Not including a two-year stint in preschool, I have attended school for 20 years -- kindergarten through graduate school. In that time, the content and tempo of the majority of my classes had been driven by big, expensive, boring textbooks. I really noticed this when I was in graduate school and paying for the classes and books myself. What value was the professor adding I thought? Why couldn't I just buy a bunch of business textbooks, force myself to complete the problems, save myself $80,000 and call myself an M.B.A.? For this reason, I was thrilled to read an energetic rant by Seth Godin yesterday on why he believes assigning a textbook to a college class is the equivalent of academic malpractice.
Let's consider the value that the institution is adding to a student's education when a class is dictated by a textbook.
- A schedule (usually the chapters in the textbook are spread out over the course of the semester and matched to individual weeks in some logical order; occasionally this order isn't the same as the order of the chapters, so there's some thinking going on there...)
- Motivation (in a classroom environment a student might be reluctant to disappoint his or her classmates/professor)
- Classroom discussion (debate, real world examples, etc.)
Am I missing anything?
The schedule is worthless and the classroom discussion can be replaced for free by discussion forums on thousands of different blogs. So all the institution is really providing is an environment where a student feels some pressure to keep up.
Not much different than kindergarten.
Note: What I've described here represents a majority of the classes I took in college and graduate school. There were several classes where the professor ditched the textbook and brought remarkable value to the class through a combination of his or her own published work, passion, real world experience and highly engaging discussion. I hope Seth's post inspires more educators to do the same.