when is a bookbag not a bookbag?

I think I’ll run with that idea I set aside in last week’s post, that there is enough good information online to substitute for textbooks in college courses. The idea touted by Allegheny College professor of environmental science Eric Pallant requires professors to do a lot of careful searching for the right “collection of Web resources,” and to put them together in such a way that they are presented as coherent and comprehensive, although it seems to me that student researching of appropriate course material could be incorporated into such a course, so that they learn about searching the Web as well as using it for a text.

So, is the extra prep time worth it, and to whom? Pallant notes that in his science field, the Web provides up to date information that textbooks cannot keep up with. Would such course materials be more applicable in science than in the humanities? Maybe.

Students save textbook money, but apparently “complained about having to read everything on a computer screen.” That can be tough, but you can certainly print out the text, which could put some cost back into the course, but probably not as much as the textbook would have cost. A real concern mentioned in the article is whether all your students have wide or reliable access to the Web off campus. I would add that it’s sometimes difficult to discuss online information in class if everyone hasn’t printed out the text; that would be less a problem at a wireless campus or in a computer classroom.

One of Pallant’s arguments that doesn’t persuade me is the one that says “students spend much of their lives online, for business and pleasure, and see the textbook as antiquated.” I’m not sure that’s a good enough reason to change; my opinion as an educator is that we are not here to make students comfortable, but to challenge them–and that usually means taking them out of their comfort zone. I wouldn’t choose online texts if it were only to confirm a view of “the textbook as antiquated.” In fact, I think I would prefer to mix it up, using online and print texts.

What would you do?

[as noted in previous posts, the Chronicle of Higher Education online is available by subscription only]

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Categories: technology

1 reply

  1. I am not convinced that students view textbooks as antiquated, nor that we should avoid them even if they do.

    Good, current textbooks may not be up-to-the-minute, but they provide strong background for the material that can be found in other media. Texts tend to be in effect “juried” as reputable publishers seek to use authors that are recognized as some sort of authority on the subject of the book. A good text can give the reader a yardstick with which to measure the reasonableness of what is found on line, what needs more verification.

    I find the internet an exciting way for students to become aware of cutting edge technology and current events realted to the courses I teach.

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