Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 54 seconds

Textbook Tricks

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 54 seconds

Today I got some useful insight to make me hate Pearson just a little bit more.

I was giving a workshop on integrating technology into teaching/learning. I ask faculty why/how they currently use technology and what their biggest challenges are (with or without tech). We discuss different reasons for using technology and different ways of using it to promote interaction with students and meet different needs. It’s an introductory thing.


So after the workshop is over one professor comes up to me and says he didn’t want to interrupt me to say this, but it’s something that they do in his department. He says Pearson textbooks come with their own digital complement (i think his hand gestures indicated CD/DVD) and it integrates everything.

I don’t like textbooks for many reasons

A. Textbooks make it seem like someone has authority over knowledge and just that one. It’s no life skill for students to expect knowledge to come neatly packaged in one big book

B. Textbooks can trick people into prioritizing content over anything else and planning their courses around the book. Some textbooks are really good especially when they include activities like language learning books I used at Rice University. But I never ever even when using textbooks stuck to only one textbook. Never did I let it guide me beyond the basics

C. They are expensive and mostly, IMHO, not worth the money spent on them.

And now the new one:

D. That some faculty would take the digital side of a textbook and feel great by just consuming what has been pre-packaged by a publisher and feeling proud of themselves? That just makes me angry

I remembered when we once asked a faculty member about what they teach and they sent us those slides that come with a textbook. They were not only visually awful, they were also VERY US-centric and not relevant to Egypt’s context.

I understand faculty time is limited and every little helps. But every little also hurts and faculty need to realize that. So publishers making it easier for faculty to use prepackaged slides and other digital stuff? And faculty being grateful for that? Not even wanting to put their own spin or contextualize? That’s just sad.

Coincidentally I was reading something today by Sean Michael Morris about how we shouldn’t privilege content but allow it to be a place we meet and take off…and something by Paul Prinsloo about curriculum as contested and contesting space and how most knowledge comes from white men from 5 countries (Europe/US) AND is privileged. Same applies for textbooks.

Textbooks continue to exist and their danger is in how uncritical some professors are in their approach to them, using the book’s slides, quizzes, etc., instead of questioning and helping other students question.

On the plus side, someone today in an earlier workshop mentioned how he constantly gave his students readings he fundamentally disagreed with and then spent class time helping them learn to critique what they read. I love that.

I once assigned my students two readings that were articles I had written myself. One relatively pro MOOCs and one mostly a critique of MOOCs. And intentionally showed how I, the same person, could write from different perspectives and hold two not-really-inrersecting views simultaneously.

Textbooks don’t do that. They are too neat. And knowledge is not neat. Students need to know that as early as possible. And textbooks trick them into believing otherwise.

6 thoughts on “Textbook Tricks

  1. “But I never ever even when using textbooks stuck to only one textbook.” This made me smile. I have the same habit. I never go deep into a topic without adding a second source. Books are just a material copy of a course given somewhere. It’s not the books (or the fact of writing) which is problematic but this belief that many people have that printed matter has a greater authority than knowledge shared for free on Internet. Textbook offer a scaffolding of what is to be learned and that’s good to indicate a possible route toward what i want to learn. I want to stay in control of where I will really go. That’s why I add a second source and keep an eye on both as I progress in understanding. In other words I’m keep control on the compass and the compass box. I call this being an “Independent Learner”, which is different from rebel, or self-directed. I don’t want anyone to tell me what to think or even influence or drive for me. I suspect you are one too 🙂

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