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Education Books Math Open Source News

Teachers Write an Open Textbook In a Weekend Hackathon 109

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

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 29, 2012 @05:08PM (#41501909)

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

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

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

    And then updating it regularly to reflect feedback.

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

  • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @05:30PM (#41502007)
    Perhaps they've been teaching stuff for quite some time and now they're simply putting their notes together.
  • Is it any good? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by phantomfive (622387) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @05:54PM (#41502147) Journal
    Richard Feynman is probably the most famous person to complain about textbooks, but he wasn't complaining about closed source, he was complaining because they weren't any good [textbookleague.org].

    So the question remains, is this textbook any good?
  • Re:Is it any good? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fermion (181285) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @07:03PM (#41502601) Homepage Journal
    One thing that is good about it is that it is in LaTeX. That means that it could, for instance, be put on Github, and changes made and committed. This is different from so many other books that are written in,. say MS Word, that are less easily revisioned.

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

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

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 29, 2012 @08:10PM (#41502945)

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Extend this to the rest of textbooks and you have your problem. Authors need to step into the students' shoes a

  • by Bruce Perens (3872) <bruce@perens.com> on Saturday September 29, 2012 @08:50PM (#41503135) Homepage Journal
    If you want Open Textbooks, and there are many reasons to want them, you should not start by announcing to the world that you wrote the complete thing in a three day sprint. That's just handing a line to the commercial publishers to use in opposing such works.

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

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