Wednesday, October 14, 2020

What If We Asked Students To Write Textbooks?

A professor friend on Facebook posted that a student emailed him to say that they textbook the were using was “crap.” I suggested in jest that he asked the student to write a better one. That’s pretty tough since how do you write a textbook about something you are learning as you go? (Can be done. Is painful. Don’t ask how I know this.)

The exchange got me thinking though. Supposed we asked students to write a chapter for a mock textbook? Or perhaps asked them to write step by step instructions for completing an exercise assignment. After it was covered in class but perhaps in lieu of a test.

I think it would be interesting to see how students explain concepts. Have they write to explain things to people their own age. How would they explain things? What words would they use? What examples would they give?

They say that to really understand something you have to be able to explain it to others. 

Somehow I don’t think most students would like this exercise though. Of course we already ask students to do things they don’t like – taking tests being one of them.  I do think that it would give us insights into what they do understand and how they understand it. Or misunderstand it as the case maybe.

Anyone want to try it?


Doug said...

Disclaimer: I've never actually used a textbook when teaching Computer Science.

Keep in mind the first question would be

"Does spelling count?"

followed by

"When is it due?"

All issues that traditional authors also deal with!

What might actually be worthwhile and doable is to have students write a companion document to the textbook and create puzzles based upon their reality and interests.

Bryn Jeffries said...

I think students are increasingly shifting away from using textbooks in the expected way (read a chapter, try the exercises). So part of the student's poor reaction may simply be that it doesn't fit with they way they wanted to use it. But I'm just speculating.

As to student-generated content: In one of my subjects I asked students to create, in groups, short videos to explain topics I've introduced briefly in lectures. The videos were shared with the rest of class. I received feedback that this was one of the most educational experiences of the subject. It's a hard thing to evaluate (I converged on a mix of peer review for quality and tutor review for correctness) but it's something I would employ in future.