Sunday, June 13, 2010

textbooks

It's that time of year, again. Time to choose textbooks. Every year, I consider writing my own, if only to save myself the aggravation of choosing the lesser of evils. (Yes, I know, the aggravation of writing a textbook would be much greater.) I am currently wrestling with the great, imponderable question of our time: is there no market for a cheap textbook? Honestly, nobody would assign a textbook that was, literally, a book with text - no pretty pictures, no fancy graphs, no human interest stories in brightly colored boxes? Personally, I'd like to find such a book, but instead, I'm forcing undergrads to spend hundreds of dollars on glossy-paged tomes whose content is simultaneously too detailed and insufficiently informative (neat trick, that). I understand that textbook production - like conference realignment - is driven by profit margins, but I keep thinking that some small publishing company might be able to produce a simple textbook that would sell well because it undercut the prices of all the usual suspects.

I have to admit, though, that even if I could find such a textbook, I'm not sure I would change my existing courses until after I have tenure (if then). Especially at a teaching-intensive U like this one, I really have to prioritize if I'm going to have any time to do my own research. The time it takes to prep a class can expand, like a gas, to fill the available space. A new textbook is one of the most time-consuming, yet thankless, changes a professor can make. The textbook will affect every aspect of your class from the schedule in the syllabus to which dates you use in your last lecture, but it's not a course improvement you can highlight in your year-end review. Far better to invest in adding an on-line component or service-learning project. At my institution, at least, those are the kinds of innovations that actually count toward the teaching portion of tenure review.

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