Book Projects: What Makes A Good Textbook Supplemental Resource Guide for Instructors?

9 May

I will tell myself three times: not everyone is like me (and for good reason).

Now, yes, sure, there are plenty of ways in which this is true (and all for the better because of it), but I’m referring in general to the hows and whys in which instructors use textbooks in their classes and, more particularly, the supplemental resource guides that come with them. After all, we publish textbooks; we want them adopted; and those ancillary instructor resources are one of the key elements to having that happen. This is a fact I’m having to come to grips with despite my own contrary experience as a college English teacher for ten years.

When I was in grad school taking my teaching methods course to be “officially” (yes, that’s ironic use of quotation marks) “qualified” (redux) to teach freshman comp classes, the prevailing wisdom from our professor was that we shouldn’t be using a textbook to teach writing. After all, people learn to do things by doing them and while it would be nice (and easier), as she supposed, if students could learn to write by reading about it or, better yet, by have some stressed, overworked teaching fellow talk at them, unfortunately it just isn’t the case. Combine that concept with your typical (and grossly unsupported by empirical evidence) grad student arrogance—no book is going to tell me how to teach!—you wind up with a real disdain for textbooks in general and, of course, the supplemental resource guides that come with them.

In my own case, this was compounded by the fact that after I got my MA I adjuncted full-time—that means carrying a full load plus some by virtue of teaching part time at 2-3 schools simultaneously any given semester—for three years or so with each school using a different textbook for their composition classes. Sure, I could’ve driven myself mad trying to work up separate class preps that dovetailed with each book. Then again, I convinced myself I was too busy spending 13-15 hours week just to drive a total of 600 miles in order to teach six days out of seven at one farflung class to another to worry about such mundane pedagogy-related issues.

But, you know, then times change.  One day you wake up and go, man, as a textbook publiser I sure wish I knew why instructors choose some books over others. And then you go, d’uh! And then you slap your head and go, d’oh! Because you suddenly realize a big reason why teachers make the decisions they do about which book to use for their classes: they want a textbook that is as easy to integrate into a class as possible. And who can blame them? (That’s the thing, you know, about logic: so much of the time it’s blindingly, compellingly simple and obvious.)

So, as we put the finishing touches on not only our forthcoming technical college student orientation guide, Taking Charge: Your Education, Your Career, Your Life, we’re also wrapping up our first official supplemental resource guide for instructors as well. It has, however, been something of a crapshoot in figuring out exactly what we were going to put in it. (In the final analysis this will actually be uploaded to a password-protected Web site for instructors as opposed to going to print.) We have, however, settled on these elements so far:

  1. Detailed chapter outlines
  2. Additional discussion & writing prompts (7-10 per chapter)
  3. Additional suggested online and hard-copy resources (7-10 per chapter)
  4. A bank of test questions (10 each of short answer, fill-in-the-blank, true-false, and multiple choice)

Now that we’ve finally put this sort of instructor guide together, we’re also planning this summer to go back and produce the same kind of materials for each of the general-use (as opposed to custom) textbooks we’ve done the last few years including the the biomedical equipment troubleshooting book, the hand tools manual, the guide to safety in healthcare facilities, and the server installation projects manual.

My question would be: in addition to the four elements above—plus, of course, answers for our textbooks that have labs in them—what are the other most useful supplemental instructor resources people have come across?

(And, while I’m waiting to see what folks have to say, I will keep repeating my mantra: not everyone is like me (and for good reason).)

Mark

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4 Responses to “Book Projects: What Makes A Good Textbook Supplemental Resource Guide for Instructors?”

  1. enkerli May 13, 2008 at 9:17 pm #

    Supplemental resources tend to be an afterthought, with textbooks published by big names. They’re used as lures, it seems, as they tell the potential textbook adopter that the book is in fact a “complete set of well-designed pedagogical tools.” But they often end up being utterly inadequate.
    So, it’s nice that you should think about these tools through a more critical approach. Sure, you want to use them to make the books more appealing to instructors. But you still think about the pedagogical issues surrounding textbook adoptions and that’s a lot more than mainstream publishers seem to be doing.
    There’s a lot more resources you could add. Lesson plans, learning objects, SCORM packages, custom websites, primary sources, course outlines, sample syllabi, instructor manuals, audiovisual material, slides, interactive exercises, glossaries, etc. All of these things have been distributed by publishers at one point or another. Again, they’re typically of low quality, having been created as an afterthought.
    My advice: make these resources as flexible as possible. Don’t focus on protecting that content. Make that content as easily available and as easy to repurpose as possible. The only exception would be the testbank, which does need to be somehow protected. But if the supplementary material is widely available, is shared among instructors, it can actually convince a number of instructors to adopt your textbook. Viral marketing coupled with the social networking dimension of teaching.
    What’s funny is that some big publishers have already understood this (and they tend to be slow). Even McGraw-Hill makes some supplemental content freely available to anyone (though it still restricts the “Instructor Edition” content, which includes material that anyone could use).
    Integrating material in Learning Management Systems (Moodle, Sakai, ATutor, Claroline, Blackboard, WebCT…) is something publishing companies try to sell but do quite badly. If you can pull it off, you would have a definite advantage. It’s probably not a good idea to create your own LMS: after all, the best ones (Moodle and Sakai) are Open Source. But you could easily leverage the power of LMS to gain an advantage. For instance, a glossary could be imported into a Moodle course site and make it easy for students to find definitions for common terms (glossary entries can be linked automatically to all occurrences of terms). Exercises could be pre-built as assignments, with grading scales. External links could be added to internal blogs. Audiovisual material could be added as podcast episodes…
    What’s best is that much of this could be community-built. If learners and instructors have already built content, why not take advantage of their work and redistribute it (with credit, of course)? If you make the content flexible, other learners will be able to build on this and make your textbooks even more valuable in the process.
    Makes sense?

  2. Mark Long May 19, 2008 at 10:34 am #

    I totally agree that so many of instructor resource guides are done as an afterthought . . . and hardly ever done by the author(s) who produced the book . . . especially when it comes to test bank questions. This leads, I think, to a common complaint I hear from instructors that test bank questions cover information not actually in the chapter which requires even more work by the instructors to then go back and verify each question. So we’re going back to ensure we can provide the page # in the book for each question in the test bank.

    You bring up another good point as well . . . something that we are now getting started with after your comment last week: lesson plans. Especially with our new college freshman orientation text–the first project where we’ve produced most of these materials up front–we’re going back to produce 30-35 lessons plans. But, as you say, it’s imperative that these materials be useful and actually workable in the classroom instead of being, to recall _Cluless_, so Monet: they look good at a distance until you actually get up close to really see the details.

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  4. Gerald (Jerry) Landis November 5, 2008 at 6:42 pm #

    You had an excellent four point summaries.

    Have you ever used LIVING TEXTBOOKS which tell a story helping the
    student to learn?

    Is there such a thing for adult learning?

    We are still very child like and learn also by stories.

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