Open Source: the Logical Choice for a Logic Textbook
The University of Calgary creates an open source logic textbook with international collaboration
Basic logic courses are an important part of several different programs spanning very different career paths, including computer science, linguistics, philosophy and mathematics. All of these subjects require that the learner have a grasp of the basic tenets of formal methods of logic, and the University of Calgary (U of C) offers three courses that can be applied to these varied backgrounds.
The commercial textbooks available for these courses are often very specific to certain backgrounds— some have more of a focus on mathematics, while others cater to those with a philosophical background. Richard Zach, Professor of Philosophy at the U of C, says that there are very few textbooks that serve a wide cross-section of audiences.
“Whenever you use one of those textbooks, the other people lose out—a math specific text might be full of theorems that make it difficult for someone with a philosophical background, for instance,” says Zach.
The solution is for several colleagues at international universities to pool course materials including lecture notes, handouts and other openly available content to create an Open Educational Resource (OER)—available free-of-charge to anyone online—that could be tailored to a specific audience. The U of C has been able to pursue the project thanks to funding from the U of C’s Faculty of Arts, and more recently through the Campus Alberta OER Initiative.
“That’s really what OERs are about. You provide teaching materials in such a way that the instructor or even the student can decide what material they want to cover, and in what order,” says Zach.
Developing the OER has been a collaborative project from the start though Zach is spearheading its organization—with several of Zach’s colleagues contributing, including Nicole Wyatt, the U of C’s head of the Department of Philosophy. Aldo Antonelli, a professor at the University of California, Davis, along with Andrew Arana of the University of Paris, Jeremy Avigad of Carnegie Mellon University, Gillian Russell from the University of North Carolina and Audrey Yap from the University of Victoria are also contributing. Three graduate students are also taking part in the project.
Zach hopes that the project will be ongoing. After the first draft’s completed at the end of December, he and his colleagues will continue adding and improving the book. Work on a project of such a scale with such a large number of people involved, and including complicated formulas, presents a challenge. Zach thinks LaTeX, a typesetting program that is often used to create scientific documents, is a good way to meet that challenge.
LaTeX allows users to insert whatever information is needed—whether it is mathematical or textual—in an easy manner, and produces PDF output that eventually can be printed as a professional-looking book or read on-screen.
Next, Zach had to determine what off-the-shelf software would be best for several people, located around the world, to use to collaborate on a textbook. He settled on the “revision control system” Git, which makes it easy for multiple users to make changes and collaborate on documents without any confusion.
Zach is excited to use a program that normally would be used for computer science, for the humanities. He even wrote a primer that explains how Git can be used by philosophers and other humanists. And he’s seen how well the program can work for other humanities projects since he has been collaborating on a large decade long project whereby the collective works of German-American philosopher, Rudolf Carnap, are being compiled and edited—this includes over 100 different texts and 14 volumes. The process has been very successful, and Zach believes other disciplines could benefit by using this program.
The website, openlogicproject.org, is already up and running with various documents available for download and information about the people behind the project. Zach is hoping the free resources will help ease the financial burden faced by some students while providing instructors with a logic textbook that can be customized to suit their classrooms.