The Dilemma of Textbooks in Today’s Courses
By Donald Ray West, PhD, PE, MBA
Faculty Member, School of Business at American Public University
Everyone has heard the story of the blind men examining an elephant. As the story goes, one grabs the tail and thinks the elephant is a vine. Another grabs a leg and decides that it is a large tree and still another grabs an ear and decides that it is a tent. Books in universities have the same problem as the elephant–different parties have different views regarding textbooks.
Book sellers, students, faculty members, and administrators all have the same goal: to provide a high quality tool to assist in obtaining a high-quality education. Somewhere along the path, some have diverted. Only one view, administration, will be explored.
The Administrative Need for Textbooks
In support of the desire to provide a quality education, administrators desire a consistent overall program. By reviewing the syllabi and book contents, a university crafts a series of courses supporting a degree program. Without adherence to this content, neither the administrators nor accreditors will be sure the proper material was delivered.
Strong text books that support the course are needed. In today’s environment, textbooks need online and hardback versions as well as Web-based support tools for the instructor and students. Full explanations of the problems and solutions assure the faculty will deliver material as intended.
Issues with the Use of Texts
In general, texts are successful. However, there are occasions where the textbook roadmap is not followed. Sometimes this deviation is a conscious decision based on the knowledge of future course needs and the overall needs of the program.
Other times, faculty members teach from old notes and PowerPoints. Often, due to the demands of preparing a new course, it is easier to rely on what was taught earlier. This material could have been born in a course with another textbook from decades ago.
Students have a real dilemma with textbooks, which are expensive and, for many, almost out of reach to purchase. Many students elect not to buy any textbook.
Think back on your education. Were there classes that did not require a book or that the book purchased was not used in the class?
This also presents a dilemma for the educator. Some will skip parts of the text, especially the software tools, knowing that many students will not have the textbook. When students purchase used books, they rarely obtain any supporting software that may accompany them. Some software becomes outdated quickly.
Defining Workable Solutions
Unraveling this situation is an administrator’s dilemma. Probably the long- term solution is to equip college students with laptops or notebooks that contain the textbooks. This will assure that all of the resources are available for every student.
For the short-term solution, educators must teach from the textbook and work with students who do not have the book. The textbook(s) must continue to serve as the foundation of the course.
About the Author: Dr. West received his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees in Industrial and Systems Engineering from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He also earned a minor in Business from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and a Master of Business Administration from Strayer University in Washington, DC. In addition to serving American Public University, Dr. West serves in the Applied Engineering Technology program at NC A&T University.