Calculus e-Textbook Is First in a Series
Institute Report, October 2012.
A VMI mathematics professor has come up with a unique solution to two problems with calculus textbooks: their expense and their inability to explain complex concepts well.
Lt. Col. Greg Hartman has written his own electronic textbook for the Institute's introductory calculus course, Calculus 123. He is now in the process of writing a second book for the next level of study, Calculus 124, and plans to write a third volume in the spring for Calculus 215. The project is named APEX, an acronum which stands for "affordable print and electronic textbook."
"You're never completely satisfied with any textbook," said Hartman in explaining his decision to create his own book. "Most of them are pretty good, but there's always things you'd like to tweak here and there."
He added that the expense of a typical calculus textbook - over $200 - is daunting to many cadets.
Cadets enrolled in Calculus 123 at VMI this fall, the first to use Harman's book, are given access to a PDF file containing Hartman's book. They then have the option of printing pages for free in the VMI's computer lab or loading the e-book onto their laptop computers and bringing them to class.
A third option is to buy a print copy of the book from Amazon.com for the very reasonable price of $6.98. Hartman was quick to point out that Amazon's price covers only the cost of printing - neither he nor VMI profits from these sales. Many cadets like the print edition, Hartman said, because it has wide margins and lots of white space - perfect for making notes and working the problems in the book.
Hartman began teaching at VMI in the fall of 2005, and came up with the idea for writing his own textbook shortly thereafter. It was a case in which necessity truly became the mother of invention: Hartman was preparing to teach a course in matrix algebra, but he realized that the $120 cost of the book was steep and the material was too advanced for the cadets. Feeling uncomfortable about asking cadets to purchase a book they wouldn't use much, Hartman decided to ditch the book and type up his own lecture notes instead.
As the material he was typing ran on to 80 pages, Hartman had an epiphany: "Wait a minute," he thought. "I have more than just lecture notes here. I have a book being formed." Hartman's lecture notes for matrix algebra wound up as an e-textbook and paved the way for the calculus e-textbooks to follow.
Finding time to write the e-books for calculus proved elusive, though, until the spring of 2012, when Hartman was awarded a Jackson-Hope Grant.
Over the course of the project, Hartman was assisted by two co-authors: Col. Troy Siemers, chair of VMI's mathematics department, and Brian Heinold, a math professor at Mount St. Mary's College in Maryland. The book was edited by Jennifer Bowen, a member of the faculty at the College of Wooster.
With the first volume in use, the second on the drawing board, and the third in the planning stages, Hartman is already envisioning what he'd like to do eventually: develop an i-Pad app for calculus, so cadets could explore the complexities of calculus on their own.
"We'd like to make it interactive over time," he said.
With an endowment goal of $50 million, the Jackson-Hope Fund provides support for promising academic initiatives that might otherwise languish in competition for the Institute's resources. To learn more or donate to the fund, contact Warren J. Bryan '71, VMI Foundation vice president of major gifts, at 540-464-7287 or firstname.lastname@example.org.