Today was the first full day of the NISOD convention and, pounding feet aside, it was a good day. The Austin Convention Center is in downtown Austin and luckily I was able to find a hotel with the state-approved rate within walking distance. (Being one of the most frugal—that is, cheapest—people alive I didn’t want to have to fight my way through Austin traffic each morning and then pay exorbitant rates in a parking garage.) I’m staying just around the corner from Antone’s, the world famous blues nightclub I spent way too much time at when I was an undergraduate, and got to stroll past all sorts of Austin landmarks, large and small.
The exhibit hall officially opened at nine this morning so when the teeming masses came in—there’s always this kind of mad crush when an exhibit hall opens on the first day as people pour in to get the best free giveaways they can—I was at the TSTC booth to talk about our books on display, give away free Dr. Peppers in our koozies, and visit with other folks from around the TSTC System who were also manning the booth.
In particular, I noticed there was a lot of interest in the math books we’ve done and/or are in the process of doing: The College Algebra Helper we published last year and The Quick Math Review that we’re working on right now. It seems that a lot of developmental faculty have all the software in the world that they want to use but, in addition, want hard-copy textbooks with just the necessary nuts-and-bolts information—as opposed to the “everything plus the kitchen sink” approach a lot of math books take—for students to physically be able to work in and hang onto. Plus, if you can have a smaller, more-to-the-point book at a mid-range price—around $35 as opposed to a $100 or more for an epic math book—it makes it that much more easy for students to actually buy instead of trying to work around not being able to afford the textbook at all.
After spending the morning in the booth, I went to my first session, “Incorporating Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum.” The presenter was Dr. Marge Banocy-Payne, Dean of Communications and Humanities at Tallahassee Community College in Florida. (When people are realigning their curriculum, that’s often a good time to see if they might be interested in putting those materials together as a book.) Overall it was an interesting presentation, although their project was so big in scope and covered so many different classes that it was hard to glean much about specific publishing projects that might come out of it. (I’ll certainly have to do some post-conference follow up on this.) After the presentation was the question and answer session and I saw a couple of examples of snarky questions that I hadn’t seen since being in grad school and/or attending more specifically academically oriented conferences. That is, you have certain people ask questions for one of two reasons (neither of which has to do with actually wanting an answer): they ask a question so everyone else can hear them ask the question and know just how clever they are and/or they ask a question designed to trip up the presenter. Either way, it’s very rude and just drives me nuts.
The second session I went to was “Embedding Employability Skills in the College Curriculum: A Scottish Experience” presented by John McCann, Deputy Chief Executive of the Scottish Further Education Unit, and other folks from Scotland’s college system. Overall, this was another solid session as the presenters worked in a round robin fashion talking about different computer- and interpersonal-based things they are doing to 1) get more people to go to university and 2) ingrain soft skills into them so that they are more employable upon graduation. One thing I didn’t know was that while university is essentially free in Scotland in many “deprived” areas there is a strong cultural bias against higher education, the “people like us don’t do that” syndrome. Given that in the United States the high cost of higher education is seen as the one primary roadblock to obtaining a degree, it made me wonder what, if any, cultural bias against higher education might show up if education was free. Once again, I’m unsure what kind of publishing projects might come out of this for us—I’m pretty sure they could take care of those needs in country—but it was an interesting presentation, especially concerning the variety of cultural attitudes toward high education they highlighted.
After that, I worked the booth in the afternoon before finally knocking off late today to go back to the hotel room, elevate my feet, and rest up for tomorrow.