Mathematic department uses free resources

Dale Hoffman bookscropped

The Open Course Library is a project managed by the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges. It was created to design Open Educational Resources such as books, syllabi and other coursework at a minimum cost to students. All of the materials produced for the Open Course Library are shared under the Creative Commons license, allowing redistribution and modifications of the materials free of charge. Printed versions of the textbooks cost students less than $30 and digital copies of all the texts are freely available on the Internet.

The project created materials for the 81 top enrolled college courses. It was encouraged and funded by donations from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as well as the Washington state legislature. Shortly after funding was secured, the state board began to accept proposals for the different courses and granted $15,000 to the chosen applicants to fund their work over an 18-month creative period. The first phase of 42 courses were released in fall of 2011.
Dale Hoffman, a tenured mathematics professor at Bellevue College, wrote books for calculus I, II and III. Hoffman’s texts are among the most successful books to come out of the project. They see use in and out of state at traditional colleges and through at least one online school.

“Contemporary Calculus” is used by the majority of the BC mathematics department. The alternative is James Stewart’s text “Early Transcendentals,” one volume of which costs over $130 from the college bookstore. Hoffman’s course includes other resources, such as the website, which freely hosts online homework and offers practice math placement tests.

When applying for the grant, Hoffman canvassed the three calculus courses, expecting to “get at least one” and anticipating that the experience would be enjoyable. To his surprise, he was assigned to write books for all three of the introductory calculus courses.

“It made sense, though,” Hoffman said, “because something I hadn’t realized as much was decisions that are made about how to do things in chapter two or three have repercussions in chapter nine, for example.” Hoffman says that each author has their own “flavor” as well, so choosing different authors for the three courses may have led to incoherence. He said, “The main ideas of calculus to me are inherently visual. […] In the book, and certainly in class, I’m drawing everything back to the visual, if possible.”

In regards to being surprised with three times the work he anticipated, Hoffman explained:

“There’s no way I could have created all of that material from scratch in 18 months, but I’d been writing for probably 15 years. I’d already done sort of an open source calc book previously that wasn’t part of this thing. So it was real impetuous for me to go back, take all of my things and put them together in a coherent whole and polish them up.”

Beyond his efforts the book also passed through the hands of various reviewers who helped Hoffman refine his work.

Several other courses at BC use open source materials. Recently the mathematics department applied for one of President Dave Rule’s “Innovation Grants” for Professor Jennifer Townsend to work towards implementing free materials for statistics, Math 130. Hoffman stated “She is probably going to class-test some of that material winter quarter in one of the Math 130 sections”

Hoffman will be on sabbatical winter and spring quarter 2015. He plans to travel, but will mostly be working on the fifth volume of his calculus materials, which he plans to use in a pilot section of vector calculus, Math 255, during spring quarter.