Friday, July 12, 2013

How AcademicPub Builds Thoughtful (and Affordable) "Intro Books"

AcademicPub’s Curriculum Development Team recently released a number of “Intro Books" (see the press release here) designed to be adapted, remixed, and used in a wide range of 100 level courses. We sat down and talked to the team about their exciting work.

AP: Your backgrounds are in education; can you speak to that and how it has informed the way that you’ve gone about creating these books?

As educators, when we begin to build a course book, we think of all the students who have passed through a classroom thirty or forty at a time. We remember how important it is to create a curriculum that meets the needs of the front row and the back row. What do we mean by this? Well, imagine an introductory college class on the first day. The first row is full of students who more than likely have enjoyed success in the traditional classroom environment. Notebooks out, eyes up, they are usually strong writers with good verbal skills: the classic linguistic learners. A good course pack will include the core readings for the subject as well as some interpretive texts and articles that will stimulate this first row group.

Now picture the back row. Perhaps it includes visual learners very aware of the dynamics of the room and ready to observe things from a distance, or interpersonal learners who would prefer to engage one another rather than sit and take notes. For this no less talented constituency, our books incorporate multimedia elements like video and embedded Internet links. For example, an introduction to psychology custom book would have links to different personality inventories students can take to assess themselves. Or a speech class student can reinforce a text on logical fallacies by connecting to a video that asks her to detect the faulty claims in a series of television commercials. 

Now in the real world, we think most students find themselves in both "rows" in different subject areas and at different stages of their education, but for a teacher planning for a heterogeneous classroom, the imperative is to construct a text that reaches each student where one finds him.

AP: Tell us about the different books that you’ve created.

The books we have created include subject areas like sociology, psychology and political science, as well as process oriented classes like study skills. For introductory classes like sociology, for instance, there are several open source textbooks available that make it possible to anchor an ebook with an excellent peer-reviewed, cost-effective resource. For a class like study skills, where the best resources are found on the internet, the coursebook includes links to note taking skills videos from Dartmouth; self assessments to help reduce test anxiety, as well as a study skills text for the math classroom from our own platform.

AP: Generally, what’s the process for creating one of these books?

Frequently a book begins when a professor sends along his or her syllabus. While they are happy with the scope and sequence of the course, they want to break free from the two or three textbooks that dominate their class offerings, and create a book that reflects their expertise. The AcademicPub book will not only include a professor's classroom materials (slides, lecture notes, etc.) and select chapters from texts they may have used in the past, but new additions such as links to online texts, or current scholarship--journal articles, book chapters--from academic presses partnered with AcademicPub. Our job is not to dictate what the experts should teach (that’s what the big textbook publishers do, often to the consternation of our users), but to act as guides who can show them what is possible. There is no definitive book; rather, each introductory course pack is a jumping off point for a book that the professor revisits and updates as their courses evolve and grow. 

AP: Is there a price point you generally try to adhere to? How is that accomplished?

A course pack should never cost more than a standard textbook, and, typically, the eBook will be far less expensive. For example, instead of buying an entire textbook for the five or six most important chapters, just those selections are pulled out and put into the eBook. This keeps the cost of the book at a point where important articles, or essential topics covered in other texts can be added. The final book is both more affordable and a better fit for the goals of a particular curriculum.

AP: Who do you see using these books?

We see forward-thinking professors using AcademicPub custom books: educators, who want to use an excellent -- while affordable -- course pack. Finding this sweet spot is not always easy, but AcademicPub makes it possible for professors to combine their own course materials with texts from academic presses and thousands of OER sources into a much more effective text than the traditional, one-size-fits-all textbook. 


Interested in using and adapting these books for your class? You can find them in the AcademicPub Co-Op today.