When textbooks cost too much (which is often)

Im not saying that textbook companies don’t serve a valuable purpose in the composition community; there‘sa lot of textbooks that I have used in the past that I like a great deal, and I also know, that when I started teaching first year composition many moons ago, I learned a lot from the textbook that was assigned to both my students and to me. I do and I will continue to use textbooks in my teaching, though nowadays, I also tend to find out how much students are going to have to pay students before I make the adoption decision.

But I also think that textbook companies don’t do enough to make materials available at a more reasonable cost, mainly because many of these folks still seem to not ?get it? when it comes to electronic publishing, and also because they are terrified about doing anything that might cut into profits. —Steven D. KrauseWhen textbooks cost too much (which is often) (Steven D. Krause’s Official Blog)

The largest course I teach is News Writing, which had about 33 students last term. The previous time I taught it, I used a hefty textbook that we didn’t get all the way through. This time around, I assigned several shorter books, and I think the results were encouraging. I would carefully align the readings in multiple books in such a way that I thought the connections between them would be pretty obvious, and this helped build confidence among students, who then started making connections that I hadn’t foreseen. And because I wasn’t kneecapped by my urge to go through every chapter of a huge textbook, we were able to spend more time on two mainstream books (that is, books not marketed as college texts).

I confess that I sometimes feel guilty letting the textbook do the teaching. Isn’t that my job? I used to spend a lot of time creating online handouts. Now I’m much more likely to go online looking for some one else’s handout, rather than blocking out time to create my own. But in the late 90s, many of the writing center handouts were simply word documents slapped into an HTML template — complete with print-specific cues like “over” and URLs implemented as text rather than links.

In a conversation on Pedablogue, my colleague Josh Sasmor notes that one of the values of having a textbook is that it offers a perspective that differs from the instructor (at least, it does when the instructor isn’t teaching from his or her own book).