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