I have been working to develop a “philosophy” for our book site. Since most would have no reason to read this position statement, I decided to cross post here.
Everyone reading this comment have likely experienced many textbooks in their academic lives. However, unless you have written one, you may not have defined for yourself exactly what a textbook should contain. I suppose it is possible those of us who do write one begin my using the textbooks we have experienced as models with the possibility that we have a tweek in mind to make our offering unique. Some years ago, we decided to take a different enough approach to textbooks that we felt it necessary to break with a publisher who did not share our vision. Issues of cost, recency, modeling of the way technology should be applied in instruction, and when and how authors should write led us to the model you are now applying. What readers experience is different in ways that they probably recognize and in ways that are invisible because some differences depend on how content is developed.
We have written about some of these new ideas elsewhere (see a series of blog posts beginning with this entry). This is not a rehash of that content. Rather, these ideas are intended as a more general reflection on textbooks and what they should contain. Textbooks have been criticized of late for a variety of limitations and inadequacies. Various criticisms have been recently applied to many aspects of schooling – the preparation and selection of teachers, the methods of instruction, the focus of the curriculum, etc. My general reaction to criticism is to use it as an opportunity to consider personal and institutional practices. Mostly, I regard criticism as having some truth but typically advocating overreaction. Adjustment typically is a more productive reaction than reform. Hence, our own efforts at generating a textbook have some similarities to textbooks most have used previously, but with some adjustments.
Here are some general characteristics we believe must be true of textbooks and differentiate textbooks from other learning resources.
Comprehensiveness – we assume that instructors assign a textbook to complement the role they play with learners. In much the same logic as the concept of “flipping the classroom”, the time available for direct interaction with students is not typically spent most productively providing students with information. A good textbook should allow an instructor to skip some important topics students are likely able to master on their own, take advantage of personal expertise and experiences to provide unique insights for learners, and respond to learner issues and observe their efforts at application.
A textbook author applies a somewhat different type of scholarship than is typical of most academics (in our opinion). Expertise often requires great focus and depth. As a personal example, one of us taught the introduction to psychology course for many years. I felt a unique expertise in the areas of learning, motivation, and development, but I would not really claim what I knew about abnormal psychology and clinical practice would come close to matching the background of my collegues who prepared clinical practitioners. These real differences existed because of our training and our daily experiences over many years of work. I assume that the author(s) of introductory psychology textbooks and textbooks in general are different. They either make a commitment to spend great amounts of time to develop expertise in areas that were not at the core of their own preparation or they combine with other authors with different backgrounds.
Cindy and I have taken both approaches in writing our textbook on technology integration. We have unique backgrounds and we spend time broadening our background in areas where greater insight is necessary. We begin by carefully considering what topics are relevant and then make the effort to develop background and experience when some of these topics are not the focus of what we have done for years. Textbook authors must strive to be competent generalists in a time of specialization.
Finally, different instructors and different groups of learners are looking for different things. We do not assume that all we write will be relevant to all, but a comprehensive approach should cover most of the bases for most.
A core model and voice – we believe a textbook is more than a collection of topics, it should be based on a core model and use a common voice. We believe the pieces of learning resources should fit together. A structure rather than a mish-mash facilitates the integration of ideas. We believe that the content of a textbook should unfold in a meaningful way and should have a certain consistency to support comprehension. A consistent writing style contributes to this integration and it is difficult for multiple authors to converge on a consistent way of expressing themselves.
Critical analysis –this may be the most surprising expectation we impose on ourselves. We recognize that many aspects of education cause controversy and this is certainly the case with opinions on the way technology should be used by learners. We believe it is our responsibility to fairly represent these controversies to learners (future or practicing teachers) no matter our personal positions. If we do take a position (and we do), the positions taken should be based on the best research available. To some extent then, our approach on certain topics is to describe the controversy and offer the best analysis we can. We are not marketers or advocates with the exception of advocating for what seem to be the most productive methods. To support our analyses, textbook authors should identify the best evaluative sources (see completeness) and offer these resources so you will be able to examine these sources yourself. Our web site always invites discussion and we welcome “better” resources for our review should you think we have missed quality resources supporting a position we did not take.