genetics, molecular bio
  • ...at least they have let their motives and approach be known in a transparanet fashion. More power to them. Certainly there are trade-offs in doing this, but depending on what you are seeking to achieve (read: a profit-motive, a vetting/review motive, an exposure motive related to vanity rather than review, etc) you could gain quite a bit from this.
  • by kunudo (773239) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:34AM (#9099065)
    Here [lightandmatter.com] (introductory physics.)
  • Noble Effort (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:34AM (#9099066)
    As a college student, I can certainly appreciate the benefits of free textbooks, lord knows the bookstore overcharged by several limbs. The question is not whether or not this would benefits students and the community at large, but instead one of costs versus benefits.

    Writing a textbook is no small endeavor, professors often spend months upon months writing and revising a single text. While the Open Source community can survive off the valiant efforts of thousands of coders worldwide, the number of individuals in higher academia qualified to write textbooks is much more limited.

    I just can't envision a scenario where this kind of approach is sustainable in a long-term or wide-reaching context. Thoughts?

    -- Frag00
    • There are many more professors than you are giving credit for. If they are working for a University, They can update it bit by bit.

      What would be nice though is an oversite body. Each college pays a small amount $100,000 per school?? For unlimited access and all access is granted inside the college system. The The colleges can raise that money by making each student pay $5 or so.

      Or better yet have each College collect $5-$10 from each student and that money goes to the oversite board, that makes sur
    • Re:Noble Effort (Score:3, Informative)

      by stephanruby (542433)
      Writing a textbook is no small endeavor, professors often spend months upon months writing and revising a single text.

      According to this Professor: [sa2.info]"A typical [College] textbook earns the author less than $3,000 over a five-year or longer period." That's not a lot of money we're talking about. It could be funded in a number of different ways. We could have featured sponsors, student micropaiments, and paypal donations.

      While the Open Source community can survive off the valiant efforts of thousands of c

      • Yes, but we don't need that many books in the first place. If the authors adopt the open source model and allow others to contribute to or take what they need from their work, then the same book won't have to be rewritten from scratch by a thousand different authors.

        Yeah, just like open source software removes the necessity of many teams writing the same type of software over and over again.

        Seriously, different authors often try different pedagogical approaches to writing books. Or maybe they liked som

    • Re:Noble Effort (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rsheridan6 (600425)
      My dad was a professor, and he wrote a few textbooks. The writer doesn't make much money off of them unless it's something like a popular Econ 101 textbook which will sell lots of copies. More specialized books for higher level courses (like this heat transfer book) don't sell many copies, and if you're in it for the money you'd be better off mowing lawns than writing one. Professors do get recognition, better raises, etc. for publishing a textbook and that's probably more of an incentive.

      The editors and

      • Re:Noble Effort (Score:3, Interesting)

        by aaarrrgggh (9205)
        The editors play an important role, and losing their involvement would reduce the overall quality.

        The publishers, on the other hand do not provide the typical services that justify their share of the profit; promotion of the books is non-existant. When distribution is all they are left with, where do they add value?

        My biggest gripes with the hard-copy texts is that (a) they cost so much you have an incentive to sell them at the end of the class, and (b) they are so darn heavy that every time you move yo
        • The editors play an important role, and losing their involvement would reduce the overall quality.

          It will decrease the quality, yes, but it will also increase the quantity of books available to any one person and so the best of the best ebooks will easily spread like wild fire.

  • Incentive (Score:4, Insightful)

    by timealterer (772638) <slashdot@alteBLU ... .com minus berry> on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:40AM (#9099077) Homepage

    Here's something to ponder. Why does somebody write a textbook? Is it because they enjoy the subject matter, enjoy writing, and want to write an engaging, accurate book? Or is it because one can charge large sums for such a textbook? Unfortunately it's often the latter.

    While the idea of an epic "Commercial vs. Open" textbook rivalry akin to that seen in software is romantic, writing a textbook tends to be somewhat less pleasant, less rewarding, more expensive, and more exacting than writing software. I'd hate to think the foremost experts in fields may be discouraged from writing one day because they can't compete with free, mediocre sources.

    • Re:Incentive (Score:4, Insightful)

      by BlightThePower (663950) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @07:45AM (#9099225)
      Why does someone write a textbook?
      Well its certainly not for the money. The typical textbook brings in negligable sums at best. Typically about 2000 GBP as far as I can tell. The general reason is because you require a book for your students that doesn't exist. And if you have the course notes you've written to hand then its more or less there as a by-product. A bit of polishing and you are away.

      Sorry, I know this sounds a little disappointing, its done for reasons of dull expediency and neither fame nor fortune.

      For graduate level texts/"professional" publications the story is of course rather different, and the reasons for doing it are pretty much the same as writing journal papers; (i) "publish or perish"; (ii) mindshare within your field; (iii) again, the damn book you wish was written for your students (this time grads) doesn't yet exist. Writing a whole book is a little inefficient insofar as its only one line on the CV and indeed, if we look back before the days of "publish or perish" you will note that practically everyone had written a book at some point in their careers. However, this seems to be a declining trend, at least within the sciences where time is perhaps better spent on publishing normal papers or writing grant applications.

      • Writing a coherent text clarifies one's knowledge of a subject. If you havent taken the time to write down your material, even in an informal text, then you probably havent consolidated your subject well.
    • Re:Incentive (Score:3, Informative)

      by Spy Hunter (317220)
      On the contrary, I think open textbooks could be the best thing to happen to education in quite a while. When you're taking a class, the textbook is almost never the only source of information the teacher uses, and you rarely go through the book in order from chapter 1 to the end. Every teacher thinks they can do better than the textbook author, and they all add supplements and additions that often contain good ideas, but are never seen outside of their own classrooms. With an open textbook approach, eve
    • Here's something to ponder. Why does somebody write a textbook? Is it because they enjoy the subject matter, enjoy writing, and want to write an engaging, accurate book? Or is it because one can charge large sums for such a textbook? Unfortunately it's often the latter.

      But remember that investing a year of your life to write a book for free, even if you enjoy writing it, won't put food on the table. Unfortunately scientists can't live from fame alone. I would love to be able to spend my time any way I lik

    • A tiny number of textbooks that end up making quite a lot of money, typically things like first year economics or commerce textbooks, that have a large student body and a long shelf-life.

      The vast majority of textbooks don't make a significant amount of money. Certainly not enough to justify writing them for that purpose alone.

  • Quality (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cperciva (102828) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:41AM (#9099079) Homepage
    Free textbooks sounds like a nice idea, but I have to wonder if quality will suffer as a result. There is going to be great pressure from student groups to use free textbooks, even if there are better textbooks available. Since the vast majority of authors can't afford to give away their work for free, this will inevitably reduce the competition between textbooks.
    • Re:Quality (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tootlemonde (579170)

      I have to wonder if quality will suffer as a result.

      I would expect free textbooks to improve the quality of both free and non-free ones.

      First, assuming that a qualified author writes a free textbook, there should be a fairly high base quality because the author's reputation among his peers is at stake. Another author of a non-free textbook would then have to write a better book than the free one if he expects to charge for it.

      Second, because the free electronic books are subject to frequent revision, ot

      • Actually, in the textbook field, they can afford to give their work away because they're paid by a university.

        It's not that simple. Time spent writing textbooks is time not spent doing teaching or research. Less teaching means that the university needs to hire someone else; less research means less research grants, which will cause problems at institutions which get a large fraction of their income by deducting "overhead costs" from their professors' research grants.
        • Re:Quality (Score:3, Interesting)

          by mar1boro (189737)
          Time spent writing a text, if it is good, increases the writer's reputation.
          A well regarded and published professor is money in the bank for a university.
          A professor who "pens" a text that becomes one of _the_ texts in his field
          can elevate his university's stature tremendously. Imagine if we cut out the
          middleman. A university handles the electronic pulishing duties.
          In your case the text becomes "The cperciva Text." It can be updated
          indefinitely. Continuous peer review. Continuous contributions
          fr
    • Re:Quality (Score:2, Insightful)

      by bcrowell (177657)
      Free textbooks sounds like a nice idea, but I have to wonder if quality will suffer as a result. There is going to be great pressure from student groups to use free textbooks, even if there are better textbooks available.
      Students have zero influence over textbook selection. Teachers pick textbooks based on their own criteria. That's what's goofy about the textbook market: the people who pay for the books aren't the ones who pick them.
      • Students have zero influence over textbook selection. Teachers pick textbooks based on their own criteria.

        How I wish that you were correct. Unfortunately, many institutions are plagued by powerful (and short-sighted) students' unions.
  • More Free eBooks (Score:5, Informative)

    by wehe (135130) <wehe@tuxmobil.oFORTRANrg minus language> on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:43AM (#9099082) Homepage Journal
    I have started to collect a survey of free eBooks [tuxmobil.org], which contains links to free tech eBooks as well as fiction eBooks (and free AudioBooks).
    • I run a web site [theassayer.org] that catalogs free books and accepts user-submitted reviews. The heat transfer book has been in the catalog for a while, and any user-submitted reviews of it would be appreciated!
  • by Kulic (122255) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:44AM (#9099087) Homepage
    I applaud the authors for their attitude and their willingness to make this textbook available for free download. However, I think that they may be over-estimating the value of a good textbook.

    Let me clarify that last statement - I think that a good textbook is an essential element of a good education on a particular subject, but I do not think that it is the only element required. A well-rounded education should also include hands-on lab time (costs money) and people you can ask to help you and to explain what you are having problems understanding (costs money).

    Now, if this book is aimed at people for whom money is a problem, isn't it naive to think that they have access to a computer (and enough time on that computer to read and understand the text)?

    This book could quite possibly replace existing texts and lower the cost of an education, but I doubt that it would become the entire education. However, I don't think that you can have too many alternative texts on a subject, especially when they are free.
  • Wikibooks (Score:5, Informative)

    by Kafka_Canada (106443) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:47AM (#9099094)
    For those of you who are interested in free (as in speech and beer) textbooks, please check out Wikibooks [wikibooks.org]. It's a Wiki, like the Wikipedia, but wholly devoted to offering free books (primarily textbooks).

    I'm not involved in running Wikibooks, I just use it and contribute to it, and I think it's a great project worth spreading the word about; plus, the more people contribute to it, the better it is.
    • Sorry but I have to say that at the current state, Wikibooks still sucks. Most part is NOT suitable for teaching in the class. Just take a look at any lessons: science, engineering, languages, etc. Many authors actually don't know what it takes to write a textbook. Most of the contents are just comparable to student notes stiched out altogether.

      Not only that, how many times spammers and other contributors overwrite, nitpick, or even bend the course of the lesson altogether without giving any reasons whats

      • I definitely agree with you that Wikibooks is very far from readiness for use in the classroom -- that much is clear. But it already contains some books suitable for personal use, and a few that are approaching overall suitability. You make the comparison to Wikipedia to point out that the model might be more appropriate for the latter than for the former, but I think it demonstrates rather the surprising efficacy of the model: do you think very many people gave the idea of a free, user-written encyclopedia
        • Well, if we draw some analogy to coding, my main complaint is like this: You are building a code in a public CVS where you allow everyone to commit stuff, not just to read from it. In an early stage, it's difficult for everyone to know where the book is heading -- but suddenly some wiseass jumped in pretending to know it and pour some changes all over the board. Of course you can reverse the changes, but as the original author, wouldn't you be frustrated on this? Wikibooks right now is exactly like this.

          T

  • by kardar (636122) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:53AM (#9099108)
    I still have on one of my hard drives somewhere a PDF file that points out really horrible errors in typical school textbooks; these were mostly high-school books, but in any case, it really points to the pressures that are placed on book publishers; many pressures that have nothing to do with accuracy of information, but coming from a sense of policital correctedness, and so on. There are influential people in the management levels of the textbook publishers, and there are certain standards that must be upheld in order for that book to be selected by a school system, especially a school system that is funded with taxpayer dollars. Obviously, having checks and balances when it comes to taxpayer dollars is an important thing. But the errors are pretty bad, and there are quite a few of them, at least in the one review there that I read.

    Perhaps the idea of putting this kind of information online, if there is a way that this can be done without too much lost inertia from the fact that you are just giving away your hard work for nothing (i.e. also sell the book in hard-copy), have a donation place for it, or somehow organize funding in some other way. Also, you don't necessarily go through a big publisher to do it this way - you can have more freedom to simply produce an accurate textbook, without having some committee breathing down your neck or having your work thrown in haphazardly with ten other authors' work.

    And there may be more control over the authorship, and the way the whole thing is put together.

    But generally speaking, for instance, O'Reilly books are not that particularly expensive, and I just kind of feel better contributing some type of financial money to the author, and having a hard-copy book has its benefits as well, in case you feel like not being tied down to the computer or laptop screen. I like buying books, but I also like using electronic formats sometimes (it's easier and faster to take notes), it's especially cool when you are studying a programming language and you can see examples in the book and try out your own while you are physically sitting at your computer.

    Electronic formats are good, and hard-copies are good too. What really needs to happen is that the cost of the textbooks, the hardcopy textbooks, need to come down by at least 50%. Again, this can be blamed on the "big publishing companies" - many of the policies and procedures that are commonplace at these types of embedded publishers drive the costs of textbooks up, and increase the number of errors in those textbooks at the same time. Paying some 30 dollars for a very excellent O'Reilly book, for instance, is really no big deal, considering how long it's going to take to read it and work through it, and hopefully the authors are getting some kind of reward in there too. Having an electronic format available for free, especially in the situation where one has purchased the hardcopy, is, I think, a really good idea; especially if that electronic format can have an errata somewhere or something.

    To sum up, I think that the price of textbooks needs to come down, and the errors need to be lesser in number as well. These two things appear to be tied in together, to some extent. Furthermore, there should be a means to reward the authors for their work; I don't think that giving away books for free is really going to encourage people to write quality material; there needs to be some sort of way to integrate the hard copy and the electronic copy in a way that increases the benefits to the reader and still rewards the author and encourages more people to write quality material.

    I think that this is going to turn out to not be quite as easy as it sounds.

  • by Lucidus (681639)
    This is a wonderful initiative, which I think most of us will want to encourage - but to really determine it's value, we need to know how good the book is. Does it match the standards of currently available conventional (i.e. expensive) texts? It would be great to see a review by a highly-qualified engineer or professor.
  • by Brent Nordquist (11533) <bjnord@@@gmail...com> on Sunday May 09, 2004 @07:26AM (#9099184) Homepage
    John Lienhard (the U. of Houston one) is the host of "The Engines of Our Ingenuity" [uh.edu] radio program. If you haven't heard any of these, get the transcripts or see if the program is on in your area. I've always found them excellent.
  • The Academic System (Score:5, Informative)

    by sumo61 (778274) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @07:30AM (#9099195)
    As a new Assistant Professor at a U.S. institution, I am required to perform Teaching, Research, Service, and publish scholarly publications in PEER REVIEWED journals, etc. If this is not done satisfactorily, I will be released within several years. In order for the writing of textbooks to contribute to my retention, the 'system' requires publication through a 'major' commercial publisher in your field of knowledge. This is a major reason, IMHO, that we do not see more offerings like the subject of this article. Most professors are lucky to make 10% profit on their text publishing and my discussions in this matter with the publishing houses reveals their near-future plans to offer electronic texts online...on a chapter-by-chapter basis. This would allow instructors to assemble their own 'custom assembled' texts for courses.
    • In order for the writing of textbooks to contribute to my retention, the 'system' requires publication through a 'major' commercial publisher in your field of knowledge.

      I'm not sure what field you are in, but in almost all scientific fields at my major Midwest research institution, textbooks do not count towards promotion and tenure. In order of importance: (1) grants (how much money have you brought in); (2) publications in peer-reviewed journals; (3) number of PhD students; (4) service (what committees

  • good idea ? (Score:2, Insightful)

    Lets take calculus, which has not reallly changed in, say , 200 years... I could buy a nice, acid free paper reprint, which will last for years without batteries for a few dollars from dover, or I could spend 100s of $$ to have something which only works out of the rain, in the right light.... This is an example of not focusing on the problem. The problem is not the delivery technology (print vs online), or the need for updating on a 5 yr cycle (does heat transfer really change that much ?). The problem i
  • by Maimun (631984)
    For some reason, acroread 5.* segfaults of RedHat 9.0. And acroread 4.* is not good for this texbook as they warn. But xpdf works fine -- that's how I read it now.
  • Much better value than the original [amazon.com] price.

    Has anyone used this text book before? It is all very well giving away books for free, but if they aren't that good anyway, you still have to buy another one. When I have a spare moment I will try to look through the book more carefully, but from a cursory glance, it looks good so far.

  • Lienhard's course is available on OpenCourseWare as well, to go along with the posted Heat Transfer textbook. It's a very thorough read for an intermediate-level class, happy learning :-) Here's the link [mit.edu]
  • Even better... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dysprosia (661648) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @08:50AM (#9099366)
    How about open, realtime editing, creation, correcting, and updating of free, GFDL'd textbooks? It's already here: check out wikibooks [wikibooks.org].
  • I remember text books in College. What a racket!

    1. Write Text Book (introduced with typo errors).

    2. Get Professor to force students to buy.

    3. Write new Text Book (same as old, but with some typos fixed, and some new ones introduced.

    4. Next semester, Get Professor to force students to buy newer improved version.

    5. Go back to step 3.

    ------
    If I were in college today, I would be outraged if I were required to buy a single text book.

    Everything is on the net.
  • by MarkWatson (189759) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @09:55AM (#9099563) Homepage
    I have written several published books - overall a very fun experience, but for one thing:

    I would occasionally get emails from people teaching classes to students who no-way could afford to buy my books (usually in 3rd world countries). These teachers would ask for permission to copy a few chapters for class distribution - something that I did not have the right to do.

    My solution to this problem was to write 2 free web books using a Creative Commons license (I was the featured commoner about a year ago).

    I still write books for publication, but to be honest, writing free books under a CC license is way more satisfying.

    -Mark
  • by Dr. Spork (142693) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @10:01AM (#9099582)
    I teach at a large university and my colleagues and I have spend some thought on open-source multimedia textbooks - not PDFs, which are almost completely inferior to their paper counterparts, and take no advantage of being consumed through a computer.

    It was our idea that we should start with an introductory physics text, say, basic mechanics. The ultimate product would be an .iso disk image which contains not only a textbook, but recordings of key lectures, some highly compressed video and simulations of certain experiments, perhaps rendered in a GPL 3D graphics engine (where physical principles would be programmed in, and students could manipulate the setup and observe realistic changes in the results).

    This would be a large and publicised project, and one that could/should attract enough NSF funding to cover its modest costs. (I've seen the NSF give money to much more frivolous ideas!) The initial text might be a "donation" from a cooperating professor, and the audio/video lecture fragments would also be solicited recorded in the classrooms of truly excellent faculty. (Nobody I talked to about this said he/she would refuse.) The various programs and simulations that need to be written would come from contracted, qualified and paid programmers and graduate students. (And perhaps volunteers.) All their code would be GPL.

    Once the project gets going, a working group, organized much like an editorial board, would solicit and review new submissions and alterations. There can be arbitrarily many exercise problems, as well as detailed explanations of their solutions.

    These would fully take advantage of the digital format. One weakness of paper textbooks is that by their nature, they have space for only a few fully-solved and explained sample exercises. This would not be a limitation of an electronic text. In fact, how to solve an exercise could be explained in several different ways by different instructors, maximizing the chance the student would "get it". I imagine an interface where next to each step, there is a small "how does this follow?" button. If pressed, it opens a small window describing the motivation of a certain transition.

    Many of these details and elaborations could be contributed by users of the textbook. Like any major software project, there would be a moderated online forum to discuss issues related to the textbook. Ultimate decisions about how the text should be updated (the regular "distributions" of the GPL material) would be made by the editorial board. In academia many professors participate in editing journals pro bono, and we could expect something similar here. Feedback on the various aspects of the text would be solicited directly from students and instructors, and the editorial board would post "requests for updates" with specific issues that need to be addressed to make the project a better learning tool.

    Well, we thought about many more details of implementation, but they are boring and you guys might have better ideas anyway. The point of the whole project would be primarily to have a supplement to introductory college-level classes, but the uses go far beyond that. The textbook would be designed to be self-learner friendly, something a motivated high-school student could easily work through. It could be duplicated cheaply and en masse (at first it would be a set of CD-ROMS, eventually transitioning to DVD-ROMS). In places where poverty, georgaphy and cultural factors limit access to higher education (which includes parts of the USA), people will still have simple computers and can cover the $2 for a burned DVD-ROM.

    Of course, the idea would be to get one "hit" textbook and then reuse the software and other infrastructure to make more. Not only would this textbook require sequels, but also a demand for a calculus textbook in the same format. These are ideal fields for getting the project rolling, because introductory math, physics and chemistry textbooks don't get obsolete very quickly. How this project would be paid for re

    • Hello Dr.

      Please email me. (Your /. account has no visible contact info).

      -- MG

    • I was a part of a "research project" funded by the U.S. Department of Education for $750,000 that was to do exactly what you are saying here. We were trying to develop multimedia development tools that could be used to help instructors put together instructional multimedia software.

      The software we developed (I was the programmer on the project) was used for several classes on campus at Utah State University [usu.edu], where the project was based from, under the direction of Dr. R. Kent Wood (he has since retired). Our primary emphasis was more toward K-12 learning, but it proved to be quite popular with several computer-based learning groups including C.A.L.I.C.O [calico.org], a group of individuals working on acquiring forign language skills through computer-based learning.

      There are several issues that need to be dealt with in regards to multimedia development. Some of them have been solved compared to what I was dealing with in the past, but some still are huge problems:
      • Multimedia standards - This is one of the areas that due to the emergence of the World Wide Web and other generally open applications has pushed this forward quite a bit. MPEG, PNG (MNG), and other standardized formats have really made a difference over the zoo of incompatable formats that there were even 10 years ago. There is still need to do more work in this area, and there are some items that really need review. Multimedia game design and the entertainment industry, unfortunately, are the major drivers of this sort of activity.
      • Accessable Multimedia Materials - Due to the "eternal" copyright of many multimedia types (photos, audio clips, cinema in all its flavors) are copyrighted and impossible to use as "fair-use" for educational purposes except on a very limited basis. Court ruling on this strongly favor the media companies and make it almost impossible to use anything that is available. The Google image search is essentially worthless if you want to use it in any instructional software that would be used for more than a single section of a single course taught at only one university. I would love to see a Multi-media variant of Project Gutenberg [gutenberg.org] where you could get central repository of multimedia items (a clip art library, music clips, video, etc.) that would be guarenteed to be totally public domain or released in some copyleft arrangement. There is quite a bit on the internet, but it is scattered around and really needs to be put together. There are some collections (I happen to have some content I'd like to donate) that simply needs to be put together, scanned, and released. If I had infinite resources and time I'd like to do this, and if it isn't going by the time I get close to retirement, I may get this going myself anyway. I just need to feed my family for now.
      • Authoring System Support - There needs to be a standardizing the "glue" format that holds all of this multimedia information together with Unicode-based text that is appropriate in a computer-based learning environment needs to be worked out. HTML and its variants are pretty good, and there some fairly decent "authoring" tools available such as Authorware or Director, but these all have some hard limitations. The High Schools that I've seen are typically either using HTML or Power Point (I am not kidding here either) for routine stuff that is developed. University-level instruction is totally non-standard and often includes custom software written for the one project, which eats up almost all the time and resources of the project. Ideally I'd love to see an open-source project that would help put this sort of instruction together. It needs to be easy to use, but powerful enough that if you are willing to learn (with a shallow learning curve) you can get progressively more features to the point that you can write the entire authoring environment in itself (aka be Turing complete). Nothing I know of has this capability at th
      • Wow, thank you for that excellent post. I am very pleased that this sort of idea has made some progress beyond the "idea stage". Though the target audience I am imagining is different from the one your project aimed at, many of the issues you mention would reappear in the project I describe. I saved the links and your email address, and if this goes further, you might hear from me.

        It really is a shame that the licensing issues basically left this thing impossible to resurrect. The next time grant-committe

  • Industries making billions just don't roll over when you propose they make 0.

    Prediction: For using their books, textbook publishers will soon get universities to sign comprehensive noncompete agreements, whereby their professors can't go and do "Communist" things like publish their own books ... especially for free.
  • by Dr_Emory (181130)
    The National Library of Medicine makes available a number (maybe 25?) of the electronic versions of print textbooks on a variety of topics. This can be an excellent resource. Check it out. [nih.gov]
  • It's great to see people putting free textbooks online. It's nothing new, though. Check out

    http://samizdat.mines.edu/

    To see several on-line works (mostly geophysics stuff) that have been available for a number of years.
  • Universities could collect, say, a $5 per student course fee for an official license for the e-book. O'Reilly or Amazon or someone new could handle distribution and payment collection. There would be no copy protection or other annoyances, paying students could download (and keep) the complete books and everyone could view them online. Payment would largely be on the honor system. It would be useful to have a single, organized site to distribute the books.

    The course fee approach would be very efficient
  • The aim of this effort is to explore the possibilities of placing textbooks online -- effectively giving them away.

    So, how long before we start seeing Ebay banner ads in our free e-textbooks?
  • All Computer Science and Electrical Engineering majors at the University of Texas are required to take EE316 (Digital Logic Design) at the University of Texas. The class textbook was written by the professor of the course (Charles Roth) and with software included costs approxmiately $140 new. The Text is on its fifth edition and I believe a lot of the changes are for no reason other than to force students to buy new books. At the beginning of the semester (the only time one sees one of the professors in th

  • would be if video clips of professors at boards explaining concepts were made freely available.

    In multiple languages.

    Yes, students would still miss out on mutual interaction, but this would be a great way to increase access to higher education.

    And not just engineering, despite its importance. But mathematics, literature, philosophy, political science, psychology, 2nd languages, should be course offerings, too.

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