I wrote a book about inexpensive ways to teach with computers as a summer project supported in part by the Lois and Harlan Anderson Center for Innovations in Undergraduate Education. Such a book has a limited audience, and I was unable to find a publisher. Educational computing advances so rapidly that books on the subject become obsolete fast, and I want to share with other teachers my techniques for devising educational computer programs while they still have value. My decision is to place my book in the Public Domain and to distribute it mainly through the Internet and by mailing floppy disks to those who have poor access to the network.
The chapters in the book are shown in Table 1. Note that the emphasis is on BASIC; it has the advantage of running on all computer systems. It is easy to handle user interaction, graphing, and animation with BASIC, and the general ideas can be used with other programming languages. All of the examples in the book are provided as Public Domain BASIC programs that accompany the book chapters.
Table 1 Abbreviated Table of Contents
Getting started with your computer disk, Handling and storage of disks, More general instructions, Some helpful hints, How to begin, Demonstrations
Converting text files to BASIC, Cutting and pasting, Generating interaction, Default specifications, Parsing text
3. Algorithmic Graphics
Lines and boxes, Lettering, Scaling, Circular and oval elements, Self-adjusting graphics Object-oriented programming, Disk file operations, Graphs
4. Simulation of differential equations
Formulating differential equations, Writing SIMBAS programs
Examples, Exercise - Example Sketches, Animation with objects, Frame animation, Video programs, Color cycling, Random motion, Saving and using graphic elements
6. Computer Videos
How to get started, Nuts and bolts of computer videos, Why videos ? The future
7. Alternatives to BASIC
Presentation packages, Programs for athletics, Spreadsheets and BASIC, Expert systems, shells, Teaching with spreadsheets
8. Educational Strategy
Options for teaching with computers, Imperfect programs Programs that calculate, Evaluation, Dry runs Objectives, The ultimate teaching medium
There are many ways to view text and graphics with a computer, but there are so many computer systems and file formats that it impossible to please all potential users of my book. One program that has versions for all systems is TeX, a very nice method for typesetting. Actually I used LaTeX, an easier variant that all TeX people have or can get easily. Either creates .dvi files (this stands for device independent) that can be sent to any printer for which drivers are available. However, while the .dvi files handle the text internally, the appropriate graphics files are called when it is time to print them. The .iff format is popular for Commodore Amiga computers, and I used this format with LaTeX. However, PostScript is more universal and is the standard for TeX on all computer systems, so I abandoned .iff in favor of PostScript to make it easier for users. I decided to distribute both .dvi files and source files. The TeX people need only decompress the .dvi and PostScript files for viewing or printing. The source files consist of plain text with the various TeX commands imbedded and with macros that call for the graphics files. The image files, if handled separately, can be viewed directly or converted easily to a file format preferred by the computer system.
The sophisticated user can download my source files, make additions or corrections to slant my chapters to a different audience, run LaTeX, and print a nice, clean, final copy of a book. There are programs for viewing TeX .dvi files. Others can pop the source files into any word processor, read, and print them. The font sizes and styles are in TeX instructions that will not work but could be converted to whatever the word processor uses. The graphics files can be placed anywhere with one of the many good word processing programs that can handle graphics.
If downloading files, fixing them, and printing seem like too much bother, consider the rewards. The files are in the Public Domain, so you can use what you wish in the way that you choose. Sections about coding could be converted to instructions for students. You need not print anything if you like to read on your computer screen. I supplied some of the .iff graphics files in both color and black-and-white. Some of the color pictures are not as informative in their monochrome versions needed for common printers. I assume that Internet users know how to decompress files. You will find them all in one compressed file TeachBook.ZIP
To my knowledge, this is the first book to have its initial appearance on the Internet. There must be other frustrated authors who would consider placing their work in the Public Domain. Chapters or complete books would be prized by many teachers who could assemble customized text books. Picking and choosing what to use with a particular group of students and integrating it with your own materials could have advantages over using standard texts. I have no quarrel with publishers except that some prices are outrageous. The Public Domain for books is a way to fight back, and only the authors of books with very large sales are compensated well for all of that writing anyway.