WWCC math professor calculates success

More than 140 schools are currently teaching with Eric Schulz's interactive digital textbook.

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WALLA WALLA - In his State of the Union address last week, President Obama discussed how students will be able to "take classes with a digital textbook" as part of the digital age.

Walla Walla Community College mathematics professor Eric Schulz has authored an interactive digital math textbook that allows students to do just that.

Schulz co-wrote a new calculus book released this year by Pearson, the world's largest textbook company. Schulz was responsible for the interactive e-book, which includes more than 650 interactive aspects.

The e-book covers four college courses of calculus and costs $75, as compared to $180 for a traditional book in print form.

The e-book includes the same information as the print book, but all of the illustrations are interactive. The illustrations allow students to rotate three-dimensional graphs and see the graphs move as the variables change. Rather than looking at a static image on a page, the students can better visualize the image in multiple dimensions. The electronic format brings the concepts alive.

"It is the only completely interactive e-book I know of," Schulz said. "The main goal I had was to bring the book alive."

Schulz said he is a visual learner who grasps concepts better through images than through text. He wanted to make it easier for visual learners to understand mathematical concepts.

"In the world of mathematicians, some of us are really heavy in terms of visual thinkers," Schulz said. "I was in that group of visual learners."

One benefit of having the interactive aspect is that the illustrations better reinforce the concepts than a traditional textbook.

"By putting the figures right in the midst of the words, you create what we call a ‘dance.' The reader is going back and forth between the two. The pictures reinforce the words, and the words explain the pictures," Schulz said.

Schulz used his extensive background in teaching calculus to design the interactive illustrations so students can easily understand them.

"Every one of those figures benefits from 25 years of teaching in calculus and understanding what it is a student needs to see, and what it is that I want them to pull out of that visualization," Schulz said.

Schulz hopes that eventually all textbooks will have e-book components. And he hopes that rather than using static pdf versions that do not offer interactive elements, that the e-books will all be interactive.

This interactive e-book is incredibly useful not only for students, but for professors as well, he said. Schulz noted not all colleges have the resources to visually represent all of the concepts. With the e-book, professors can use the interactive illustrations in their lectures, and then the students will have the same illustrations in their e-books for when they are studying later.

"It becomes an innovative way of using a resource to teach in the class that connects to the students studying later on," Schulz said.

More than 140 schools are currently teaching with this textbook in either digital or print form. These schools include Walla Walla Community College, Yale University, Vanderbilt University, Oregon State University and the University of Virginia, among others.

The book was just released this fall, but is already the most successful first-edition calculus book published in the past five years, Schulz said. Pearson honored the textbook with awards for the product of the year in college-level arts and sciences, and well as for the product of the year at any academic level.

"(My favorite part) was seeing it come alive," Schulz said.

Joe Volpert can be reached at joevolpert@wwub.com.

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