Textbook Overload

Mostly I’m pretty ambivalent towards text books.  I never find a book that I like unconditionally and get quickly irritated by poor indices and limited pretty graphics.  Seriously, chemistry is VISUAL, and there are no excuses not to have good graphics in textbooks these days.  I also like a nice support website for recommended books, preferably with interactive content for the students and figures from the textbooks for me.

Textbooks cost a small fortune however and as much as I’d like to recommend chapters from 5 or 6 different ones during a course, I’m pretty much restricted to one.   That doesn’t stop me from reading multiple books, and if I’m honest, using examples from multiple books to illustrate the points.

My desk - can you guess what I'm teaching?

What I have started to notice however, is a strange form of textbook convergence.  Several of the above books have the same chapters with the same content in the same order.  Have we just hit on the optimum means of presenting inorganic chemistry at undergraduate level or is it just simpler to use a similar format to the rest of the books on offer as its easier for people who use multiple textbooks to find things.  In some ways, these books probably mimic the format of long forgotten lecture courses, and influence the format of current ones.  My Christmas reading list looks pretty much established anyway.

One of the courses I get to teach next semester doesn’t have a recommended textbook, and it probably never will.  Simply this is because it is a research topics course and that means that it needs to be about more current, pre-textbook, research.  That makes it quite difficult to prepare in one regard because telling students to dive into primary sources doesn’t always go down fantastically well (and there are always the difficulties of finding said primary sources to reference), and easy in another sense because I can pull out papers from the various piles relating to various research projects.  It at least gives me the illusion that teaching is reinforcing research and vice versa.

A nicer pic - the view from my office window earlier this week (yes the window needs cleaning)

In any case I’m onto course prep for next semester, writing grant applications and doing the other ten thousand little tasks that were suspended recently due to an overload of marking.  The marking is done until late January and I can focus on research for a while.  And probably find time for a long winter nap!

2 Replies to “Textbook Overload”

  1. I’m also ambivalent about text books. It’s my observation that most academics are ambivalent about text books – until they write one!

  2. Good, glad its not just me! Also amazed how fast ambivalence turns to evangelism when academics write one!

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