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October 2014
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The PhysWiki Dynamic Textbook Project

The PhysWiki Dynamic Textbook Project

The PhysWiki is one of seven integral components of the STEMWiki Dynamic Textbook Project (DTP), a multi-institutional collaborative venture to develop the next generation of open-access textbooks to improve STEM education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) at all levels of higher learning. The central aim of the DTP is to develop and disseminate free, virtual, customizable textbooks that will substitute for current, commercial paper texts in multiple courses at post-secondary institutions across the nation. All are licensed Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike. All seven textbooks in the STEMWiki DTP have been linked together under the direction of Professor Delmar Larsen of the University of California at Davis and include: the ChemWiki (the forefather), the BioWiki, the MathWiki, the StatWiki, the PhysWiki, the GeoWiki, and the SolarWiki.

The goal of this project is to seed the PhysWiki with an open-source, calculus-based textbook, in an effort to expand access and usage of this segment of the STEMWiki. Working with both Professor Delmar Larsen (founder of the STEMWiki DTP) and Professor Paul D’Assandris, Monroe Community College, Rochester, NY (author of Spiral Physics), physics students at South Florida Community College are seeding the PhysWiki with Spiral Physics textbook. Spiral Physics is an OER physics textbook that is currently in use by over 40 two-year colleges nationwide.  Spiral Physics comes in three variants (calculus-based, algebra-based, and modern physics) and provides a research-based introductory physics curriculum along with an integrated textbook and workbook activities. Using a restricted equation set, Spiral Physics provides a unique approach to building student success by providing repeated exposure (i.e., spiral) to concepts with increased complexity. It includes alternative problem types, including goal-less problem statements, ranking tasks, and critical analysis tasks which have been research-proven to help students develop conceptual understanding.

Although implementation of this project has not kept up with the desired schedule, things are moving forward and usage of the PhysWiki continues to grow as shown in the most recent Google Analytics Report.

We initially had to learn how to work with LaTeX markup language used in the DTP and how to format equations using MathJax open source JavaScript display engine for mathematics. As neither of my workstudy students had any formal computer programing training, this was a big challenge. However with the continued assistance from Delmar and from numerous Internet searches for information, we overcame this challenge. The act of transcribing of the textbook and equations from Word format to LaTeX has had a steep learning curve. Unfortunately as the current semester is nearing completion and my two workstudy students are busy preparing for finals and then graduation, they are finding little time to assist with this project. Thus I am in search of replacement students to complete the task.

Once completed, this project should not only help to expand usage of the PhysWiki segment of the STEMWiki, but also enable Spiral Physics to be used as a living etextbook, whereby faculty and students, can expand and augment the online textbook with supplemental information.  I am excited to be able to use this site as the host for my etextbook for next semester.


Erik Christensen | South Florida Community College