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I was talking to some of my students yesterday about their calculus courses, and several mentioned that they use the web site CalcChat.com. The site's home page says, "Step-by-step solutions to odd-numbered exercises." One student joked that she spent so much time on calcchat that she'd set it as the homepage of her browser. Can anyone provide any insight into how this site works? From casually clicking around on it, it looks like it will give students solutions to odd-numbered problems from a whole bunch of current math books, and they don't have to pay or register an account. There also appear to be provisions for talking to a tutor, although when I visited this morning, it said, "calc chat assistant: offline." What is their business model?

Is the site basically offering the equivalent of a student solutions manual, which the publisher would like to charge $100 for? Do the solutions appear to be the original work of the people who run the site, or are they cut and pasted from the publishers' solutions?

Can anyone offer any insights into how their students use the site, for good or for evil? I guess the common practice among textbook authors is to put answers to odd problems in the back of the book. Do many people here assign the odd problems for credit and check that their students have actually worked out the answers? If so, do they find themselves reading the same CalcChat solution over and over? In your experience, how does this compare or compete in terms of education with printed student solutions manuals from the publisher? How does it compare with Wolfram/Mathematica or other symbolic math software that can show the steps it used to get the solution?

Related: Students use WolframAlpha. Can we change calculus instruction to exploit it while discouraging 'cheating'?

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The site only offers solutions to Ron Larson textbooks, and is run and maintained by Larson Texts, Inc.

What is their business model?

By providing an engaging, socially-connected, friendly and helpful website they aim to make Ron Larson textbooks much more popular. They are offering advertising, but they don't seem to have gotten much yet.

There also appear to be provisions for talking to a tutor (calc chat assistant), they don't have to pay or register an account

They also have a cheery and positive twitter and facebook presence. It's important to them that students like the site and find it helpful, and even more so that teachers feel they get a free TA. I strongly suspect that the chat assistants and twitter operatives are undergraduates and not Rod Larson himself! It'll be entertaining work for a able mathematics students who can work from home, socially interact whilst solving easy problems - you probably don't need to pay as much as some places to get employees for this due to the pleasant nature of the work.

Do the solutions appear to be the original work of the people who run the site, or are they cut and pasted from the publishers' solutions?

They are the (single) publisher's solutions, updated to the social networking-aware internet accessibility age.

Is the site basically offering the equivalent of a student solutions manual, which the publisher would like to charge $100 for?

Yes. It has just been published in a different format and with additional support - the content will have been generated previously.

They perhaps feel that the quantity of physical sales of the solutions manual was low enough that investing most of that money and more in welcoming, friendly and helpful free-access would drive enough extra sales to increase profits. Alternatively, Ron Larson is just a good guy who wants to help students learn mathematics as much as possible and can afford the hit.

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    $\begingroup$ Got me curious... Any comments on the books? What subjects are covered, what level? $\endgroup$ – vonbrand May 15 '14 at 1:03
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    $\begingroup$ I talked to one of my students who uses calcchat a lot, and she says the tutoring has never actually been available. It seems to be built into the design of the web site, but not actually implemented. $\endgroup$ – Ben Crowell May 16 '14 at 3:16

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