Friday, October 24, 2014

BC Open Textbook Project: Calculus (guichard), DiffEq (Trench)

Two open source textbook authors that many in this group are familiar with sent me announcements recently (see below).  Looks like the folks at Simon Frasier are seeing if there is a viable business in offering print-on-demand versions of popular open source texts.  They've branded the effort BCCampus.

From David Guichard:

The BC Open Textbook Project is offering print copies of the book (Calculus, Guichard et al) in color cheaply:

I imagine it's a bit out of date, and probably only single-variable, but the price is amazing if it's any good.


From Bill Trench:

My "Elementary Differential Equations with Boundary Value Problems" is now available  by print on demand from  BCcampus on,

which is  funded by the British Columbia (Canada) Ministry  of Advanced Education. The price: Approximately $27  for black and white or $83.00 for color. BCcampus derives no profit from this and I receive no royalties.  Unfortunately, this isn't  likely to appeal to US institutions because of the cost of shipping; for example, $52.00 to my New Hampshire address.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Open Source Resources at JMM 2015, San Antonio

The MAA Committee on Professional Development is organizing a poster session on Open Source Resources at JMM 2015, San Antonio.  Posters and short presentations about any aspect of open source resources, such as curricula, technology, modules, and supplemental materials for teaching undergraduate courses are welcome.

The "Poster Plus 5" session is (1) a very short talk (5 minutes or less) and (2) a poster session. The short talks will tentatively be scheduled in the morning of 1/13, and the poster session will be during the afternoon on the same day.  Short talks should be limited to just a few slides and a brief synopsis of the open source resource(s) you are presenting.  The goal of the short talk is to share the gist or main ideas of your poster.  Audience members who are interested in your materials will then be able to find you at the poster session.

Tuesday January 13, 2015, 8:00 a.m.-10:55 a.m. (short talks will be schedule during a subset of this time)

Tuesday January 13, 2015, 1:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m (the formal poster session will be hosted in the afternoon)
Rm 213B, Convention Center

If you're interested in presenting the poster plus 5 session, please submit a title and abstract via the online form:

Timeline: The deadline to submit an abstract is the end of November 2014.  In December 2014 the poster plus 5 schedule will be finalized.

Questions or comments?  Please email the session organizers.

Yousuf George,
Thomas Judson,
Stan Yoshinobu,

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Planet Money: Why Textbook Prices Keep Climbing

This economics oriented podcast gives a pretty nuanced explanation of the rapid rise in textbook prices and various responses.  Sadly, they do not mention the response that many of us are engaged in--the production of high quality, open-source, free textbooks.  After listening to the podcast, I have a much better understanding of the variables that drive textbook prices.  I highly recommend a listen. 

You can hear the 15 minute piece here:


Friday, June 6, 2014

You Got a License for that Thing?

Hello everyone! First an introduction and disclaimer: I have no credentials yet as an author of open textbooks of the sort that most people here are writing, nor have I yet even used one of them. But I was one of the principal authors of the homotopy type theory book, which is sort of a cross between a research monograph and a graduate textbook, and was developed as a group project on github and released freely.

In this post, I'd like to start a conversation about licensing, beginning with an overview for those who may be new to the options. With good reason, most open textbooks seem to be published under a Creative Commons license. The most permissive CC license is CC BY, which basically allows others to do as they wish with a work as long as they give credit to the original author. The other CC licenses add additional restrictions, which can be chosen from the following:
  • ShareAlike (SA), which requires anyone who modifies a work to release the modified version under the same license terms. This is roughly comparable to the "copyleft" provisions in open-source licenses such as the GNU GPL.
  • NoDerivs (ND), which allows redistribution of a work (with credit) but prohibits any modifications.
  • NonCommercial (NC), which prohibits use of a work or its derivatives for commercial purposes.
Of course, it doesn't make sense to combine SA with ND, but other than that, any combination of the above is available.

Now when choosing between the available licenses, of course we ought to think about our goals. Here are some that seem relevant to open textbooks:
  • We want our textbooks to be available for free (as in beer). This can be accomplished with any CC license.
  • We want to get credit for our work. This can also be accomplished with any CC license, since they all include BY.
  • We want to avoid the need to reinvent the wheel. E.g. it's ridiculous for every author of a new calculus textbook to have to come up with all new exercises since all exercises in existing books are under copyright. This argues against the ND clause: we should allow future textbook authors to incorporate our work into theirs. I haven't seen any open textbooks that use ND, so there seems to be fairly wide consensus on this point.
  • We want to break the grip of expensive conventional publishers on the textbook market. Making good textbooks available for free, and avoiding wheel-reinvention, are good starts on this. But an additional worry we might have is that since we're making our work available for free, a commercial publisher might take what we've done, modify and "improve" it a bit, and then sell the result at an exorbitant price. How can we prevent that with a license? We could choose a NC license, preventing anyone from using our work for commercial purposes. Or we could choose a SA license, ensuring that anyone who modifies our work must also make their modified version freely available. Or we could combine the two.
  • We want to spread the philosophy of openness. This argues for SA: we should ask anyone who modifies our work to also join the "open" community.
These goals seem to argue for using either BY-SA or BY-SA-NC. Now, perhaps surprisingly, these two licenses are completely incompatible with each other. If Alice licenses her book under BY-SA, then any derived work must also be licensed under BY-SA; and in particular, it cannot be licensed under BY-SA-NC. This makes sense: Alice doesn't want derived works to add more restrictions on the use of the material than she did, and a prohibition on commercial use is an additional restriction. Similarly, if Bob licenses his book under BY-SA-NC, then any derived work must also be licensed under BY-SA-NC; and in particular, it cannot be licensed under BY-SA. This also makes sense: Bob doesn't want his work to be used for commercial purposes, so he doesn't want any derived work to be used for commercial purposes either, whereas BY-SA would permit that.

However, this means that if Eve wants to create a derived work incorporating elements from both Alice's book and Bob's book, she is stuck: there is no license that she can give to it. Therefore, in the interests of interoperability and avoiding reinvention of the wheel, it might be in the interests of the open math book community to establish conventions about which of these licenses is preferable. In other words, should commercial use of open math books be allowed?

I've noticed that a number of prominent open textbooks use BY-SA-NC. However, there are good arguments to be made in favor of BY-SA instead. The web site Freedom Defined has a very detailed writeup, which I recommend reading. I'll just mention briefly a few of their points:
  • The basic free software licenses, such as the GPL, permit commercial use, and for good reasons.
  • Because BY-SA-NC is incompatible with BY-SA, it makes your work incompatible with anything that uses the latter license. For instance, you can't incorporate content from Wikipedia.
  • SA alone is sufficient to prevent exploitation of our work by evil publishers, since anyone who makes a derived version and sells it must also make it freely available under BY-SA.
  • NC prevents beneficial commercial uses. For instance, if someone in the developing world wants to print copies of our textbook and sell them at a small profit to people without Internet access, NC prevents it.
I do recommend reading the whole thing. Then let's discuss in the comments. Is there a good reason for choosing NC?

Michael Shulman
Department of Mathematics and Computer Science
University of San Diego

Thursday, May 29, 2014

An Informal Directory of Open-Source Text Developers, Reviewers, Promoters etc.

As a first step towards the creation of a more formal directory of open-source text developers, reviewers, promoters etc, I'm asking everyone to attach a brief comment to this post of the form:


The value of this informal directory is to see who's doing what and how others might contribute.  Links to existing projects would be great.   Don't put explicit contact information (since there are bots out there that scrape blogs for that kind of information).  If someone wants to contact you, I suspect it won't be too difficult to find you via other means.

If this turns out to be successful in getting a lot of information, I'll see about creating a more formal directory (perhaps a wiki) of members of the open-source text community and their activites.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Results of the Open Courseware SIGMAA Interest Survey

There were 13 responses to the survey and they break down as follows:

I think it is reasonable to assume that for each response the survey received there is at least one person who would have responded similarly but didn’t, for whatever reason. In that case, it seems to me that there is sufficient interest to take this effort one or two steps further. I will contact the chair of the Committee on SIGMAAs, inquire as to the MAA’s current stance on new SIGMAAs, and report back. That is, I’ll ask whether or not they are encouraging the creation of new SIGMAAs. Also, I'll ask if there are any unwritten expectations, e.g., about the number of charter members. I expect there is a minimum or recommended threshold.

To proceed beyond that point we will need to have some discussion of the specific goals and purpose of the SIGMAA. These would then need to be encoded in a charter. If most of us who are interested in pursuing this are planning to be in Portland for MathFest this August we could possibly get together there/then for an hour or so. If not then possibly at the Joint Meetings in January.

I am biased in favor of meeting in a face-to-face context if consequential decisions are being made, but I recognize that this may just be my own foible. Possibly this could all be done online. In any case, however we hold discussions, there will no doubt be some need for preliminary conversations that can take place by email. So, I would like to ask each of you who said on the survey that you’d be interested in either helping to create an Open Courseware SIGMAA or in joining once it is created (or if you didn’t respond to the survey but are interested) to send me your contact information at: and identify yourselves. I promise not to hound you with emails. I’d just like to have a mechanism whereby those of us who are interested in this can communicate without taking up everyone else’s time. Email seems the simplest way to begin.

Finally, it is still far from clear to me that this is the best way for this community to organize itself, or that there is enough interest at this point for a SIGMAA to be viable. But there is enough interest that I’m willing to go a few more steps in that direction and see how it goes. We shall see.

Eugene Boman
Assoc. Prof. of Mathematics
Penn State, Harrisburg campus

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Open-access Publication and open-source texts.

Bill Trench pointed out this web site (Digital Commons Network) committed to organizing open-access publications and this sub site dedicated to mathematics. 

If you are not familiar with it, the open-access movement is a recent development that is a response to the barrier presented by commercial publishers (particularly commercial journals) to easy access to scholarly work.  You can read more about this movement at the Open Access Pledge site (I haven't made the pledge yet, but I'm busy right now typing this post.) 

While the focus here is on scholarly research papers and assuring that they reach the public in a timely fashion, until Bill pointed it out, it didn't occur to me that open-source texts would be candidates for open-access archives.  Bill's recently open-sourced texts can be found on the Digital Commons site.  If your open-source text is not there, I encourage you to get it placed there.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Open Courseware SIGMAA Interest Survey

I thought I'd elevate this comment from the previous post (by Bud Boman) to a posting of its own:
OK, well I can't say I'm too surprised there hasn't been much response to this post.  This late in the year everyone is busy of course. 
But I expect a larger reason is that while there might be interest in joining a SIGMAA if it is in place, there is less enthusiasm for volunteering to start one. A couple of people have told me privately that they'd join but have no interest in creating a new SIGMAA, or in serving as an officer if one is created. 
So let's do this: As a way of measuring the interest without asking anyone to commit I have created a one-question survey on SurveyMonkey. You can find it here.
Everyone reading this please open the survey and click on the appropriate choice. It will literally take 5 seconds. In a week or so I will read the results and report back on this thread. It looks like there is sufficient interest we can discuss how to proceed from there. If not then I'll drop it. 
--Bud Boman

Thursday, April 17, 2014

On Forming an MAA Special Interest Group on Open Coursware

Last January in Baltimore, the question of how best to organize the open textbook community for our mutual benefit was raised. I suggested forming a special interest group through the Mathematics Association of America (MAA). At the time this was just an off-the-cuff remark. Since then I have discussed the idea with a couple of people and I believe there is sufficient potential in the idea to at least address how that might be done and to ask for comments.

I have looked into the mechanics of forming what I will, for the moment, call the Open CourseWare SIGMAA (OCWSIG). If there is interest in taking this further we can discuss what the name should actually be.

The Application Procedure

To apply to form a new SIGMAA is very easy. The precise details can be found at, but in a nutshell they are as follows. We would need:
  1. A charter. The MAA provides a model charter at, and the charters of existing SIGMAAs are also available for review. The charter would detail ". . . the common mathematical interest shared by the group of MAA members that founded the SIGMAA and also describe the goals, objectives, and activities of the organization."

  2. A list of "charter members." Basically, this is a list of MAA members who would be the founding members of OCWSIG.

  3. A list of initial officers for the OCWSIG. That is, people who have expressed a willingness to commit to a first term as one of the officers.
If we were to go forward, the first step is to contact the MAAs Committee on SIGMAAs to indicate our "intent, discuss the procedure, and address any preliminary questions." Once we have all three of the above items we would apply to that committee which would then "formally submit applications to the MAA Executive Committee for consideration and final approval."

Is a SIGMAA the right structure for us?

I think there is definite potential here. One possible objection is that to be a full member you must be a member of the MAA and I don't know how many of us are. This is mitigated a bit by the provision for unofficial members of the SIGMAA, who needn't be members of the MAA.

However, it is not entirely clear to me that the SIGMAA structure under the auspices of the MAA is necessarily the right venue. There might already be a better mechanism for organizing a community with common interests within the AMS, SIAM, AIM or possibly other organizations. I've let my membership in all three lapse so I don't know. I know that AIM is a bit ahead of the curve on this since they have already begun organizing reviews of openly published textbooks. Could someone else, more knowledgeable than me, comment on the possibility of organizing the open courseware community under the auspices of one or more of these?

Also, it might just be too early to be thinking of any kind of formal organization. I invite discussion.

My Comments and Opinion

Everything that follows is predicated on the assumption that an MAA SIGMAA is the right structure under which to organize ourselves. If that is not true there is no need to read further.

I believe many of us would be willing to be part of an existing open courseware organization, but I'm not so sure that very many would be interested in taking on the task of starting one up from nothing. This is a pretty large undertaking, not to be taken on lightly. The officer structure of a SIGMAA would consist -- at a minimum, I think -- of a Chair, a Director of Programs, and a Secretary/Treasurer. So just to get started we would need at least 3 people willing to fill those offices. Since this is my idea I feel compelled to volunteer to serve either as the initial Chair or Director of Programs, even though I don't feel particularly well qualified for either position and would be happy to step back in favor of anyone more qualified. (I won't serve as Secretary/Treasurer because putting me in charge of keeping records is a very bad idea.)

There are at least three questions that need to be addressed: (1) What would OCWSIG do for us?, (2) What would the MAA require of the OCWSIG? (3) Is it worth the effort?

The easiest question to answer is (2): OCWSIG would be required to hold regular meetings, report our activities and expenses to the MAA, hold elections for officers and conduct the activities we define for ourselves in our charter.

The first question is harder to answer, but a few things come to mind immediately. We would have funding for programs and activates. These would come primarily from dues (most SIGMAAs charge $10 per year, per member), but also we could apply for additional funding through the MAA, and we would have a platform from which to apply for other grant funding. Membership in the OCWSIG would also qualify as a credible professional service activity with our respective local administrations, something we don't get now.

More tenuously, the organization would exist to serve the needs and desires of this community, so we could conceivably organize the repository Jim Hefferon and others have discussed on other threads in this blog. In Baltimore someone mentioned that by publishing without a commercial publisher we lose some of the valuable services that commercial publishers provide, like editing and promotion. The OCWSIG might be able to fill that gap, at least in part. I confess this is only an idea and that I have no specific plan for how this might be accomplished. I mention it only as a possibility for further discussion at the appropriate time.

Finally, I can not answer the third question: Is it worth the effort? That will have to be answered by all of us as a community. Again, I invite discussion.
Any comments including but not limited to criticisms, suggestions, or even ridicule, are welcome. (Well ok, ridicule would not be welcome. But if this is an entirely ridiculous idea I hope someone can find a polite way to tell me, so I can stop wasting my time on it.)

Eugene Boman
Penn State, Harrisburg campus

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Linking Between Books

In the mathbook-xml-support Google group, Duane Nykamp, Rob Beezer, and I had an interesting exchange which touches on the themes of some previous OpenMathBook blogs. The main issues are described below.

References across books

Problem 1: Author A has previously written Document A, and Author B is in the midst of writing Document B. Author B wants to refer to an equation in Document A.

Since Author A supports our vision of open textbooks, the source of the latest version of Document A is publicly available, as is a human-readable manifestation of the work. Furthermore, Document A has an "identifier" associated to it, which allows people to refer to it unambiguously. Suppose that identifier is:
beezerXfcla .

Also suppose the equation of interest in Document A has label
eqn:FE_real_case .

The solution

All Author B needs to do is to put this in the LaTeX source of Document B:
That is it.  Everything else is technical issues.

Supplementary material for a book

Problem 2: Someone has developed an applet which is relevant to Section 3.2 of Document A. The online version of Document A would like to include a link to the applet, provided that the applet has been judged to be of high quality.

The solution

If there were an authoritative source, X, of good applets, then the author could just indicate (in the source or metadata of their book) that "I trust X." Then their book will automatically contain links in the appropriate locations to the appropriate resources.

There are technical issues of course, but no more than the solution to Problem 1. But without a central resource of documents and metadata, none of this can happen.

Some questions:

  1. Will Jim Hefferon's suggestion of an Archive for Open Math support a database of metadata for open texts (at a minimum providing identifiers for documents)?
  2. Will the Archive contain both source and human-readable versions of documents? Or will it just point to the "official" versions?
  3. Will the Archive, or some other source, provide a means of labeling supplementary material as "approved"?
  4. How will approved supplementary material indicate which documents it supports?

David Farmer
American Institute of Mathematics

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Blog activity notification.

David Farmer asked me to investigate ways of alerting regular readers of this blog to new posts and new comments on existing posts.

One solution is RSS feeds (though still somewhat passive).  I added a "Subscribe to" widget to the main page (upper right-ish) that allows people to subscribe to RSS feeds for new posts and new comments.  All of the popular web browsers support RSS feeds, though in different ways.

I also added a "Follow by email" widget to the main page.  Adding your email address to this will cause you to be notified once a day, by email, of new posts (not new comments).

I'd be interested in ideas from people on alternative solutions to the notification problem.  Tools that integrate with the blogger/blogspot platform would be best, but I suppose I'm open to moving the blog to an entirely different blogging platform if it's warranted.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Can a wiki be used to construct an open text?

I teach an (very) introductory linear algebra course, primarily for first-year university students. For such students there has never been a world without Wikipedia, and having many libraries of information in their bedrooms 24/7 is as natural as watching TV. After many years of internet exposure, these students have acquired an ability to navigate and absorb information from varied sources easily. Can these skills be exploited advantageously while teaching an introductory mathematics course?

For the last couple of years I have been slowly building a wiki for this linear algebra course. By design, the wiki looks very much like Wikipedia; the usual navigation, search and toolbox frames are in the same place. It "works" the same way. Along the way I have observed several assets and liabilities to this approach.

Here are some assets:
  1. Cooperation is easy. This is the most obvious one, but one which I haven't really taken advantage of. In fact, since I am the only author, this is really an anti-wiki (that will change).
  2. All browsers include the ability to read wikis, so no special software is needed (however, see below). Any operating system with any modern browser will almost always do the right thing.
  3. No special student instruction is necessary. You don't have to tell them to click on links; they do it automatically. You don't have to tell them how to print pages; they've been doing it for years.
  4. MathJax allows mathematical expressions to be typeset (beautifully) using LaTeX. This includes the extensions from the amsmath package. This means that mathematical symbols are not bitmapped but, rather, have quality matching that of the browser text. It also means that any familiarity with LaTeX can be used immediately with the wiki, and a consistency of mathematical presentation is possible.
  5. The MediaWiki software allows for macros, so that, at least in principle, markup and presentation can be separated. It also allows transclusion (this is where the contents of a defined link is automatically included when the page is opened) so that created material may be recombined in different ways.
  6. The language for MediaWiki, both for creating pages and for running the wiki, is well documented.
  7. Tools are available when necessary for
    1. colour
    2. folding text (extra text that is opened by clicking on a button)
    3. graphics
    4. animations
    5. automatically generated links (table of contents and such)

Here are some liabilities:
  1. Controling presentation with CSS is another layer of abstraction to be mastered.
  2. The syntax for nonmathematical page markup is awkward.
  3. The default editing environment is pretty awful.
  4. Structures like tables, numbered and bulleted lists can be done in various ways (html or mediawiki syntax). All of them are awkward.
  5. Using math within tables causes unexpected results.
  6. A wiki needs a GD (gentil dictateur gentille dictatrice) to ensure consistency and quality.
Here is a sample page that illustrates a different approach for introducing the cross product of two vectors. The animated gif drives the whole presentation.

Incidently, feel free to look at any of the pages on the site and use anything you find useful. Just be warned that many pages are pretty stark and some links just dangle. You can also note that it is possible to click on a 2d or 3d graphic and a hidden PostScript version will pop up showing full detail (the initial graphic is bit mapped). With a newer version of the Adobe Reader, it is possible (in theory, at least) to grab a 3d image and rotate it, scale it and carry out other transformations. If you want to give it a try, look at the figure in

Matt Boelkins has commented in this blog that writing a textbook requires writing "2 pages a day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year." That's quite a burden. So here is the question: can this burden be shared by using a wiki? Is this any more feasible for a cooperative approach to the writing of open texts than any other software? Comments are welcome.

Michael Doob
Department of Mathematics
University of Manitoba

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Announcement: A live, on-line discussion of open source math texts.

The MathJax group will host a live, on-line panel discussion on open source math texts with guests Kathi Fletcher (OERpub), David Farmer (AIM), Rob Beezer (University of Puget Sounds), Kent Morrison (Cal Poly), David Lipmman (Pierce College), and Phil Schatz (conneXions).

They will be using the Google+ Hangout OnAir technology.  I wasn't familiar with this so I read a bit about it.  For the uninitiated, let me build up in steps.  If you have a Google account, then you are automatically part of Google+ (Google's social networking attempt to usurp Facebook).  One nice feature of Google+ is free video calling (I use it regularly to chat with my daughters in college).  It's like Skype, but seems to perform better. 

A video call on Google+ is called a "Hangout" and can involve multiple people.  Normally a Hangout is a private conversation between parties that have been invited to the conversation.  A Hangout OnAir is a public version of this.  There are principals that control the discussion, and observers that may ask questions of the principals in some kind of moderated way.

This particular Hangout OnAir will occur April 7, 2014, 12pm PDT / 3pm EDT / 9pm CEST / 7pm UTC.  At the appointed hour, login to your Google account (necessary?) and then direct your web browser to  If you visit this link now, you can express your intent to participate.  I encourage all of you to join this discussion, let's recapture the spirit of Baltimore. ;)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Set It Free

When I was a Project NExT Fellow back in 1999, one of the hottest discussion topics was calculus reform. In a session on the topic at one of our conference gatherings, I listened to a talk by Len Van Wyk titled something like “To Reform or Not To Reform: and why it doesn’t matter.” His thesis was that when we teach a course, each of us brings to bear resources far beyond the text. If I pick a traditional text whose primary focus is rigor and detail, I’m almost certain to supplement it with intuition and perspective; if I pick a reform text whose emphasis is on intuition, I’ll likely complement the text’s exposition with some additional discussion of rigor or formality.

Regardless of one’s take on calculus reform or how the landscape of teaching has changed since 1999, I take the following broad lesson from Len’s talk: for most courses I teach, the textbook plays a secondary role in what I plan to accomplish in the course. From that point of view, I have come to feel that $150 is way, way too much for a student to pay for a calculus text, particularly if it is being used largely as a source of problems. That observation applies not just to calculus: much of mathematics fits this description. Further, I assert that calculus is well-understood and largely agreed upon as a body of knowledge by the mathematical community, and has been for a long time. Viewing calculus as the property of the mathematical community – and indeed, humankind – collectively leads me to want to find ways to share the subject with others at the lowest cost possible.

Today, an electronic text is the obvious medium for freely sharing with humanity, and the internet is the natural vehicle. Moreover, an e-text is great for a projector in class, students on laptops (searchable, always with them), live links to java applets, and markup on iPads and tablet PCs. The combination of the internet and modern computing technology have prompted new questions for the communication of ideas, and new possibilities for those of us interested in sharing them. Are traditional print textbooks even really necessary?

Having now written a free, open-source, primarily electronic textbook, I’d like to encourage others to do so. Here are some key questions that merit asking before undertaking such a large project:

  • Why do I want to write a textbook?
  • Writing a book is a big endeavor. Is your book needed? Will it be worthwhile to you? to others?
  • What are the features of your proposed text that no other (for-profit) text has?
  • How do you want students to use your text? How will what you write shape students' experience?
  • Will writing a free, open text be something you can take satisfaction from, independent of (or in the absence of) royalties?
  • Will the project be something you can be committed to for many years to come?
Of course, if you do join this movement, be sure to seek counsel from others with experience. Reading this blog is a great way to begin; I know from my own experience that other contributors here are happy to correspond by email and at conferences and to share insights and offer support.

Early in my career at Grand Valley, I had an annual performance review meeting with my then-chair, Phil Pratt. Phil was the author of a series of widely-used computer science texts, and in the meeting, I alluded to my desire to write a textbook someday. Phil encouraged me, and said he had one piece of advice: “Don’t have zero days.” When I looked a bit quizzically at him, he clarified: “Be sure that you do something for the book every single day.” Since that time, I’ve heard another highly successful textbook author say something similar: “I try to write 2 pages a day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year.” Remarkably, a person who achieves that writes 500 pages a year.

From my experience in now writing two texts, here are a few thoughts on things to strive for:
  • Have a written overall plan: outline, timetable, attainable goals.
  • Think about your audience. Write for students, not your peers.
  • Appearance matters. Research and develop a visual style that is professional but not unnecessarily flashy or complicated.
  • Use standard LaTeX. Make it easy for others to use and edit. You want to be able to give the source code away. Be sure to read David Farmer’s post on this site and Rob Beezer’s, too: if you do your .tex right, your book will have an incredible number of potential outlets in terms of electronic format.
  • Think about how to use LaTeX’s href package in a meaningful way.
  • Have a plan for high quality figures. They contribute in major ways to your text’s visual appearance and to the effectiveness of your communication.
  • Organize your files carefully and intentionally. Investigate how you'll share your source with others. See some good counsel elsewhere on this blog.
  • Make key decisions about licensing, such as the Creative Commons. Think about how you'll allow and encourage others to contribute.

My impression is that most textbooks grow out of a base set of notes/activities/ideas that the author(s) have personnally class-tested with success. If you aspire to write a book, but don’t have such a foundational set of materials, consider starting there. Student feedback matters. Your peers’ feedback matters, too, even (perhaps especially) if you’re planning to make your work freely available. When you have a 2-3 dozen pages written on your project, seek some serious editorial feedback. Not just your friends; see what your professional critics think. Think about what a professional editor would say. Being conversational and informal is different from being sarcastic or trying to tell jokes within your text.

Early on edit, edit, edit. It will be good preparation for what is to come. And it will make your work much better: hard writing makes for good reading. In every way, work to have consistent style. Line up some alpha testers, as having multiple users and reviewers will significantly improve your work. Perhaps you have some colleagues who want to join you in the writing itself; one of the great things about a free, open project is that you can take on collaborators easily, and integrate the contributions of others. Throughout, the more you can communicate with others with experience and interest, the more opportunities you’ll have to improve, publicize, and promote your text.

Writing Active Calculus has proved to be the most rewarding writing experience of my professional career. I hope that others will continue to join in this movement and to make contributions to the betterment of mathematics textbooks, teaching, and learning through the marvelous resources being promoted on this site and elsewhere.

Matt Boelkins
Grand Valley State University

Monday, March 17, 2014

What should go at the "front" of a "book" on the web?

Where is the first place you turn to when you open a physical textbook?  Table of Contents?  What is the first thing you read?  The Preface?  Chapter 1?

What is the first thing you want to see when you connect with a textbook in your web browser?  The first time, the one-thousandth time?

This is just one of the many things David Farmer and I have been grappling with where the physical world of books offers little guidance.  We don't have any clear answers.  (Though for a research article, the answer is easier - title and author, then the abstract).  Ideas, desires and advice are welcome, since we will be acting on it.

There is a typical blank slate at  What would you fill it with?
  1. Preface
  2. Table of Contents (presumably navigation is already present)
  3. Huge graphic that looks like a book cover
  4. Copyright, license, ISBN, URL, Dedication, Contact info,...
  5. Nothing
  6. Chapter 1
  7. Something else

And a related question:  what do you like to put in the "front of the book"?  Preface, Prologue, Acknowledgments, Table of Contents, "copyright" page (w/
ISBN, etc), ...  What else?

Rob Beezer
University of Puget Sound

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

GIT and social coding for open math books

In this essay I want to argue that the open source math book community should move en masse to GitHub. For proof of concept, I’ve taken the liberty of creating a GitHub “organization” at

I think that GitHub can help us achieve many of the goals that have been expressed by other authors in recent blog posts here. Jim Hefferon has suggested that we have something akin to CTAN -- GitHub would let us achieve that without incurring any expenses (actual dollars for paying for servers, or time spent developing hosting software and maintaining the site). David Farmer has suggested that the community should adopt a standard for “meaningful math markup” and in a separate post he suggested developing a standard for the numbering of theorems, lemmas et cetera -- such standards, along with software tools for helping authors to make use of them could become community endorsed projects on GitHub.

I’d like to issue two disclaimers. One is that, even though I keep beating the GitHub drum, I have no financial interest in the company. The other is that I am still a Git neophyte. I decided to host my book, A Gentle Introduction to the Art of Mathematics, at GitHub last autumn. I had made the decision to offer multiple versions of the book and keeping everything organized seemed like a daunting task. I had been introduced to Git and GitHub at an MAA Prep workshop on WeBWorK back in July, and it seemed to fit the bill for my needs. I’ve found that using a Git repository for the source code of my project simplifies my life tremendously.

A little background information:

There are two similarly named entities under discussion, Git and GitHub. Git is a revision control system written by Linus Torvalds. If you’ve used RCS or CVS or SVN, you’ll have the general idea. The system allows a group of people to work simultaneously on the code for some software project and it automatically integrates the changes. Very rarely, there can be a so-called “collision” in which incompatible changes are made to the same lines within a source file, but for the most part the merging of various contributor’s work gets done automagically.

GitHub is a hosting service. It is operated by a company whose business model includes offering their service for free to open-source projects. This seems appropriate as the backbone of their system is the (open-source) Git software. But GitHub does much more than merely hosting source code repositories, a user and/or organization can have blogs and wikis, there is a nice system for tracking bugs and issues.

Many well-regarded projects are currently hosted at GitHub:
  1. The community-driven taco repository (okay, so this one may not be that well-regarded, but it is delicious!)


It is free for open-source projects.

No need to “reinvent the wheel.”

Each Git repository that someone downloads is a full backup of the project. Thus the data is very reliably backed up in a distributed sense -- a very different scenario from what would have happened a short time ago had the linux box in the back of my office gone pffftt!

Having lots of projects available from a central source will give prospective authors a boost by providing examples of best practice.


What if the company goes belly up? (I deem this rather unlikely.)

Only viable for open source projects -- some notable math books are free but not open.

A full revision control system may be overkill during the early stages of a project.


“Authorship” may become a somewhat nebulous term. The normal model in open source programming may not be quite right when it comes to books, and academics need be cautious about getting appropriate credit for their work when it comes to P&T.

A balance would need to be maintained between the open, inclusive, “big tent” approach and the desire to be a bit more restrictive. Personally, I’d lean towards the experimentalist side of things and rely on other organizations (e.g. AIM) to provide an imprimatur indicating the projects that are more fully baked.

To date, I don’t think any open source math book has taken full advantage of the social coding paradigm. This may be largely due to the “Authorship” issue above. I’d like to see some truly collaborative project gets going and I think that GitHub is currently the best place to do that.

A final word.

Last Spring I dealt with a nightmare scenario when my university transferred control of its web servers from the IT department to Public Affairs. My personal site was deleted and it took several months to get it reinstated. During the interim, I created a Google site and informed those adopters, that I knew of, of the situation. I would have been a much happier person if I had been working in a manner that wasn’t dependent on infrastructure that wasn’t under my control! GitHub may not be entirely under my control either, but hosting projects is their core business. Possibly I’m becoming too cynical, but it seems to me that the core business of most university websites is appearing attractive to high school seniors...

Joe Fields

Thursday, March 6, 2014

An Archive for Open Math Projects

As part of my talk in the JMM Baltimore session I raised the possibility of a central site for connecting Open Math initiatives. I'd like to expand on that.

I worked for a time on the Comprehensive $\TeX$ Archive Network (CTAN). If you write $\TeX$-related software that you want to offer to the community, then you send it to CTAN where users can find it and where the standard distributions MiKTeX and TeX Live (as well as commercial vendors) can also find it. I saw there the advantage of having an authoritative single source — think of the waste if every $\LaTeX$ user had to do their own search for the latest version of the package that makes hyperlinks.

There are sites that offer lists of open math books (the American Institute of Mathematics (AIM) comes to mind but there are others such as the Open Textbook Library). These sites are great but have limitations. For instance, AIM requires that a work has been used by someone other than an author, which rules out some in-progress projects. Other sites are restricted to one subfield or another, or are simply restricted to what the site's owner has run across. I'd like to see a comprehensive archive with a mission of helping the community, including helping it grow.

Some Advantages

  • One stop shopping for users: Instructors and students alike can easily see the choices. This also includes one-stop shopping for aggregators.
  • People could search by topic, level, license, etc.
  • Opens the possibility of offering and collecting reviews, keeping a count of adoptions, as well as allowing upvotes and comments.
  • Gives new initiatives the chance to get noticed. Established projects appear on the top of search engine results, naturally. New works could use a boost.
  • Offers authoritative versions. I have a text that has been online since 1996-ish and when a person enters my information into a search engine, years-old versions are prominent.
  • Links to other resources, such as mailing lists or events. For instance, the site could have been used to announce the Baltimore session on open-source texts.
A few words about technicalities. Such a site could point to the material, but does not have to hold that material. For instance, if a project is hosted on GitHub, then an archive could just point to the repository rather than taking on the technical burden of running a repository on its own. Indeed, this seems to me to be the technically correct approach, since holding the material in two places can be a problem.

As I mentioned, I have some experience in this area. The network traffic is not that great. When I ran the CTAN site there was traffic (particularly in late August), but it was not a major issue.

In addition there are now software systems well-adapted to writing such sites. I like Django (free, open-source), but there are a number of others. Such systems reduce the burden of development.

Such a site would be, I would think, a boost to the community. But in some ways the technicalities are not the hard part — the hard part is getting people to adopt the site. I wonder; are folks interested?

Jim Hefferon
Saint Michael's College

Monday, March 3, 2014

Trench Texts Find an On-line Home and Are Now Open-Source!

What follows is a (lightly edited by me) announcement from Bill Trench about some free (and now) open-source texts.  What's really exciting here is that not only has Bill found a place to distribute his texts on-line (through his own institution's repository), but that he has made the $\LaTeX$ source available under a Creative Commons license!  Thank you Bill for this tremendous gift to the open-source textbook community.

Effective March 1, 2014, DigitalCommons@Trinity is the primary download source for:
  1. ELEMENTARY DIFFERENTIAL EQUATIONS, previously published by Brooks/Cole Thomson Learning, 2000,
  2. ELEMENTARY DIFFERENTIAL EQUATIONS WITH BOUNDARY VALUE PROBLEMS,, previously published by Brooks/Cole Thomson Learning, 2000,
  3. INTRODUCTION TO REAL ANALYSIS, previously published by Pearson Education, 2003,
  4. FUNCTIONS DEFINED BY IMPROPER INTEGRALS, previously published by Harper & Row, 1978,
  5. THE METHOD OF LAGRANGE MULTIPLIERS, previously published by Harper & Row, 1978.
The $\LaTeX$ source code and graphics files for Items 1 and 2 are in a zipfile posted on and, which also includes the includes the $\LaTeX$ source code for Item 6.

The $\LaTeX$ source and graphics files for Items 3-6 are in a zipfile posted on

Items 1-6 have been judged to meet the evaluation criteria set by the Editorial Board of the American Institute of Mathematics in connection with the Institute's Open Textbook Initiative

They may be copied, modified, redistributed, translated, and built upon subject to the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

Instructor's solutions manuals are available on request to the author, subject to verification of faculty status. They are not licensed under Creative Commons and may not be reproduced, modified, or circulated without my written permission.

I thank Professor Jane Costanza, Head of Discovery Services, Trinity University, for including my work on DigitalCommons@Trinity. I also thank my Trinity University colleagues-at-a-distance Ryan Daileda and Peter Oloffson for their encouragement and consistent support. In particular, Professor Daileda created my personal webpage in March 2009 and has generously donated his time to maintain it since then. My contribution to the cause of free and open textbooks would have been impossible without his help.

Please forward this message to colleagues, friends, and students who may be interested.

William F. Trench
Andrew G. Cowles Distinguished Professor Emeritus
Mathematics Department
Trinity University
San Antonio, Texas, USA

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Standard for Meaningful Mathbook Markup.

If authors of open textbooks are really going to share material, then it needs to be easy to combine the source $\LaTeX$ from different documents. Suppose you wanted to re-use material from a linear algebra textbook, which included this sentence:

Suppose \$A \in \GL(4,\C)\$ and let \$B=\adjoint{A}\$.

That sentence contains 3 non-standard macros. You probably understand what is written, but if you haven't defined those macros then you can't just insert that sentence into your book. This points to the desirability of having a standard set of macros.

I'll state some principles I see as important, and then propose an initial list of what I will call the "mathbook macros". The name is a reference to Rob Beezer's MathBook XML (see previous posting) which will allow authors to easily produce versions of their work for multiple platforms.

Here I am only referring to math markup. The structural markup of a document -- chapters, sections, theorems, definitions, examples, etc -- will be part of a separate discussion.

Part 1: Principles for MathBook Markup.

  1. Mathematically meaningful markup is better than markup which merely specifies how the math should be typeset.
  2. Mathbook markup should specify the mathematical meaning, not the layout.
  3. Mathbook markup should not require a bunch of extra typing by the author.
  4. It should be easy to read the raw $\LaTeX$ in context.
  5. It should be easy to guess how to do the markup.
  6. If it does not seem possible to satisfy the previous principles in a particular situation, then there is no standard mathbook markup, and the author will have to invent and use a non-standard markup.
  7. The MathBook Markup is successful if it covers more than half the math macros in a typical well-written undergraduate math textbook.
Let's examine the sentence after the first paragraph above. I claim it satisfies the first 5 Principles. Let me clarify the second Principle. The complex numbers, $\mathbb{C}$, are typeset as bold by some authors, and as blackboard bold by others. You can use the macro \C in both cases, and different notation by different authors does not prevent them from sharing material.

An alternative to that sentence is

Suppose \$A \in GL(4,\mathbb C)\$ and let \$B=A^*\$.

The only merit in that version is that no macros are needed to compile it. It is inferior in every other way, especially if you prefer a different notation for the complex numbers or the adjoint of a matrix.

Part 2: Proposed examples of MathBook Markup

Linear Algebra. I looked at Rob Beezer's $\LaTeX$ macros in FCLA and propose the following subset for inclusion in MathBook Markup. I leave off the backslash, and I don't indicate the meaning, because by the 4th Principle you should be able to guess the meaning.

inverse, transpose, adjoint, rank, nullity, norm, conjugate.

This is a fairly small subset of Rob's macros, so I am far from satisfying the last Principle. Also, all of those macros take one argument. Somehow it seems harder to come up with obvious names for macros that take 2 arguments. But maybe someone has a clever idea? Or maybe we can replace the 5th Principle by an easy way to look up a macro?

Calculus. For a calculus book it may be reasonable to have a \d macro for the "d" in an integral, and maybe macros \dx, \dy, and \dt, and maybe for some other common variable names. I'd be interested in hearing the opinions of calculus textbook authors.

Automorphic forms. The L-functions and Modular Forms Database (LMFDB) is a large collaborative project which has adopted the following standard macros:

\C : complex numbers
\R : reals
\Q : rationals
\Z : integers
\F : field (as in \F_p for the field with p elements)
\HH : upper half-plane

The following symbols for classical groups are also available:

\SL, \GL, \PSL, \PGL, \Sp, \GSp

And these symbols for operators:

\Gal, \Aut, \sym, \End, \Reg, \Res, \Ord, \sgn, \trace

Macros relevant to number fields:

\ideal{p} : the prime ideal \frak p
\classgroup{K} : the class group Cl(K)
\integers : the ring of integers \mathcal O (not the rational integers \Z)
\modstar{A}{B} : gives (A/B)^\times

I think the math open textbook community would benefit from choosing standard macros for common mathematical concepts. This would allow sharing of $\LaTeX$ source, but it would put no constraints on the notation used by each author.

All comments welcome, including "You are wasting your effort because people won't bother to do this."

David Farmer
American Institute of Mathematics

Monday, February 24, 2014

A write once, read anywhere document preparation system.

I've been intrigued for some time by the possibility of converting source documents into a variety of output formats.  This began in 2006 when I used tex4ht to convert the $\LaTeX$ source for my linear algebra textbook (FCLA) into HTML.  Around 2009 I began to experiment with using this conversion to create worksheets viewable in the Sage notebook.  The idea was to have Sage code in the source, and have the code be "live" in the notebook - editable and executable.  It was a real challenge to begin with $\LaTeX$ and convert to the Sage notebook format (mildly perturbed HTML, rendered with jsMath) so that the text, $\LaTeX$ and Sage all survived intact.  With support from the UTMOST grant I was able to get this working for FCLA and Judson's abstract algebra text.

Fast-forward to May 2013.  Now we have MathJax as the very worthy succesor to jsMath.  Jason Grout and his students have created the Sage Cell server, allowing an easy embedding of live Sage code in a web page.  Harald Schilly and David Farmer have created knowls, making cross-references and detail-hiding much more efficient than hyperlinks.  The previous year I had gained a lot of hard-won experience converting the source for FCLA to a one-off version of XML.  This made many more things possible, with the powerful text transformations available through XSL processing.  The result is the current web version of FCLA, in addition to a print-on-demand hardcover version.

With support from a Shuttleworth Flash Grant, I have started to build a general XML application for creating textbooks and other scholarly documents (research papers, monographs, etc).  The main goals are to deliver on the promise of separating presentation from content, and to be as simple as possible for authors to quickly get effective results.  Most mathematicians will tell you that $\LaTeX$ is all about separating content from presentation, but if you spend enough time trying to parse it programatically you discover it is full of inconsistencies and hidden/implied structure.  And that is before authors start using the abundance of add-on packages.  Quick: what does "\chapter" do?  Answer below.

Unlike DocBook, there is extensive support for mathematics, both displayed and numbered equations and the additional structure of definitions, theorems, claims, remarks and all the cross-referencing we expect.  Authors enter shortcut $\LaTeX$ macros for commonly used mathematical constructs one-time only, and they get used for MathJax and for $\LaTeX$ output.  HTML output can embed the Sage Cell server and GeoGebra applets, with Code Mirror, JSXGraph, and video all planned or partially implemented.

My intent is to very carefully design the XML elements.  They will be limited to expressing document structure and semantics, while preserving $\LaTeX$ markup for mathematics proper (only).  This will not be the ugly verbose XML that is created by programs.  I am writing XSLT converters to $\LaTeX$ and HTML as demonstrations, others may want to write other converters.   I have written, but not released yet, converters to Sage notebooks, SageMathCloud worksheets, and iPython notebooks.  I am experimenting with an extension for letters that includes images for letterhead and scanned signatures for PDF versions (since the $\LaTeX$ letter class drives me crazy).  I have used these tools for an article that will appear in the Monthly, for a monograph I am writing on combinatorial designs, and for lecture notes (a book, really) for my advanced linear algebra class this term.  It is very liberating to forget about $\LaTeX$, HTML, CSS, Javascript, and just concentrate on writing content, knowing your tools will produce something useful and appealing on the other end, with a single command-line invocation.

The link below is an example of the latest iteration, with plenty of rough edges in the content and presentation.  David Farmer gets credit for driving the creation of useful and general HTML markup, which will be useful beyond just this project.  A UPS student, Michael DuBois, designed the CSS, both visually and functionally, which accompanies the HTML.

So this is an invitation to become involved, as a user or by making suggestions, or just by keeping an eye on developments.  I do not yet have everything consolidated on a single website, but plan to soon and will announce it on the Google Group, and perhaps here.  In the meantime...

If you are interested, please join the discussions at the Google Group:!forum/mathbook-xml-support

Code is on GitHub (everything is on the dev branch):

Rob Beezer
University of Puget Sound

(Answer: yes, \chapter usually gets you a chapter heading.  Unless it comes sometime after \backmatter, in which case it gives you an appendix heading.)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Numbering in Papers and Books

I am preparing to release a Python program that converts math papers and books into HTML. A key design decision is that I am not attempting to replicate everything in the PDF version. In particular, I think it is time to stop repeating common errors. A particular error I want to avoid is un-helpful numbering. I'd be interested in hearing comments on my numbering proposal.

There is a long list of possible numbering schemes, and a short list of reasonable numbering schemes. For example:
  1. Number every equation with a single integer, sequentially throughout the entire multi-section document.
    *Bad* It is hard to find the equation you are looking for.
  2. Number everything in the format section.subsection.number , where every environment has its own separate numbering.
    *Bad* If Theorem 3.2.4 is followed by a Lemma, that should be Lemma 3.2.5, not Lemma 3.2.whatever-the-next-lemma-number-is.
  3. Number everything in the format section.subsection.number , where you group environments in a sensible way and have only a handful of sequential numberings.
    *Good*  For example Lemma 3.2.4, Theorem 3.2.5, Corollary 3.2.6.
At present, my program uses the 3-level numbering of Item 3. above, where books have chapter.section.environment_number and papers have section.subsection.environment_number
 I only keep track of the following global numbers:
  • chapter
  • section
  • subsection
  • subsubsection
  • equation
  • theorem-like (i.e., lemma, proposition, remark, conjecture, example,...)
  • figure (a "figure" is anything with a caption.)
So, except for the "sections", there are only 3 other sequential numbers throughout the document.

In addition, there are "local" numbers, as in a list or the exercises at the end or a section. Exercises sprinkled throughout a section would use the theorem-like number.

Question 1. Is there something missing, or unwanted side-effects, from this numbering scheme?

Question 2. If a paper has sections but no subsections, then it makes sense to use a 2-level instead of a 3-level numbering. But what if some sections have subsections, and others don't? Do you mix 2-level and 3-level numbering?

Question 3. What choices, if any, should be left to the author?

Comments welcome.
David Farmer
American Institute of Mathematics

[Post your responses in the comment section below.]

Monday, February 10, 2014

WeBWorK Exercises as a Source of Supplementary Problems

One criticism repeated often in the Baltimore sessions was the paucity of exercises in open-source texts.  Authors uniformly indicated that providing a carefully edited and complete set of exercises (including solutions) for their texts was the most demanding part of creating the text.  For some texts at the pre-college and early college levels (algebra, pre-calculus, and calculus) the MAA's free and open-source WeBWorK on-line homework system can help to fill this gap.

A couple of years ago, I decided to give WeBWorK a try in my calculus II class.  Since it's free (I'm a cheapskate at heart) and I have a few computer servers at my disposal, I downloaded the instructions for installing WeBWorK from their Get WeBWorK page.  In particular, I had an Ubuntu 12.04 linux machine, so I downloaded step-by-step instructions for an Ubuntu 12.04 system.  I will admit to having a fair amount of unix system administration experience, but if you're passingly familiar with unix, you can probably get through this in an hour or two.  If you're not a unix person (and not a cheapskate) you can actually buy access to a WeBWorK server at a relatively low-cost.

Long story short, I set up my own server and proceeded to use WeBWorK to provide students with additional exercises.  I taught out of Guichard's Calculus text (free, open-source).  Guichard's text has a decent number of exercises, but WeBWorK had far more to choose from.  In addition, WeBWorK provides instant feedback which students indicated they liked.  Finally, with WeBWorK the instructor can closely monitor whether students are actually doing homework and whether they're doing it on time.  (Can you tell I'm a fan?)

Back to the point of this post, open-source authors faced with the daunting task of creating exercises and solutions for their texts should consider pre-existing open-source repositories of exercises, like WeBWorK, to fill this gap.  IMathAS is another open-source homework system for mathematics (but I haven't used it).  If any of you know of other open-source collections of exercises for mathematics, please post references in the comments.

If any of you are teaching calculus I, II, or III out of Guichard's book, I have since created WeBWorK problem sets that correspond to nearly every section of the text.  You can download the .def files for calculus I, calculus II, and calculus III.  They may not perfectly fit your needs, but they certainly provide a good starting point for your problem sets.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Open-source Texts in MAA Reviews.

One way to promote your well-established open-source textbook is to get a review published in MAA Reviews.  A number of reviews of open-source texts have already appeared in that venue:  Guichard: Calculus, Beezer: Linear Algebra, Judson: Abstract Algebra, and Hammack: Book of Proof to name a few.

Several of these reviews I solicited by contacting the authors, finding users of their texts and subsequently asking those users to submit reviews.  The editor of the MAA Reviews, Fernando Gouvêa, has been supportive of efforts to place reviews of open-source textbooks on the site.  If you are a user (not author) of an open-source text, I encourage you to submit a review of the text to MAA Reviews.  Here are some instructions on how to contribute.

If you are an author of an open-source text, ask one or more of your users to write a review for MAA Reviews.  I wrote a review of Guichard's Calculus text jointly with Victor Reiner.  The possibility of several users of the text jointly writing a review exists and, in some ways, could be construed as a stronger review.  Of course, best practices dictate that you (the author) probably shouldn't write your own review. :)  I think Prof. Gouvêa might catch on to that.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Slide Repository for Talks from the Joint Mathematics Meeting in Baltimore.

The presentation files for the open-source text talks (session 1, session 2) given in Baltimore are now available from this repository:

Thanks once again to everyone that participated and for making these files available.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

JSXGraph: on-line interactive figures for mathematics.

One of my areas of interest in the development of open-source texts is in the possibilities offered by on-line texts. In particular, the use of Javascript and other technologies to present dynamic content to the reader. Such content can be in the form of interactive figures, numerical computation, symbol manipulation, and simulation (just to name a few possibilities).

This post is about a well-designed Javascript library called JSXGraph that lets authors easily create 2D interactive figures. For example, here we have an interactive figure written using JSXGraph that lets the reader explore the geometric interpretation of the derivative (click on the red point and move it around).

JSXGraph is a free, open-source library of functions that any modern browser can implement (via Javascript). Authors with a modicum of programming experience can quickly generate interactive figures like this. Alternatively, interested students can make a project out of the creation and contribution of such figures to an on-line, open-source text. Of course, one risk of investing time and effort into such figures is that the technology will "move on" and your figures will become obsolete. The presence of Javascript in all modern browsers and the fact that JSXGraph is free and open-source help to protect from that possibility.

The JSXGraph site offers a large "zoo" of examples with source code that is free to use, re-use and modify. These examples provide an entry point into learning the syntax and ultimately to developing entire figures of your own.

As you can see, I'm a big fan. If any of you out there are authoring on-line versions of open-source texts, I'd be happy to help you get JSXGraph up and running on your book. To see its use in an active on-line, open-source text, visit Guichard's Calculus text. Most of the figures in that version of the text are done in JSXGraph. One of my personal favorites is the one that illustrates Newton's Method.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Textbook costs impede educational achievement.

Nicole Allen, a policy advocate for open educational resources (OERs), has an article here summarizing recent findings that textbook costs are actually hurting student achievement and that free texts enhance student achievement.

Those of us that attended the open-source text session at the recent Joint Mathematics Meetings in Baltimore may recall Ms. Allen's presentation there.  We are fortunate that she and others are willing to take these issues to Capital Hill and other seats of government.  Ask your representative to support the Affordable College Textbook Act.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Open-source efforts, not for junior faculty.

At the JMM session a number of people noted that developing open-source texts and OERs in general can be a risky endeavor for junior faculty where the stock-in-trade for tenure and promotion is the peer-reviewed publication.  In this post , a talented young mathematician, expresses concern over the high cost of college textbooks.  Further, she laments the fact that though she'd like to contribute to open-source efforts, she fears such activity would hinder a traditional academic career trajectory.

Here at Whitman, I've been working to get our guidelines for tenure and promotion to include this kind of work.  Our faculty personnel committee is going to consider the issue this semester.  Until such work is recognized by colleges and universities as meritorious and worthy of tenure and promotion, it will continue to be risky for pre-tenure faculty to engage in this kind of activity.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Trench books going open-source.

In response to this post, I received news from Bill Trench that he is in the process of finding an on-line home to make his book source files available.  If anyone would like to offer his source a home, or provide advice on effective ways to do this, please get in touch with him.

On a side note, I'd like to get some information on this site about free options for on-line book source hosting and distribution.  Options like github exist, but I have limited experience with them.  If someone is willing to write a post let me know.  Such information would be of great use to the community.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Free DE and Real Analysis Titles from William Trench.

Here is an announcement from author William Trench:

The following items are available as free downloads subject to the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

All have been judged to meet the evaluation criteria set by the Editorial  Board of the American Institute of Mathematics in connection with the Institute's Open Textbook Initiative.

ELEMENTARY DIFFERENTIAL EQUATIONS, previously published by  Brooks/Cole  Thomson Learning, 2000.

ELEMENTARY DIFFERENTIAL EQUATIONS WITH BOUNDARY VALUE PROBLEMS,, previously published by  Brooks/Cole  Thomson Learning, 2000.


INTRODUCTION TO REAL ANALYSIS, previously published by Pearson Education, 2003.


FUNCTIONS DEFINED BY IMPROPER INTEGRALS, previously published by Harper & Row, 1978.

THE METHOD OF LAGRANGE MULTIPLIERS,, previously published by Harper & Row, 1978.

Instructor's solutions manuals are  available on request, subject  to verification of faculty status.

Please forward this message to colleagues, friends, and students who may be interested.

William F. Trench
Andrew G. Cowles Distinguished Professor Emeritus
Mathematics Department
Trinity University

It's also informative to note that the source (e.g. $\LaTeX$ files) is not offered here.  As David Farmer might point out, this is a useful example that distinguishes a free text from an open-source text.  These texts are free, but are not open-source.

If any of you have experience with these texts or can provide additional information, please leave a comment. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Baltimore Bullet Points: Themes that emerged from the session.

The sessions (I and II) on open source math texts in Baltimore were a lot of fun. I heard a lot of people exclaiming how great it was to finally put names to faces. As I watched the talks I started to see a number of themes that I thought we might discuss in this forum in the coming months:
  • Licensing. What are the pros and cons of different permissive licensing schemes?
  • Collaborative work. How do we develop communities of authors around a specific project?
  • Credit. How do we acknowledge the contributions to a particular project? How do we convince our academic bosses that contributing to an open source text project should count towards tenure and promotion?
  • Technology. How do we harness existing technologies in our projects? What kinds of new technologies are needed? 
  • Assessment. How do we develop a review process so that textbook adopters (and others) can judge the relative merits of open-source texts?  How do we know who is using our texts?  How do we manage feedback from our users?
  • Media. What issues surround the medium of distribution (e.g. on demand printing, web-based, ebook etc)?
  • Publicity. How do we promote our texts?
  • Public Policy.  How do we shape public policy to create space for open source texts in public education?  How do we secure external funding to support the creation of open source texts?  What are some existing resources in this sphere?
  • OER Resources.  How do we merge/supplement open source texts with other open educational resources (OER)?
  • Best Practices.  What are some common standards that can be adopted/promoted as best practices for authors to improve their work?
These are a few of the topics that I noted during the talks.  I'm sure there are others that I've missed.  If I have missed something, make a note of it in the comments section below.  It may be that these topics and others can form a framework for the development of a best practices document over the coming months.

I will be contacting some of the people that presented in Baltimore to solicit articles for the site.  In addition, if you would like to write a post or direct me to something that might be of interest to the community, use the contact form on the right side of the page. We'll try to average a posting a week plus some discussion in the comments section.

Hopefully everyone made it back from Baltimore without too much difficulty.  Perhaps we'll meet again at the Joint Meetings in San Antonio.

Camden Yards across from the Convention Center, JMM 2014