Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The New Edition Blues

I got an email today about ordering a new edition of the comp textbook. If your students buy texts every semester, then you're pretty much stuck ordering whatever edition is available, and that means as soon as a new one's available, that's that. It's in the interest of publishers to put out new editions fairly frequently, so that students don't just buy used copies. I'm sure there are some fields where a new edition every two or three years is really important, but first year comp doesn't seem to be one of them.

But, with our rental system, we can order an edition, and use it for several years. Students pay a set fee to rent however many books they need for the semester (though some are purchase texts, depending on what's available and the professor's choices, and such).

Still, when a new edition comes out, the publisher wants us to change. One way to push this is to make it impossible to get desk copies of the older edition. And that's what's happened here. Someone is teaching this edition for the first time, and thus needs a new desk copy. And that means to keep confusion from being overwhelming with two different editions of the "same" comp text, the publisher is pushing the bookstore to switch over. So the bookstore is pushing the department folks, and they're sending out the email.

And here my laziness becomes apparent. I don't want to use a new edition because I have really good notes written up for the edition we've been using, and using a new edition means I have to revise the whole class to take it into account, and the write a whole new set of notes. See, I'm lazy. Except the difference is that I can quickly review notes and pull out a quiz for a chapter before class, while if I have to read a chapter, it takes significantly longer. And if I'm going to use a text more than once (as is usual for comp texts), or if it's an important text for me, I try to take really good reading notes so I can use them again.

For example, for the second day of my comp class (the first day for which they've had a reading assignment, and thus expect a quiz), I give a reading quiz. My quizzes are open notes, closed book, so students who take good notes have an easy time. And then after a few minutes, I stop them and ask them how many feel confident about their quiz. Most don't, so I tell them I won't collect it, and then I hand out a copy of my notes for the chapter, which are six pages long (for the current edition). That's a wake up call for the students, whose notes usually consist of a few lines, because they haven't been really taught about notetaking. Then we talk about how to take notes, and tricks of the trade (like putting page numbers, bibliographic info, a date, using arrows and boxes to mark important stuff, etc.).

Taking really good notes on a reading for the first time probably triples the time it takes to prep that first time. And then cuts the time at least in half thereafter. So it's worth it, but I don't want to do it this coming semester. I'm especially reticent because we're teaching a new common text AND we're being treated to a combination of furloughs (aka pay cut) and increased class sizes. Talk about a disincentive to add work.


  1. Anonymous3:19 PM

    "And then after a few minutes, I stop them and ask them how many feel confident about their quiz. Most don't, so I tell them I won't collect it, and then I hand out a copy of my notes for the chapter...."

    Brilliant idea!

  2. New editions wouldn't bother me so much if they were actually improved, but often the improvements are strictly cosmetic. Recently, I've received a bunch of new editions in which the "improvements" are mostly just bright shiny photos on the covers and spiffy graphics inside...but the actual content has not improved.

  3. Is there anyway the new instructor could score an old edition from Abebooks.com and enable you all to teach from this edition for one more year at least?

    I agree with you about the annoyances of having to completely overhaul your class plans because the new edition added in unneeded changes. I've just reworked my Western Civ class to take account of all the new bells and whistles (and the absence of a few favourite old bells and whistles) for the new edition. Since we have no text-rental scheme here, we're absolutely captive to the new edition scam!

  4. Oh, the quiz/notes *is* a great idea, Bardiac. Can I steal it, giving you credit of course?

  5. Surely you all have enough copies laying around to supply a new instructor "bookbank" in the dept? I find that my world history text just accumulates in my office.

  6. I'm suddenly reminded of why I rarely teach comp with a text book aside from a book on style.

  7. Medicine is evil about that. Netter is the famous guy who drew the big anatomy book everyone uses. He's been dead for decades. Yet there's a new edition of Netter's Atlas every couple of years.