Tuesday, September 04, 2012

on math ed: a not immodest proposal?

probably this kind of practice will become standard.  in a few years' time, re-reading this will almost certainly make me sound like an academic dinosaur ..

.. but still: WTF?
Mr. Thomas was taking the course with his then-fiancée (now wife), so he hoped to buy just one textbook they could share. The trick, though, was that each student in the course needed his or her own access code to get to the online discussion board and homework-submission system. And Mr. Thomas was told by the professor and by officials at the campus bookstore that the textbook and code came only as a package deal, meaning the couple would have to pay $300 to get the two access codes and an extra book they didn't need.
// from "what is an access code worth?" @ the chronicle.

this is the kind of thing that makes me want to just tell the students:
screw it: we're not going to have a textbook for this course.

i'll just scan my lecture notes, post them online,
and write up my own homework problem sets with solutions.

if you really want a professional-looking textbook,
then i'll put one on reserve in the library
. [1]
i don't think this is too much to ask.  for example, this is standard practice at finnish and german universities.

besides, i always write out my own notes for class anyway; many of my colleagues do the same. it's not too much to scan them, if the department has a fancy new fax/scan/printer. [2]

as an instructor, it's never been clear to me how regularly my students read the assigned textbook .. and when i was a student, if the course was taught without much abstraction, i'd just skip buying the textbook entirely and use the reserved one in the campus library [3].

i believe that students should read mathematics in addition to performing the computations. if the students attend my lectures, then maybe they would be more inclined to read notes that were written specifically for them.

[1] this has the additional benefit that students can't (easily) look up the solutions to your problems. for those instructors that are worried about cheating, then this might make it simpler to curtail it.

[2] .. and for those of you with illegible handwriting, (A) shame on you, and/or (B) there's always latex. for those others who say that this is a lot of work .. well, how often do you re-teach the same courses? write a good set of notes once, and you have you own kind of textbook. i bet that's how most textbooks are written.

[3] now that i think about it, i really like libraries. apart from a handful of cafes and museums around the world, most of my favorite places are libraries. i'll visit the local one if i'm attending a friend's wedding in a town that i've never visited before. it's also fun to talk to librarians, those fellow lovers of wisdom, wit, and lore ..

it's a shame that many of them in the states are constantly facing budget cuts .. which is suggestive that politicians don't quite understand their constituents: a library is more than a collection of physically manifested copyrights. it is a manifestation of a community and its ideals. when you tell a kid that (s)he must buy a laptop in order to learn, that's like saying that democracy takes second place to money.

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