Ending the Half-Assed Textbook Adoption

Next semester I am completely textbook-free, having dropped even the historical atlas so I can do other cool things with my new Honors class. My Western Civ text is a compilation of my online lectures, which I’m editing over break. Everything else is Wikipedia “context reading” and my extensive online written lectures. All else is student discovery, posting, interaction, practice, etc.

In the meantime, I receive emails from the bookstore demanding my book orders. The assumption is that I must order books. Also in my email is notification of a subcommittee meeting on campus about affordable textbooks and what to do about those high prices.

Is the textbook era over? No. If I loved a book, if I used every page, if I followed a textbook slavishly in my class, I’d order that book.

What’s over is the era of the half-assed textbook adoption. The classes where the prof has students buy a whole hardback textbook but only use half of it, or only assigns a few chapters, or has students read “selections” from it. We can’t, in good conscience, do that when textbooks are so expensive and bookstores just can’t find that previous edition, or sell it used at exorbinant prices.

I didn’t intentionally dump them all, you know. I looked carefully for a book, as I noted in last month’s post.

But this semester I used a new book in my early Western Civ, an on-site class. It has good sources and its own methodology, which corresponded with mine — collecting primary sources and analyzing them together instead of engaging in narrative. (Narrative, I’ve decided, is Wikipedia’s job, or mine if I have a particularly good story to tell.) And we used this book, and they did homework from it, and they mined it for documents on open-book quizzes.

But I wasn’t really into the book. I didn’t love it, I didn’t quote it, and we only examined its contents intensively in class a few times. So why did they have to pay $80+ for it? Not good enough.

So go ahead and adopt that textbook. But do it wholeheartedly, because it’s the basis of your class. Because it fits so well with your pedagogy you smile when you open it. Because you know that $150 for the new edition is totally worth it, since it gives your students such an excellent educational experience.

Just don’t go half-assed.

4 thoughts to “Ending the Half-Assed Textbook Adoption”

  1. If there was a Congressional Medial of Honor for Tireless Efforts at Teaching with Technology, Lisa, you would be wearing one. With gold leaf clusters.

    With the glow in the last year over electronic textbooks, my own question has been what is a widespread assumption that a class needs a textbook. It seems a given for many.

    Now with our ds106 class, where the web is the platform and the subject, it is easy for us to say (and we do) that the Internet is our textbook. Of course, I get the emails every semester from the bookstore askling about my orders…

    I wonder though, do we expect a lot of the textbook on its own? What do students expect of it? My memories go back to my undergraduate studies, I was bored as a computer science student, and took a Geology class to explore it. I fell in love with it. It became my major (and my Masters thesis) (and half a PhD) (thats another story). But what I remember is that we had reading assignments that covered maybe 45% of the textbook.

    I was so excited about what I was learning, that I read the other 55%. That never happened before, I keep a copy of Press and Siever’s Earth (Third Edition, 1982) on my shelf because it was so special. It’s littered with blue pen underlines.

    There was nothing significantly magical about that book, I bet comparable ones might have had the same effect. But I was enthralled with the topic, and my teacher (waves to Dr Wehmiller, who I visited last year). I was the kid in the front row on the edge of the seat. I might even say I was in love with an academic subject.

    Perhaps I was weird.

    But its not the book alone that makes magic, as you know. I wonder why we give it so much power (and at that price).

    Three cheers to you for the way you innovate your teaching every time.


    [cogdogcxpile] (ignore this, I am experimenting with a bit of blog comment tracking)

    1. I love books. Mine from college are all marked up too.

      My students, however, don’t mark in their books, and are afraid to wrinkle them too much, because they want to get the maximum amount of money at textbook buyback. They also carry over what they learned in K-12 about not messing up their books (I remember the joy of my very own textbooks in college, that I could highlight!).

  2. Fantastic!
    Someone who is ambivalent at best about the value of a book in the classroom.
    If a book can actually increase the unknown inherent in human interaction then I’m all for it.
    Until I find that book I am going to find every which way for my clients and students to engage with their counterpart, in this case me, as fully unadorned, fully unprotected, and fully unmediated as possible.
    That’s life, that’s real, and that’s the indescribable purity of first contact.
    That is where the rubber hits the road.

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