Please take a look at Ravi’s blog about his Math 216 graduate course at Stanford university. Students and others have been chiming in leading to a total of 265 comments in 6 months. A group of people (mainly graduate students?) are working through the material as it gets updated on Ravi’s blog, and these people provide most of the which are helpful and constructive comments on the blog. Moreover, even though Ravi is not actually teaching his course this year, the blog gives one a sense of activity much like for a real course. Of course, since I am teaching my algebraic geometry course this year based on Ravi’s lecture notes, I may be more inclined to say so than others.

You can download the latest version of Ravi’s notes here. Let me give you a bit of my own preliminary impression of these notes; you can read Ravi’s philosophy behind them on his blog and in the introduction to the notes.

As everybody who has taught an algebraic geometry course knows it is virtually impossible to feel satisfied with the end result. In my experience it actually works well when younger people teach it because they have a fresh take on it, want to get to some particular material that is important to them and they are less likely to get stuck in details. I personally never teach algebraic geometry the same way twice, and I usually end up covering a fair amount of material despite feeling like I did not at the end of it.

One of the pleasing aspects of teaching the material out of Ravi’s notes is that I do not have to organize the material as much as I usually do. Mostly I am happy with the order in which things get done, although I moved the material on quasi-coherent O_X modules and on morphisms of schemes earlier in my lectures. Also, in hindsight, I should probably have skipped chapter 2 (category theory) and jumped straight to the chapter on sheaves. A key feature of Ravi’s notes is that more than 75% of the proofs of lemmas, propositions, and theorems are left as exercises. As lecture notes often Ravi explains why things are true, with lots of examples, rather than providing a formal proof. Results from previous exercises are used throughout the text, not always with explicit references (especially in the exercises themselves of course). When lecturing it sometimes made me wonder to what extend I’ve really built up the theory from scratch (which is the stated goal of the course). Of course here you can rely on outside references and ask that students read those, ask that the students do lots of exercise, and so on. One of the standing assumptions underlying the setup is that students will work hard on their own to understand the material. Moreover, I think no matter how you teach algebraic geometry you cannot build it up completely from scratch in your lectures, i.e., the students are always going to have to do a lot themselves, and maybe by building it into the course material they are more likely to do it?

Is it a good idea to have many different algebraic geometry texts? Tentatively, I would say more is better. I have personally found Ravi’s notes useful in the following way: if you can find what you’re looking for in Ravi’s notes (e.g. by googling) then you’ll quickly find pointers unencumbered by details or generalities.

Overall I am very happy with my course and the notes so far. One of my questions is how much commutative algebra I will cover teaching the course in this way (traditionally at Columbia we teach a first semester of commutative algebra and then a second semester on schemes — in one semester focused entirely on commutative algebra you can cover quite a bit). I’ll report on this in another post about Ravi’s notes at the end of the next semester, so stay tuned.