The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) signed a contract last month with Prentice Hall to produce a new textbook series that will be published both in print and electronic formats.
The CEE faculty "plans to influence the future of the profession in the way that physics education was influenced years ago by an MIT series of books that defined content and the way that subject was taught," said Professor Rafael Bras, head of the department.
The decision to create the civil and environmental engineering textbook series arose from the department's longterm strategic planning, according to Professor Bras, who would like to see the new MIT CEE/Prentice Hall series become the imprimateur of the best textbooks in the field.
Over the years, the civil and environmental engineering faculty at MIT have been pioneers in their fields, writing many of the key textbooks of the profession and defining aspects of its practice. In the early 1960s the department introduced the use of computers in engineering practice with the development of a software package, called the Integrated Civil Engineering Systems, still in use nearly 40 years later.
The faculty is credited with having defined the practice of modern soil mechanics and with shaping environmental-engineering science, playing a key role in sanitary-engineering education and research early in the 20th century. The department also has defined new paradigms of structural design and global-scale hydrology and land-atmosphere interactions. Its approach to transportation systems design has been copied nationwide, and its faculty initiated and continue to lead large-scale engineering systems efforts at MIT.
Moreover, the department has one of the largest groups of information technology faculty (at MIT or elsewhere) involved in long-distance and computer-mediated education, placing it a step ahead of the rest of the world in its preparation for using electronic media to deliver teaching materials, including textbooks, in and out of the classroom.
"The electronic versions of textbooks could involve several elements -- interactive displays, video streaming, simulations or dynamic versions of the book -- working as supplements to, or substitutions for, the printed page," said Professor Bras, who holds the Bacardi-Stockholm Water Foundations Chair. "One potential idea is to make it possible for a customer to choose elements from several books in the series to create an individualized textbook, with the option of ordering that book in either hardcopy or electronic form."
The series' publisher, Prentice Hall, was purchased recently by Pearson Education, the largest educational book publisher in the country and one of the most advanced in electronic textbook publication.
The department's faculty members have published many textbooks as individuals, but this will be the first time they have worked as an editorial board to continually produce new books (several each year) written by MIT faculty as well as researchers at other universities.Department members serving on the editorial board with Professor Bras are Professors Jerome Connor, Feniosky Peï¿½a-Mora, David Simchi-Levi and Franz Ulm.
Potential subjects for inclusion in the series are engineering systems design, structural design, hydrology, fluid mechanics, environmental sciences, information technology applied in civil engineering, operations research and logistics, construction management and mechanics. Interdisciplinary approaches will be promoted.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 25, 2001.