8 Questions Professors Should Ask Themselves Before Selecting Texts
While there are numerous invaluable ways to increase educational equity, this blog zooms in on how textbook/reading material selection impacts students and equitable learning. Considering these tips could have a positive impact on your students. So--faculty [where my people at] these tips are something for you to consider--to chew on-- and perhaps implement into your textbook and reading material selection process.
Before I get to it, a bit of context about me. Well, I have been teaching and advising at uni for a decade, have been a student nearly all my life (including being in a doctoral program as I write this post), and have recently been diagnosed with a physical disability in early 2021. Remaining student-centered is my goal as an instructor, and being a student so much of my life has made that easier to remember. A good bit of the time, I am simultaneously experiencing the university as a prof and a student. Now, let's get to it.
Here are some of the questions I try to ask myself when I am selecting a textbook or other reading material for class:
Is the textbook selection the best text for all learners? While being cost-conscious is an important consideration, the critique of the book shouldn't stop there. Even if the content within the text is considered "good content" I urge all faculty to continue the vetting process, settling on the content that is best for all learners. (Side note--if you're unfamiliar with Universal Design for Learners, I encourage you to learn all that you can about it stat.)
Is it affordable/priced competitively? I recommend starting the textbook search with free open-source texts, like the ones found here or here. If none of the free texts meet the classes' needs, as you search for textbooks, I recommend thoughtfully considering the cost of the text. I look at the price of a new text from the publisher/uni bookstore, as well as other sites like Amazon or Chegg to see the cost for used editions or textbook rental. Requiring free or low-cost textbooks for our classes increases educational equity because hopefully, the text is not cost-prohibitive for any student.
Does the textbook come in hardcopy and digital formats? Some students will prefer and learn best from a tangible book in their hands, while other students may benefit from a digital book. Digital books offer students the ability to enlarge text by zooming and may also offer audio features like the ability to have the content read to the student, which can help students that have vision impairment or that tend to be auditory learners. Audio features can also help those who want to listen during a commute, etc. Digital books tend to offer full-color pages with multimedia content, like a video clip with in-video questions for the student to answer, all of which are visually stimulating and engages the learner. Digital books also free students from having to carry or hold tangible books as they learn the content. (More on that in number 4.) I prefer publishers/authors that provide digital books, along with low-cost loose-leaf copies.
Is the textbook heavy/large? This is not just an inconvenience for students but can become an obstacle in students' learning journeys. For example, part of my physical disability is that it affects the use of my hands. Last semester I struggled to carry or pick up my textbooks, and it was impossible to hold them open in my hands to read. I had to buy equipment to hold my books open for me, and using it still proved challenging to my hands when I needed to insert a book or turn pages. Full disclosure--I never thought about this until it affected me--I had fully overlooked how truly impactful the size of the textbook could be.
Is it written clearly and concisely? Let's face it, being a student is seriously laborious and time is scarce. With a full-time class load and the recommended study time and homework time needed to succeed, students need approximately 45 hours per week for their educational pursuits. Plus, many students work jobs, have family obligations, etc. We all appreciate it when people get to the point. Our texts should do that, too.
Does it have ancillaries that the students can use to augment their learning (digital companions like study guides, practice quizzes, flashcards, and video content)? Not only can ancillaries benefit students' learning journey, depending on the textbook, the ancillaries may also offer amazing help to faculty members already stretched thin. High-quality ancillaries free up faculty to focus on other important things like being more creative with instructional design and student engagement and providing more meaningful feedback for students' graded assignments. In my opinion, a strong ancillary package is an indicator that the publisher has spent a lot of time and attention on the text and has kept the audience's needs top of mind, likely leading to a strong product and positive user experience.
Do I want to read it? If not, students won't want to either. Learning is not supposed to be a miserable experience. Great teachers and writers can take complex, multifaceted topics and make them understandable. If you predict that when students read the material they will walk away not knowing what they just read, choose a different text.
Am I uploading copies of articles or chapters from books for students to read? If so, in short, please let's all stop doing it. First, links to things are terrific; copies of things uploaded into digital content usually are not. Not only can it be tricky to access them if located in library digital archives, they are also often copies of crooked pages that are visually difficult to read, and likely are not screenreader friendly, which means they are not in line with ADA requirements.
What tips do you have for choosing the very best texts and reading materials for your classes? Let me hear from you.