"Motivated by the ambition to open people’s minds and expand their worldview"
Dr Jonathan Shock is a senior lecturer in the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics at UCT whose research interests include string theory, machine learning, neuroscience and medical data analysis. Over the past five years he has been convening the first-year mathematics course, MAM1000W, though this year he has been granted leave for good behaviour.
In 2016, Jonathan was honoured with a UCT Distinguished Teacher Award in recognition of his contribution to teaching, both at first-year and honours level. He describes himself as being motivated by the ambition to open people’s minds and expand their worldview, and is inspired by the idea of using an abstract subject like mathematics to do so.
In February 2019, Jonathan was awarded a grant from the DOT4D project to develop a series of chapters for a first-year mathematics textbook, Introduction to University Level Mathematics for a South African Audience,which will be specifically tailored to the local context. The first of these chapters, "Introduction to Complex Numbers", which he co-authored with colleague Mashudu Mokhithi, has been published in the OpenUCT repository. Jonathan is in the process of developing further chapters in collaboration with students and colleagues.
What is the problem he is trying to address through open textbook development?
Jonathan’s open textbook initiative aims to address numerous concerns that have arisen from his teaching of the first-year mathematics course. Among these is the high price of the prescribed textbook currently in use (around R800), which, due to its North American focus, is not an ideal fit for local students.
The open textbook addresses the need Jonathan has identified for a resource which can provide exercises and assessments, and function as a “roadmap” to help students transition from high school to varsity-level courses and beyond. In this sense, his open textbook forms part of his exploration of alternative teaching practices which present an interdisciplinary and localised approach to mathematics that includes history, culture and linguistics.
What is his authorship approach?
Jonathan has adopted a collaborative authorship approach, in which different components of the textbook are developed concurrently through varying levels of collaboration with colleagues and students.
In one of the chapters currently under development, student co-authors Siphelele Danisa and Singalakha Menziwa are drawing from their experiences as students in the course to develop a bank of questions which can help the learner go from high school level to what is expected in the first few weeks of university. They have also played a role in writing and putting notes into PreTeXt, an XML-based authoring tool, so that content can be converted into PDF or HTML in an interactive way. The students’ active and committed participation is motivated by their desire to improve the student experience for others and the shared ambition to try and create a growth mindset.