I’ve been seeing a lot of buzz lately about universities
Temple University recently piloted an alternative textbook project, where faculty abandoned the traditional text books in favor of building their own. The experiment provided 11 faculty each with $1000 to create course texts using their own materials, primary archival sources, and free online sources. From reading the article, it seems like the project was considered a success by both the faculty involved and the students.
I thought one of the comments made in the article by a first year writing professor was particularly intriguing:
Last semester, the majority of students needed a lot of assistance with their first paper. . . This fall was exactly the opposite. They still did a lot of reading and researching but (the alternative textbook) created a facility with language and research that they didn’t have with the regular text. It’s added a dimension as well as being a substitute.
I hear the common complaint that students don’t know how to work with various texts. They don’t know how to approach them, read them, analyze them, interact with them, or evaluate them. Well, how will they if the are only exposed to the standard course text and anthology that’s become to traditional “textbook?” If we take our reading day after day after day from a textbook, we shouldn’t be too surprised when first year composition students freak at the end of the semester when they have to write a final paper.
I’ll readily admit that I love my hard-copy books, and it’s certainly not my intention to question the value of re-visiting classic texts. But, the majority of my research (particularly the current stuff) as student is conducted online–through online journal databases, in news articles, and (at times) from academic blogs. Why should our students be any different? If we’re talking about current topics in our classes (which most of us are) and the students are working with current issues, why not actually use current mediums of communication?
And as text begins to rapidly make the move to digital spaces (Will anyone even carry books around in 10 years? Or will all our texts live on a touch-screen tablet device?), shouldn’t we begin to help our students develop the digital literacy skills they’ll need to excel?