Courant Institute New York University FAS CAS GSAS

A new chapter

Saturday, September 18, 2010 - 7:59am

So I've been teaching calculus for over 10 years, almost (with the exception of one summer) exclusively out of some flavor of Stewart. And I've been a fan of the web and delivering content over the internet since beginning—I was cobbling together course web pages in the 90s before Blackboard and fancy content management systems were around.

I've seen the world of media change in so many ways. Newspapers begat online bulletin boards and bulletin boards begat blogs. Media consumers now expect to be able to interact with and affect whatever they're consuming. HTML5 and Flash now make multimedia interactive content delivery over the internet a real possibility.

But I didn't see that change happening in textbooks. Year after year I met with reps and they were pitching another hardbound textbook (or updated versions of the same books). Later learning management solutions appeared, bolted onto the textbook, and then electronic versions of the textbook, perhaps with hyperlinks or moving pictures. I thought, when are we going to get the next generation of textbook? When are the exposition and the assessment going to become one and the same? When will we get the digital version of instructor and student sitting on a log?

When I found that such a text didn't exist yet, I realized there's an opportunity. And so I'm thrilled to announce that I've signed with John Wiley & Sons to create an electronic calculus textbook, Calculus for the Digital Student, with a target publication date of Fall 2014.

I'd like to create a digital manuscript that students can really interact with. Not just a hyperlinked textbook with moving pictures. I'm thinking of bringing a great mathematics class into the textbook. In a session with this "book" (the correct noun for this project has not been determined), a student would watch some things, read some things, but most importantly, do some things. As the proverb goes, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

I also want the learning experience to be social. Students will be able to annotate, highlight, and share parts of the text. They will be able to ask questions "in-line" and answer other questions. These learning communities can be focused around an existing course or formed ad hoc.

There are other practical advantages to a digital textbook. It can be delivered in a number of different ways. So Early Transcendentals vs. Late Transcendentals would be easy to swap around. Or front-loaded vs. Just-in-time precalculus refreshers. Really there's lots that can be customized.

This idea has been in discussion for almost two years now, but the Wiley family and I are thrilled to be formally, finally beginning. We need people who are turned on by the idea of harnessing the internet and fresh technologies to teach a 17th-century subject in a 21st-century way. If you are interested in joining this community and advising or reviewing the project as it develops, please let me know.

new chapter

Sat, 10/16/2010 - 19:00
Bali (not verified)

calculus kind a though subject for me..

Good like with this new

Mon, 10/04/2010 - 11:40
D. Delfino (not verified)

Good like with this new project! I look forward to reading your "Calculus for the Digital Student".

Good luck and go e-textbooks!

Tue, 09/21/2010 - 11:12
Cindy Yeung (not verified)

Wiley editors are great! Best wishes and I always enjoyed your powerpoint slides at lectures, very informative and quirky. You must have dedicated a good amount of time to its creation - from modifying javascript language to uploading on different domains.


Wed, 09/22/2010 - 08:28

Glad you enjoyed the slides and hope we'll be bumping into each other again at Wiley.

Good Luck!

Mon, 09/20/2010 - 15:12
Nick Hamblet (not verified)

Sounds like a great project, and I wish you all the best with it. I'm looking forward to seeing the result!


Sun, 09/19/2010 - 13:37
will hansen (not verified)

The idea of an interactive calculus "e-text" sounds exciting. It seems like this could be done in a way that would allow students to figure out a lot on their own (with built in feedback at key points). My calculus students enjoy the exploration and discovery exercises they do with partners, figuring out things on their own before we discuss them and before they read explanations in the book. The opportunity to embed moving diagrams through applets also makes this a wonderful way to allow students to ponder ideas from calculus.
I think it would be exciting and instructive for the students if the text is organized in a way consistent with the development of calculus (fascinating questions provoke imaginative thinking which eventually leads to the development of the concept of limit, definitions and theorems) rather than the sequence found in most calculus texts.


Thu, 11/04/2010 - 01:15
Andreas Kloeckner (not verified)

What non-commoditized role does a publisher have in this? I imagine they'll run your work through a spellchecker, run the server, and pocket the money?

Two key benefits of the Internet are a reduced need for intermediaries and open access to information. A publisher's interests fly in the face of each of those goals.


What I've discovered in the

Wed, 05/04/2011 - 10:13

What I've discovered in the aftermath of signing the contract tis that there is a lot of work in producing a textbook (paper or electronic). I bring my knowledge of math and math teaching to the table, but they know how to develop, publish, and market texts.

Just like youtube didn't kill commercial film studios, I don't think electronic media per se is going to kill commercial book publishers.