During the semester of Fall 2016, I was asked to teach two courses I do not usually teach: Contemporary Social Issues & Sex & Gender. I was excited and nervous at the same time since Social Sciences are not my speciality, I but looked forward to the journey ahead. I was provided with a textbook for the Sex & Gender course, but there was absolutely no textbook or collection of recommended resources I could have used to adequately plan out my semester. In the courses that I typically teach, College Writing & Analysis and Analytical Writing & Research, open source textbooks are used. After consulting with the department chair, I set out to find an open source textbook.
After a bit of a search I settled on “Sociology: Understanding The Changing World”. “Sociology: Understanding and Changing the Social World is adapted from a work produced by a publisher who has requested that they and the original author not receive attribution.” The free etextbook worked well with the units in the course. While it was not perfect, it provided a great deal of information that I was then able to reinforce through news articles and a documentaries. I felt it important that students in the course have something to ground them in their learning experience throughout the semester. Also, I was very concerned with how I would build a course from scratch within the span of two weeks for a fifteen week semester. Luckily, with a textbook readily available in the Sex & Gender course, I was able to relax a bit more.
The textbook that I used for Sex & Gender has been the long standing text for this course. The book is titled “Gendered Lives: Communication, Gender & Culture” by Geoffrey Wood, published through Cengage. This textbook provided an array of resources from lecture slides, journal topics (in class writing assignments), exams, and a very detailed instructor’s guide. While I found journal topics and exams to be very helpful, I did not rely on the lecture slides since they were not my own. When I prepared for a lecture I broke it down into two parts to cover the span of the week (biweekly class sessions). Choosing to hand write what I planned on discussing was very beneficial in helping me prepare for class sessions. Having not just a textbook, but a physical textbook made a huge difference for myself and the students in different ways.
As mentioned previously, I have been using open source textbooks for both of my freshman survey courses. Despite the resource for the course being free, and easily accessible, it is similar to pulling teeth in making sure students download the ebook and read it.
Some complain of a lack of internet to download such a large file. At one point, I resorted to downloading the whole ebook for the College Writing course to my flash drive and manually transferring the textbook to the flash drive of the students just to make sure they had the textbook for the course. Once this song and dance was complete, it was another issue to make sure that students read the text. Often times, students claim to get side tracked the reading assignment. I blame it on the fact that students must read the material on a screen as opposed to a physical page. In the age of technology, staring at screen is typically affiliated with entertainment. It is easy to become distracted and click over to social media sites and fall down the rabbit hole. While some can resist the temptation, not all college freshman are as disciplined. Another issue with the etextbook is the fact that some students do not bother at all to download it, hoping to skate by without having to spend the money. This ultimately hurts the student since it is harder to borrow a textbook from a peer in class.
I can say truly that having a print textbook is my preferred method of providing course materials. Printed textbooks may be heavy, they may take up space, but in my experience, students prefer paper! Printed texts could be highlighted, dogeared, and do not expire at the end of the semester.
Earlier this semester, I was asked to review the Project Guttberg website where a vast selection of literary work is made available to all. Using the site was being considered to replace the reader for the Literary Criticism & Analysis course I am currently teaching now. I perused the site and instantly thought of the issues I have already faced dealing with free open source textbooks. I provided my feedback and did not recommend the change. Furthermore, Project Guttberg had many links, which took me to other links and so on and so forth–I did not find this frustration to be beneficial to our students.
While education may continue to advance, and the classroom may use podcasts, etextbooks, and cell phone applications, the one thing that should definitely remain the same is the use of print textbooks; they are a worthwhile learning tool that will stand the test of time and continue to benefit all.
*Excerpt From: [Author removed at request of original publisher]. “Sociology: Understanding and Changing the Social World.” iBooks.