As part of our ongoing series of faculty’s experiences creating and adopting alternative textbook solutions for students, this weeks post is from Dr. Lawrence Baines, Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies and Professor of English Education in the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education has taken a different approach to open from some of the other faculty highlighted on this site. He has written a book that outlines a method for teaching writing, and has selected open materials that can be used along with the book. His book, Teaching Challenging Texts: Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Multimedia has a wide selection of open materials from many online resources including archive.org and Project Gutenberg. The following is a brief conversation with Dr. Baines.
Stacy Zemke: In what areas do you teach and in what course are you using open materials?
Dr. Baines: I work in the English Education program in the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education. I teach courses in writing, literature, and language for prospective teachers of English, reading, and world languages
SZ: For your book, Teaching Challenging Texts: Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Multimedia, you have created a set of support materials, including texts for students to read and worksheets, that are free and openly available for students and teachers. Why was using open materials important to you?
DB: Most teachers are not wealthy, yet they end up spending thousands of dollars of their own money every year on materials that they need, but that the school cannot afford to provide for them. We wanted to create a book that provided as many ancillary materials as possible in one package. Obviously, we could not jam films, websites, books, articles, research reports, and poems between the covers of the book, but we could provide details on how to access those materials—for free.
The chapter on “exploring the future,” for example, includes mind-boggling predictions by Ray Kurzweil; presentations on the nature of evil by Philip Zimbardo; research studies describing how power transforms personality by professors from the Kellogg College of Business from Northwestern University; lectures on the trajectory of violence over time by Steven Pinker; documentaries, excerpts, articles, and interviews with Jared Diamond about factors that help civilizations flourish or collapse. All of those resources are available absolutely free. Our idea was that a teacher who plops down twenty bucks for the book should be good-to-go, meaning no further out-of-pocket expenditures are necessary.
SZ: Where did you go to find these open resources, what was your process and how did you make your selections?
DB: Finding free resources on the Internet is easy. Finding high-quality resources that are going to still be there next week is more difficult. Surprisingly, many resources do not show up in the first couple hundred pages of a GOOGLE search unless you know the exact terms that will elicit them.
In writing the book, we spent months diving for pearls, playing around with search terms. We made many interesting discoveries. For example, a teacher who wants to teach George Orwell’s novel 1984 can either have students buy a copy of the book at the local bookstore or they can have students download a copy for free from the Internet. Orwell’s estate has extended the American copyright so you cannot download the book from a website located in the U.S., but the copyright for 1984 has expired in Australia. So, if a teacher wants to teach 1984, she can have her students go to the Gutenberg site in Australia at gutenberg.net.au and download it.
SZ: How have your students responded to this textbook?
DB: Students seem to like the book and appreciate the plethora of free resources. Teachers College Record, a well-regarded journal published out of Columbia University, gave TEACHING CHALLENGING TEXTS an enthusiastic “thumbs up” in a review a few weeks ago, which I hope will give it some visibility.
SZ: Will you continue to use this current open solution?
DB: I am constantly thinking of ways to get the latest, greatest tools in the hands of students and teachers at the lowest possible cost. So much of a teacher’s job revolves around building intellectual capital and then convincing their students to start building their own intellectual capital. Part of my job, as I see it, is to support that effort.
SZ: Would you consider using open sources for other courses that you teach?
DB: Sometimes, I require students to purchase a textbook, but I try to be conscious of price and subsequent utility—will the book be useful after class is over? TEACHING CHALLENGING TEXTS costs around $20; my previous book GOING BOHEMIAN: TEACHING WRITING LIKE YOU MEAN also was priced around $20. Most students can live with throwing down twenty bucks for a resource that they might pull off the shelf over the next few years. But, I always supplement my courses with multitudinous free resources, anyway. And, if a student can’t afford $20 for the book, I am happy to loan them a copy.
SZ: What advice do you have for other faculty thinking of adoption an alternative textbook or course support materials?
DB: You have to choose the right books—that is really non-negotiable—because you want the best possible experience for your students. However, it is useful to keep in mind that some of our students work 30-hours-per week making eight bucks an hour to help pay for school. Translated, that means a student must work a full week just to pay for one book that costs $200. At that rate, we need to make sure that the book is damn well worth it.