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Nature Publishes a "Post-Gutenberg" Electronic Text 124

Posted by samzenpus
from the book-of-a-lifetime dept.
lpress writes "Most of today's electronic textbooks are re-purposed versions of print books. Nature has published an e-text that departs from the traditional book format and business model. Their Introduction to Biology e-text was created from the ground up and consists of 196 modules rather than a sequential book and the student gets a lifetime subscription for $49. Nature will continuously update the e-text as the science and pedagogy evolve."
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Nature Publishes a "Post-Gutenberg" Electronic Text

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  • by erick99 (743982) * <homerun@gmail.com> on Thursday November 24, 2011 @12:24AM (#38155376)
    So far eBooks have not varied much from the formatting of printing books. I like the idea of taking advantage of the technology available for eBooks and perhaps making books more interesting or with more content, etc. I teach psychology at two colleges and I have noticed that some of the publishers of text books are beginning to do this (Pearson and McGrawhill are two).
    • by Intropy (2009018) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @12:36AM (#38155424)
      I agree with the idea. It seems a really simple start would be making them like offline websites. It's not a perfect translation, but doing richer data flow and formatting than static books is a problem web development has been working on for some time now and has a toolkit around.
      • thats already been done it is called a chm, if you see them run. pdf may have faults but chms are evil. epub seem to be pretty good though, but what ebboks really need is multimedia, so for example where in a text book you would see a series of pictures with arrows in the ebook you could see that for low end readers or a animation with higher end readers and computers.

        • by reub2000 (705806)

          For most subjects, the textbooks could do without images. For example, does my abnormal psychology textbook really need so many stock images? All I really want is format that will work on whatever devices I happen to own, whether it be an ereader, laptop, tablet, cell phone, or maybe I want to print the pages out.

      • Unfortunately, some publishers should Not be trusted with new media.

        Let's just say that a kludgy Macromedia Director 5-based interface that won't run correctly without full control over various vital bits of the filesystem, a compatibility shim to keep Director Player 5 from freaking out on machines with more than 1GB of RAM, and an install of the 16-bit Quicktime plugin sucks the joy right out of interactive learning...
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          It sucks the joy out of development too.
          even today there's Learning outfits clamouring for us to do 3D web-based content in Director. We've managed to avoid doing one for about 4 years. However, since they require support for ancient browsers (so WebGL or Canvas3D, or whatever is actually made standard eventually is right out) and resist using newer browser plugins (like Unity3D, or, hell, the new Flash player which has 3D capabilities), we've managed to convince them that pre-rendered scenes in Flash are g

      • by dotancohen (1015143) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @02:56AM (#38155852) Homepage

        I agree with the idea. It seems a really simple start would be making them like offline websites. It's not a perfect translation, but doing richer data flow and formatting than static books is a problem web development has been working on for some time now and has a toolkit around.

        The problem is that these books _wont_ be offline websites. They can be updated, that means that facts can be redacted. This is DRM with a pretty face. In fact, it is even worse than current DRM: the proponents are marketing the ability to change the facts as a feature.

        • by tehcyder (746570) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @05:25AM (#38156382) Journal

          The problem is that these books _wont_ be offline websites. They can be updated, that means that facts can be redacted. This is DRM with a pretty face. In fact, it is even worse than current DRM: the proponents are marketing the ability to change the facts as a feature.

          Then don't buy the fucking book if you're that paranoid, stick to expensive paper books and Wikipedia, because obviously that never changes.

          • by Captain Hook (923766) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @05:55AM (#38156492)
            It doesn't have to be expensive paper books, ebooks can work. The complaint is about the reference material changing, especially if that change doesn't come with a change log.

            Think of it from a different point of view. You submit a dissertation in which you reference one of these new texts and supports your claim that the sky is blue. Between the time you submit the paper and the paper being reviewed the text you have referenced is changed to say the sky is actually slightly violet rather than blue.

            The idea is good, but you have to still be able to reference a piece of text/chart/graph/video as it was at a particular point in time or the entire referencing system used globally breaks down.
            • by DrXym (126579)
              Well it is a science resource so one would hope that it would be kept up to date with the latest scientific findings. I would be more worried that this "lifetime" resource ended up bitrotting, through lack of maintenance as time progressed. e.g. if they don't get enough subscribers to fund ongoing revision, what happens then?
            • Think of it from a different point of view. You submit a dissertation in which you reference one of these new texts and supports your claim that the sky is blue. Between the time you submit the paper and the paper being reviewed the text you have referenced is changed to say the sky is actually slightly violet rather than blue.

              What's needed here is a distinction between primary and secondary sources. Primary sources are a direct report and should never change. Secondary sources are compilations and should

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by dave420 (699308)
              So cite the book *and* its issue, just as is done now. What's the big issue?
          • My brother is a prof in microbiology at New Mexico State. Every two years he taught the introductory genetics course. He said that it was a course that he had to relearn each time. The material in the first two weeks (roughly equivalent to what you get in high school) wouldn't have changed much, but everything else was a whole new ball game. It would take him a couple months to decide on a text, and then he still would photocopy a dozen journal articles for the course.

            The best option IMHO would be that

        • by Ltap (1572175)
          Indeed. I would say there is a high potential of tampering, which means people need to step lightly. It is also difficult practically, for textbooks, because professors and instructors are used to changing their course to reflect a particular edition of a book, which is virtually impossible if that book is always changing. However, revising the book without forcing people to pay for a redundant "384th edition" is good.

          The books-as-a-service (which is all I can describe this as) problem could be mitigated
          • by Xacid (560407)

            I think the archival versioning is a smart idea.

            Take, for instance, if you take an exam and get a wrong answer even though it was based on your current book version at the time. However, by the time you get the grade back the book has been updated to correct that mistake. Having an old version to point to would help your case.

        • by Xacid (560407)

          They can be updated, that means that facts can be redacted.

          Ignoring most of your tinfoil hat aspect - that also means inaccurate information can also be updated to reflect new findings. This is generally considered a Good Thing (tm) in academia.

          • They can be updated, that means that facts can be redacted.

            Ignoring most of your tinfoil hat aspect - that also means inaccurate information can also be updated to reflect new findings. This is generally considered a Good Thing (tm) in academia.

            We have always been at war with Eastasia.

            Who decides what is inaccurate? Might the school board of Texas decide that 4 billion years is an inaccurate measurement of the age of the Earth? Google the school board of Texas before answering in haste.

      • by tehcyder (746570) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @05:18AM (#38156362) Journal

        I agree with the idea. It seems a really simple start would be making them like offline websites. It's not a perfect translation, but doing richer data flow and formatting than static books is a problem web development has been working on for some time now and has a toolkit around.

        Why not just make them actual online websites (which you can always download locally if you want) and charge for access?

        What is the difference between an ebook you get updated and a website that gets updated?

        Is it just the psychological problem that people are used to paying for books but don't expect to pay to visit websites?

    • by erick99 (743982) *
      It would could make textbooks more dynamic and update more often. I would also like the ability to mix & match among text books to create a custom text book - especially for my General Psyc classes and my Abnormal Psyc classes. Not sure how that would work with copyright, etc., but it would be great for my students.
      • What concerns me though is how will changes be managed? will it be possible to look at older versions? will an instructor be able to set a "default version" for his class to avoid unexpected changes?

        • What concerns me though is how will changes be managed? will it be possible to look at older versions? will an instructor be able to set a "default version" for his class to avoid unexpected changes?

          I think it is good that reference books change to keep up, but I think you are right to be concerned about there being a trail. It would be frustrating if information used in an essay was corrected and there was no way for the student to show that the information `was correct' at the time the essay was written

          What I am thinking is that there are drawbacks as well as advantages in information constantly changing. The advantages are pretty self evident as the reference is constantly up to date.

          One of the los

          • by DrXym (126579) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @08:43AM (#38157160)
            Perhaps the answer is a slider, a bit like the one in Google Earth. When you load a page there is a slider at the top pushed all the way to the right. Slide it left and you see previous revisions of the text with date & time information, and perhaps context against the change too.
            • Perhaps the answer is a slider.

              Yes a slider would be good, you could still get a sense of history.

              In fact it would add something you don't get with paper books in that you could see how information on a subject altered over time, say over 10 years. Yes I like that idea.

      • by camperdave (969942) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @10:27AM (#38157782) Journal
        The problem with dynamic text books is that if you make it easy to correct technical errors, typos, and spelling mistakes, you also make it easy to correct political or ideological "errors" and historical "mistakes".
    • by hairyfeet (841228)

      What I've always wondered is why nobody has really embraced the multimedia and linkability when it comes to these things. Before they killed it MSFT had some cool ideas with Encarta that I thought would have been great for eBooks. Imagine say Stephen Hawking's book having computerized demonstrations of some of the more headier subjects to help you get your head around it, or having a "would you like to know more?" style link that would take you to something like YouTube where a video lecture for the subjec

    • And that will put an end to evolution of this.
    • E-books don't have to be text, ebooks can include video clips, links to other sites, and even interactive programs embedded in web-pages. The whole idea of an 'e-book' is quite a bit of nonsense. Once data is electronic it is being displayed by a video adapter, it's all a matter of how much work/effort you're willing to put into an 'e-book'.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    >> Nature will continuously update the e-text as the science and pedagogy evolve
    Shouldn't that be e-volve?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    1991 called, they want their "hyper-text" back.

    (captcha: innovate)

    • by Anonymous Coward
      AmigaGuide called from 1988 to say "Meh, you can keep it".
  • This sounds like it could be much better than the current system, which constantly churns out new editions to keep the used book market at bay. This way could be cheaper and produce less waste.

    • You'll find that the serial publication of reference material goes back to the Library of Alexandria at least - but I have no doubt these folks hold patents that will prevent general use today. We've institutionalized being retarded. The progress we see now is retrograde, and accelerating.
  • Will it be compatible with my existing shelf infrastructure ?
    • by rev0lt (1950662)
      Does your shelf runs Linux?
      • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @01:16AM (#38155580) Journal
        Not directly: Just as bare-metal VM hosts run hypervisors, rather than Linux directly, bare-metal shelves run an embedded Stress Allocation Geometry engine, rather than an OS.

        If you want to run linux, you need to provision your shelves with one or more "Physical Machines", according to the requirements of your operation. Just be sure to observe caution: If you don't load balance your shelves correctly, all the PMs on a given shelf can end up crashing simultaneously. Also, if you exceed the provisioning constraints embedded by the vendor in your shelves' SAG parameter tables, you risk permanent damage to the shelves and the possible crash of some PMs on the over-provisioned shelves.

        Delivering Linux services with a shelf-based architecture can be complex and challenging; but it is possible. For home/home office purposes, IKEA has some great whitepapers.
        • by rts008 (812749)

          Is there anything out there you can't install Linux on?!?!?
          Why, I've seen the protocol and procedure to install Linux on a Dead Badger.
          Imagining a Beowulf Cluster of Zombie Linux Badgers scared me tremendously. I'm still quaking and shaking, and that happened many years ago....sheesh!
          Not to mention what would happen with a Beowulf Cluster of Shelves Linux, holding Beowulf Clusters of Zombie Linux Dead Badgers!

          Heh, I think I just set myself up for "Yo, Dawg, heard you like..." replies.

        • by migla (1099771)

          You jest, I think. I don't think the furniture behemoth of which you speak, the one with the member of the fascist New Swedish Movement [wikipedia.org] at the helm, have whitepapers, but people have been known to hack their furniture into server racks, for example:

          http://wiki.eth-0.nl/index.php/LackRack [eth-0.nl]

  • Business (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kodiaktau (2351664) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @12:36AM (#38155426) Journal
    This is a business model that is evolving away from the traditional print media. As soon as authors, publishers and printers/conversion vendors get it through their heads that content needs to be modular and easily accessible they more likely they are to win in this media format. Teachers/Profs want to be able to add/subtract at will and let students access the content. Students just want what they need, at a reasonable price. Institutions are being pressured to be green and keep costs low on these formats. It is nice in this model that the content isn't rented and is owned - the bad news is that the medium will likely change and the owner won't be able to migrate to the next big thing platform - that is the thing we should be thinking about now to make sure we don't get stuck locked to a specific technology. The answer is that electronic text MUST evolve in this fashion.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I kinda disagree with the line about students wanting what they need. Even as a student, I wanted to dive into them to change what was being said. Sometimes it was because it took me forever to understand what was being said, and I wanted to clarify things once I understood it. Other times it was because I wanted to expand upon what was being said.

      Students are more than empty buckets awaiting fulfilment from others. They can be creators too. The question is, are publishers and authors willing to acknowledge

      • by c0lo (1497653)

        Students are more than empty buckets awaiting fulfilment from others.

        Oh, are they?

        Even as a student, I wanted to dive into them to change what was being said. Sometimes it was because it took me forever to understand what was being said, and I wanted to clarify things once I understood it. Other times it was because I wanted to expand upon what was being said.

        You may be one of the rare exceptions, but I'm afraid the schools of the present don't think so and continue to use them as fertilizer recipients (read: fill the said buckets by pissing on them) and charge for the said fertilizer an amount to be paid in 10 years. And yet, for some reason that still escapes me, there seems to be a huge supply of buckets to be filled.

  • by mosb1000 (710161) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Thursday November 24, 2011 @12:37AM (#38155434)

    That only took about 20 years. Most industries take at least 40 to adopt new technologies, right?

    • by rev0lt (1950662)
      Name one industry that has taken at least 40 to adopt a new technology. Even cars have microprocessors since the early 1980s. Most "traditional" publishing outlets use 10, maybe 15 year old tech.You may question the workflow, and yes, probably is outdated, but the tech is usually up to date. That's how they can keep costs down and margins up.
    • by mosb1000 (710161)

      I wonder why the world economy is going to shit.

  • by rev0lt (1950662) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @12:42AM (#38155452)
    Does a biology textbook evolve?
    • by thegarbz (1787294) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @02:23AM (#38155758)

      Unlike most textbooks this one was "Intelligently Designed"

      • by WWWWolf (2428)

        Unlike most textbooks this one was "Intelligently Designed"

        And when the search function can only find what they type and not think, or when the DRM stops them from doing some basic stuff, or other similar little glitches ruin the student's afternoon, they just sigh and say "this Intelligent Design isn't very intelligent, is it?"

  • Levels in a book (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Walt Dismal (534799) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @12:52AM (#38155488)

    One area that's not often addressed or implemented is the concept of multi-leveled content. By this I mean that a traditional linear sequenced book conveys material mostly at one level of depth and proceeds sequentially. But I find for some material that a document that carries within it simultaneously beginner, intermediate, and advanced material can be useful. What I mean is that a reader proceeding sequentially through the book can choose treatments at the level suitable for them at the time and later come back and revisit at a deeper level, when they have enough background to understand deeper.

    I've taken one book I'm doing and split it into three volumes with hyperlevels like this. Volume 1 is a series of lectures exactly such as you'd get in a lecture hall. Volume 2 is readings to go along with the lectures to provide more material, and these exist as beginner, intermediate, and advanced hyperlinked items. The idea is that a student can get the basic background everyone should have in the domain, the more curious student can absorb the intermediate level treatments of the same topics, and the advanced student can be exposed to the fine points. While this could be done in a print book, it is easier to implement in a hypermedia form. The advantage of such a split-up approach is that it can deliver a volume of work without making the slower students have to plough through a dense and long path, they just need to tread the road they're given. (Volume 3 is a workbook and uses same approach.)

    However, a problem with such books is that with material fragmented so much and the structure not visible directly, it is harder for someone to grasp the overall structure of knowledge in the domain if they're first getting oriented. It's like a choose your own story book where you cannot see the overall story structure and could not speed read it easily, even if there is a linear table of contents.

    Issues with an e-reader are: 1) lecture board views and graphics just don't fit on a reader screen and are a pain to have to scroll around for students. 2) sometimes small screens just aren't enough. I'd like to see a video output port (do you hear me, Lab126 in Cupertino?) 3) sometimes it is really beneficial for students to be able to print pages and mark them up.

    • Re:Levels in a book (Score:4, Informative)

      by c0lo (1497653) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @01:42AM (#38155664)

      However, a problem with such books is that with material fragmented so much and the structure not visible directly, it is harder for someone to grasp the overall structure of knowledge in the domain if they're first getting oriented.

      You can choose to provide, on top of with the multi-level structure:
      1. many different "discourses" - linear/navigational paths inside the content. It's like providing many linear books build from the same content (your "prev/next page" nav bar flies on top of the content - instead of being embedded in the pages - and reacts to whatever "ToC" is loaded)
      2. Different ontologies [semanticweb.org] to organize the same content based on whatever "knowledge structures" are applicable.

      Better yet, if you feel generous, you may provide tools for whatever reader to organize their own discourses/ontologies and share them with others

      • Re:Levels in a book (Score:5, Interesting)

        by turtle graphics (1083489) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @02:11AM (#38155732)

        I've been working on and teaching a course (Math and the Art of M.C. Escher [slu.edu]) from a non-linear online textbook for years now. The book we're using could never be a paper book, because it is too heavily illustrated, animated, and linked. It's also based of of learning modules (Explorations) rather than a linear read-through.

        I would love to provide paths through the book - my coauthor and I teach the course in quite different ways, and the other users of the 'book' do as well. But it's proven technically challenging. We host our book with Mediawiki, and maybe that was the wrong choice, but it's worked well in many ways. Is there a good model of how to provide discourses or ontologies? I haven't really seen such a thing in a serious text. WikiBooks, for example, doesn't really have such a thing - if they did, we'd jump on board.

        Unlike the book from TFA, though, we're not charging an arm and a leg for a dubious license. This makes me wonder how much of this 'innovative' biology book is really just to make a boatload of cash for the publisher. They must save a considerable sum on production costs, and the maintenance of this book sound quite a bit easier than the usual 'new edition every five years' model. They can gradually replace smaller parts when needed, rather than rebuild the whole book to justify selling a bunch of new copies.

        • Congratulations on a beautiful website. The kids must really get a kick out of the course I bet...

          There's an easy technical way for you to include paths without destroying the existing hypertextuality of the material. What you would do is add a sidebar as a separate frame say, with a linear structure. Don't just think of it as a TOC for the wiki material, you could perhaps expand it as a small essay that gives a high level overview of the course, with the supporting wiki pages in the other frame updating

        • by olau (314197)

          Maybe it's just me, but if it provides the equivalent of a college text book, 49 USD actually sounds pretty cheap to me.

          Of course, it's still more expensive than free. And they probably will get competition from free material in due time from people like you. Thank good for that. :)

    • You should check out Gravitation [amazon.com] by Misner Thorne and Wheeler for a nice example of what you're talking about. Unfortunately, gravitation is still really hard even with that approach, and only a tiny minority of people get beyond the first 300 pages.
    • by toruonu (1696670)

      2) sometimes small screens just aren't enough. I'd like to see a video output port (do you hear me, Lab126 in Cupertino?)

      mmm... is this a reference to iPad? Well you should know then that iPad 2 has this port. It's called the dock connector and you can get an adapter there to connect it to any preferred video output device (VGA, HDMI,...). And as iPad 2 has default screen mirroring without need of support from the apps, then you can show anything on a big screen, including books. I've got a VGA adapter and have given multiple presentations that I've done first in powerpoint, converted to PDF and kept in my PDF side of iBooks.

    • by symbolset (646467) *
      We have that. It's called "Wikipedia".
      • Uh, no. It's not commonly organized in a way that allows users to deliberately select specific levels of knowledge, with a 'depth control', only to browse among links. Any hierarchy must be specifically made at design time, not reading time. There is no control over depth of knowledge beyond what the user decides by skipping over material, or if the writer chooses to implement separate threads. But there's no overt 'depth' control. My industrial clients using wikis have run into this when they use wikis (an
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @12:54AM (#38155498) Journal
    Honestly, while this might be innovative if you consider it from the perspective of 'ebooks', it sounds a hell of a lot more like early-90's AOL, with its subscriber-interaction features and assortment of proprietary content licenses available to customers, albeit delivered as a paywalled site on top of the WWW, rather than by dial-in alongside it...

    There also seems to be a fair bit of 'the large print giveth, the small print and structure taketh away' going on. On the plus side, hurray, a publisher not trying to enforce some 180-day DRM timeout scheme using a horrid proprietary format and ghastly custom reader program! Wait... $49 gets me a 'lifetime' subscription; but the 'textbook' is arranged around a 'class', with a professor and other students, which is presumably going to last a relatively short period of time. Does 'lifetime' mean that I am allowed to log in and pick through the cobwebs for as long as I can remember my password? Does it break when the 'class' dissolves?

    Really, this seems sufficiently unlike a textbook, and sufficiently similar to certain other offerings, that treating it by comparison to ebooks seems actively misleading... If you were forced to describe the service as "Like an ebook; but..." that ellipsis would be rather long. If, on the other hand, you said "Nature is charging $50 per person, per class, for their hosted competitor to Blackboard or Moodle; and is sweetening the deal by throwing in a whole bunch of premade content modules." you'd basically be done...

    This isn't, necessarily, a bad thing; but it isn't a book.
    • no it isn't a book, it is the natural electronic, if not replacement then, evolution the consept so as to make information dissemination and absorbtion more interactive and effective, while the traditional ebook (think pdf) will stay around because it fits better for some uses like novels,

      • Something like comparing an RPG with decision making (like Mass Effect) to a movie (wth no alternate endings)...
    • by Dr. Spork (142693)

      Yes, it is an improvement over the traditional book. Hopefully they've done a good job with it. But the real revolution will begin when this sort of thing is produced for free and released under an open source license. There are megatons of idle brainpower in the world who could do it. Hell, I bet we could get some of the world's top biologists to create content for it if some foundation paid for their sabbatical. Really, it's sad that the free version of such a product didn't happen first, but not all is l

  • by sandytaru (1158959) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @01:00AM (#38155528) Journal
    My database professor has said he wants to move entirely to a modular eText format, but his publisher (one of the big academic guys) is the one resisting the change. His textbook is $150 brand new, $120 used, and he said he'd really like the the ebook to be a third to half of that price. That's cash that the publisher, not him, will lose out on, since his royalties are significantly less than $50.
    • by Leuf (918654)
      So self-publish the damn thing and keep 100%
      • How long will it take for an existing exclusive publishing contract, if any, to run out?
        • Yep. They've got him until 2014, and he really needs to get a new edition out since it's an IT textbook and our current edition is already 2 years out of date. That's the other reason he wants to release it in eBook format: He can easily release a new edition each year that way, and just update the textbook as new stuff comes up through the school year. As it is, he had to send us a PDF of the "new" chapter 17 since so much had changed.
    • by artor3 (1344997)

      Self-publishing is an option. My quantum professor wrote his own modular textbook and distributed it as a series of PDF files on his website, and this was several years ago, back when kindle was a verb. No publishers required, and it was one of the better texts I had. Another professor at the school (in fluid dynamics, I think -- I had a friend in the class) did the same.

      Now, of course those texts were only for his own students. He had us each bring in something like $20 for access to the files, plus an

      • I feel old. My quantum physics professor handed out stapled and photocopied pages of his handwritten notes to the class...
  • Finally! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Sloppy (14984) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @01:06AM (#38155554) Homepage Journal

    Someone has finally invented the website.

  • Nice, standard HTML (Score:4, Informative)

    by subreality (157447) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @01:19AM (#38155590)

    They say it's standard HTML. If that's true, it's great - I'll be able to use it on any device anywhere. As long as it can be saved and printed, I'll cheerlead this one all the way.

    If they change their mind and add DRM it'll screw up those benefits. So, Nature, do you have the cojones to keep it in an open format?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "Nature will continuously update the e-text as the science and pedagogy evolve.""

    Will it keep track of changes, like a wiki, so that people can keep a better record of what the text used to say and what people used to think after changes are made?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Several branches of research have begun to use Living Reviews as a way of maintaining an up-to-date survey of the field. I'm familiar only with the Relativity section; it's excellent. The publishers are academic institutions.

    Living Reviews is open-access, check it out!

    http://www.livingreviews.org/

  • I know many students, myself included when I was in school, would sell back textbooks that we weren't interested in. Of course, being a math major, that meant there were a ton of used books to buy at much less than the cost of new books. (At the lower levels of course...) Same with physics and engineering books, how many drop out of those disciplines and sell the books back. Enough to have saved me a lot of money.

    I like the features that can't be duplicated in a paper textbook but really, textbooks are a

    • by biodata (1981610)
      No but I guess there's nothing to stop you selling your password (except probably something in the small print of the EULA).
  • Open Source (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fermion (181285) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @01:51AM (#38155678) Homepage Journal
    Honestly textbooks are going to be a thing of the past. Everyone expects an integrated, multimedia, integrated experience and textbooks simply do not fulfill this role. I see this already in elementary schools where much of student work is online. At the early years, there is still work on paper, as students are learning to write, but the assignment, ancillary content like the silly songs used to help kids become familiar with content, etc, are there.

    What I see in many current products is a lack of organization, a lack of student friendly setup, or a lack a obsessive focus on proprietary content. Here is what the internet is good for. Supplying content. Here is where a firm can profit. Organizing and presenting content. I have seen on example where this is actually done reasonable well. I have seen it done badly in many other cases. Simply placing every link found in google in a database organized by subject is not how this should be done. Believe me I have seen products that do this. What nature has done may or may not be well done. It does not really seem to be that innovative. I have seen other products that follow the same line.

    One thing that works well for me in organizing content is Moodle. Like the Nature book it is organized into units. There is not built in mechanism to force students to follow a certain path, but content can be presented and valid assessment created. This is technology that exists the can free students from reading 1000 pages out of context, paying huge bills for books, and taking tests where the purpose is often minimizing cheating rather than testing skills. The question is how much will students pay for a moodle setup. Probably not enough to be worth setting it up.

    On an aside, what is up with testing on the computer. Why do we still have tests that are mostly multiple choice? It is possible to have math questions with randomly generated numbers and calculated question. It is possible to have scripts and regex expression to check short answers automatically. There are tool bars that let students enter algebraic expressions. Computer have been around for nearly two generations, yet will still teach basically as we did 30 years ago. With books and scantron machines. It is crazy. There is no well paying job where one gets paid for filling bubbles. Learning is no longer simply reading a book for facts. Increasingly what we learn is process, how to interact with a computer so the results are what is expected. It is much more complex, experiential, dare I say hands on.

    • by AdamJS (2466928)

      Killing the textbook industry in its current form and replacing it from the ground up with something focused around accurate and beneficial material rather than yearly dosh would easily, vastly improve education in North America.

  • Diffs (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Compaqt (1758360) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @03:13AM (#38155900) Homepage

    What would be really useful is to give diffs for each new version, i.e., "What's New".

    Nothing more annoying than to have to read through 1000 page to find out what's changed, assuming you remember the previous version exactly enough to be able to discern.

  • Is this not just a very long or big SCORM package presented in a different way?
  • by melonman (608440) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @03:54AM (#38156052) Journal

    First, books are not all entirely sequential. One of the reasons I still buy paper books on IT is that I reckon I can often find what I want faster than by searching. Yesterday I wanted to remind myself how to iterate through a directory using Perl. I know the recipe is in "Perl Cookbook". I know that book is within arm's reach. I remember the chapter is about a quarter of the way through. Flick flick - bingo, all in about ten seconds. If I don't know the book well I look at the contents page, which is no slower than skimming links on a screen. Yes, I'm sure a computer is faster in theory, but that isn't my subjective experience, and I don't think that's because I'm incapable of using a computer. Grabbing a book and flicking to roughly the right place is actually not a bad random access heuristic.

    Second, sequential is often good. It often *is* the pedagogy. When I first get a book (not a cookbook...) I often start on page one and read to the end, maybe skipping bits that really don't interest me. Yes, that takes longer if I'm looking for one specific answer. But, if the book is well-constructed, it often gives me a much better feel for the overall subject than I would get by looking at 200 modules, each of which is designed to stand on its own. And, in practice, I'd probably only read 20 of those 200 modules because there's no narrative to pull me onto the next module.

    A great example of this for me is "Mastering Regular Expressions" by Friedl. You can google most of the answers to specific regex problems, and I did that a lot. Ploughing through hundreds of pages of dense and often obsessive text (breaking off from writing a chapter to get Richard Stallman to patch emacs regexes counts as obsessive, right?) meant that I finally understood how regexes work, what happens under the hood and why some apparently innocuous regexes never terminate.

    Hypertext and modularity have their place. But I wouldn't dance on the grave of sequentially structured information just yet.

  • I dont know why, but the image of the silly aliens making the translators say silly things as they attacked people came into my head. I mean, imagine if someone got access to it. They could replace Jupiter's definition with a series of cat pictures with oddly worded phrases attached. Or they could remove or change some number in some equaiton, or a couple of words, in a way that would be much harder to detect. Oh, sure right now its not that big a deal cause we still do have phyiscal copies... I dunno, I'
  • It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.
  • Look, I am all for this project, but we cannot lose sight of one simple drawback: people *like* working with a hardcopy (myself included). I find myself more able to pay attention to a book than a screen. I'd much rather read a book than it's .pdf duplicate. There is something about a tangible medium like the book that just is not replicable in digital form.
  • I became herbally fascinated by the ability to use "footnotes" on a VAX machine in college to document "digression". I stayed up most of the night trying to sketch out the nested "footnote-on-footnote" regressions and became convinced it was some kind of post-modern, exponential literature. Wow, in fact it wasn't even constrained to literature, it could wander into philosophy, science, anything. It could begin a process of footnoting translations. Unfortunately, in the morning, everything I'd written
  • We love eBooks, but need ways to compare, before buying any book... Suggestions?

  • Honestly, I would be happy just to get animated gifs in my text books. It shouldn't be that hard, gifs are ancient and small, just provide a fall back picture for static display.

  • are they fucking high? A student buys a textbook for a specific course. When the course is over, they ditch or sell the book, as they will likely never crack it open again. WHY would a student spend a nickel on something they don't need?
    • by AdamJS (2466928)

      New revisions, giving the book account to their friends or children, etc.
      Newer courses and/or advanced courses (my Discrete Mathematics course book was required for one class, which covered maybe ~4% of its massive material, at best. The book, while quite terrible, has been very applicable to around 5 courses I took after the class that required it)

      As well, if the student is getting a job in that field, then new and updated textbook data and studies straight from a renowned scientific journal/organization f

      • by AdamJS (2466928)

        *Also, $49 is pretty bloody cheap compared to the ebook versions of Science textbooks I've seen.

  • Somewhere on Earth, several book publishers and schoolbook company executives' hearts skipped a beat, and the world grew as dark as a black whole for a sliver of a second.

    Then they went back to eating caviar while swimming through piles of money and English interns.

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