APEX: Affordable Print and Electronic TeXtbooks
The traditional college textbook of today is expensive. Some may argue that these texts are worth their high price, much like some argue that a luxury car is worth its high price. However, when buying a car, one has a choice: if you want a luxury car, you can buy one if you can afford it. If you cannot afford it, you buy something less expensive.
Not so with textbooks. There are very few (any?) texts available through traditional publishers that are inexpensive, yet of high quality. However, with the proliferation of desktop publishing tools and print-on-demand services, alternatives have begun to appear.
(Alternatives need to appear as the current textbook model is unhealthy and likely unsustainable. Check out this NPR report which shows that textbook prices grew 82% between 2002 and 2012, how student spending on textbooks dropped slightly during that same period, meaning students are buying fewer textbooks. This Planet Money report also gives insight into the textbook market and is worth your 15 minutes of listening.)
The biggest remaining hurdle to textbook writing is time: it obviously takes a lot of time to write and produce a high-quality text. To address this issue, some math professors at Virginia Military Institute decided collaboration was the key: instead of having one or two authors doing all the work, what if many people worked together on writing a text? Each individual could specialize: one could write examples, another problem sets, another produce graphics, etc. The cost of time to any one person would be greatly reduced. These math professors decided to advertise this collaborative idea under the name of APEX, hoping to develop a consortium of like-minded individuals who worked together to change the math-textbook landscape.
The core values of this consortium are represented by the letters of APEX. Clearly, we are writing textbooks, though not limited to mathematics. The product must be affordable. (APEX Calculus is free in pdf form; if you want a printed copy, you can print it yourself or buy a nice print copy through Amazon for about $15.) While there has been much to-do about how ebooks and tablets would revolutionize education, our experience is that many students still want something they can hold in their hand. And write in. And dog-ear. Hence we need to make print versions available. There is much to be done electronically, though, that can't be done in print. This exciting frontier is yet to be fully explored, though APEX Calculus has introduced at least one exciting feature - 3D graphics that can be manipulated in the .pdf!
To encourage collaboration, APEX Calculus is available as an open text. All source files are available on GitHub for others to monkey with, covered under a generous Creative Commons BY-NC license. Don't want a section? Take it out. Did we miss a section? Add one in.
Interested in writing an open-source text? Contact me!