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How Would You Select a Textbook? 116

Posted by Cliff
from the select-the-lessons dept.
benj_e asks: "I'm thinking about doing some adjunct teaching at a couple of local community colleges, and have the opportunity to choose the textbook for an online JavaScript class. In the training classes I've given in the corporate world, I didn't have the need to select a text - there were no textbooks for the software I was teaching students to use aside from the manual. I'm pretty sure I want something with WebCT or Blackboard content, but other than that I'm, well, clueless. So, for all you educators out there - how do you go about selecting a textbook? What goes into your decision making process?"
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How Would You Select a Textbook?

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  • by neomage86 (690331) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @11:50AM (#11722419)
    Look at what other respected professors use (at other universities) and evaluate those options. They have massive resources at their disposal, so they should have made a good choice. You can then choose what best suits your particular teaching style.
    • "Look at what other respected professors use (at other universities) and evaluate those options. They have massive resources at their disposal, so they should have made a good choice. You can then choose what best suits your particular teaching style." I'd be careful about this, while sometimes this is the case, other times the selection of a textbook for a course is more of a political matter. Textbooks are big business at the university level.
    • by bbc (126005)
      "Look at what other respected professors use (at other universities) and evaluate those options."

      It is not uncommon for "respected" professors to push the books they themselves wrote onto unsuspecting students. It's a handy way to supplement their income.
      • by graphicsguy (710710) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @01:10PM (#11722928)
        Bah! The parent is NOT insightful. If the professor wrote a book about the subject they are teaching, it would be absurd to use a different book. In fact, such books are generally developed from the course notes that the professor developed for teaching that very course.

        So what does this mean? Sure, YOU might not agree that the book is the best one, but it is clearly the one the professor feels is best. That doesn't have to be about money at all. (it's more about tenure...)
        • "Bah! The parent is NOT insightful. If the professor wrote a book about the subject they are teaching, it would be absurd to use a different book. In fact, such books are generally developed from the course notes that the professor developed for teaching that very course."

          Ah well, such are the whims of the modding gods. The past few days I got modded troll over a very factual post, now I get modded insightful over an emotional one.

          My reaction was based on the "respectful", which IMO tried to appeal to res
      • Do note that the professors receive practically nothing for the sale of textbooks. One of my CS professors said he received a mere $1 per textbook sold. The textbook cost me over $60.
      • Using the book the professor wrote himself is probably the best in terms of learning material. Any material in the book is obviously material that the guy considers important, and anything not in the book is not going to be part of the course. I can recall many times when we were using some random textbook in a course, and a chapter will cover some material that the prof doesn't consider important, so you end up skipping it. Then there'll be some other topic that the prof does consider important but isn'
        • The downside of this is, if you have trouble understanding the material in lecture, then the explanation in the book may not be an improvement. This can be a price you pay for the opportunity to learn from a top expert.
      • Agreed--take any books a professor wrote himself is using with a grain of salt. Not necessarily for the reason you listed, but often the professor writes a book and only uses it because he wrote it--in choosing a textbook, he's biased. Worse yet, he or she may be able to persuade the whole department to use it for every section of that class at the university.
  • by BladeMelbourne (518866) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @11:52AM (#11722434)
    JavaScript PDFs [irt.org]
  • As /. reminded me, textbooks don't work very well in computer programmming classes. By the time you purchase them, they will be outdated, so I find that worksheets or packets work much better, and I can fit them to what I want to teach, not what someone else wants to.
    • I agree... learning by doing is far a more effective way for me to learn than reading a textbook. Most uses of JavaScript on the web only use a small subset of the ECMA 262 standard.

      My tip - learn JavaScript 1.3. MSIE 6 has it, Mozilla has 1.5. And if you teach basic OO principles, learning more hardcore OO languages will be easier for your students.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 19, 2005 @12:29PM (#11722636)
      As a computer science professor, I feel your pain. But entry-level textbook editions in computer languages tend to change every year (and that's also why they're usually softcover nowadays). That notwithstanding, these books are usually still much better than lecture notes because there's a very large number of people involved in their development -- much more than you'd imagine. This is important because although you and I can get away with lecture notes (hell, I learned C way back by reading a pocket reference), the typical student cannot. Evidence: the typical student does not even know what Slashdot is.

      For example, I was recently involved in moving our entry-level CS classes from C++ to Java, and helping the instructors get themselves set up. What to use? As a Java hacker, my gut said: just use lecture notes etc. But wiser heads prevailed. Eventually we went with Lewis and Loftus [amazon.com], which besides being well constructed for its task (teaching elementary computer science in Java) has a massive amount of support materials [aw-bc.com]. We could not possibly match that in quality. Yes, it's $70 on Amazon. You can get it cheaper tho. And it's worth it: we use it for three classes in a row.

      What book to use for your JavaScript class? That I can't say, though O'Reilly's book is actually not horrible. But that's my hacker instinct firing off again...

    • This is a bit naive.

      Programming languages and APIs do not change that quickly. Stop buying 20 year old books.

  • by crmartin (98227) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @12:07PM (#11722517)
    Have them buy an approrpaite reference, like an O'Reilly book, and use that. Then make notes that replicate what you would have done if you were teaching one person, use overheads from that.
    • I wished more of my university had done this.

      For lower years, a good wordy descriptive book is nice. As you get more specialized and closer to leaving school (or moving on to the next level), a dry technical reference should all you would need and will be more valuable to the student.
      • I just decided I wanted to refresh my analysis (it's only been 25 years.) I looked at some of the regular texts for second-year calculus. Great door stops, but enraging ... all the pictures, little history bits, etc.

        I finally ordered a copy of Tom Apostol's book from the 70's.
    • Have them buy an approrpaite reference, like an O'Reilly book

      Remember that half the learning is them reading and studying at home, half is in class, and the other half is them referencing the text long after the course is done. Two of those halves are about having a good reference.

    • I teach a variety of networking and security courses in similar situations. I have found that people are most happy with a reference (usually O'Reilly) for use after the class. The participants expect something, and it helps give a framework to follow. In the end it's not critical what you pick, as they came to the class for your presentation and knowledge - just keep it somewhat affordable.
  • Write your own (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Sandman1971 (516283)
    Write your own and sell that. It's what 75% of my college teachers did. That way, you can also keep it up to date as time goes on, and you only include the stuff you want to teach.
    • Or more to the reason: students are forced to buy it for the class because test questions are peeled from meaningless parts of the book. This increases the profits of the professor... and that's about it. Most books from the professor suck.
  • by shadowkoder (707230) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @12:11PM (#11722540)
    The professor goes into a bookstore and picks the most expensive textbook on the shelf, and dealing with the on-campus bookstore just adds salt onto the wounds.
    • I agree. Students are locked into a neverending upgrade cycle with textbooks. I'm not sure whether the blame should be placed with the publisher, the professor, or the school, but you've got books on Amazon that sell for $5 for the 2nd edition and $100 for the 3rd.

      With computer books, I can see the need to update. But please, for our sakes, check out the price and availability of an older edition and see if you really need the updated one.
      • by eufaula (163352)
        from the reactions of my colleagues (i teach full-time these days at a community college, and echo the feeling) we HATE to have to switch books in most instances. dont blame us -- the textbook industry is pushing for the adoption of new books every year or 2. why? think about it. about the only time that a new text is profitable for the publisher is in its first year -- after that, its resold over and over and over again. the bookstores are just as bad -- being in education, i see the costs on these bo
    • I agree. The arguement that I've heard is that the publishers update the book with new material every year. But I just had to pay $130 for a management book. It was written in 1999 and mentions Netscape 2.0!
  • by TheGratefulNet (143330) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @12:17PM (#11722574)
    they're not ripe.

    /wanda

  • by krs-one (470715) <vic.openglforums@com> on Saturday February 19, 2005 @12:43PM (#11722742) Homepage Journal
    I can attest to how expensive computer science textbooks are (along with just about every other science). It irks me to no end when a teacher makes me (or rather, highly recommends) me to buy a $90 Java book where I could go pick up a $25 Java book from B&N or Half Priced Books that would teach me the same thing. Or, when a teacher (this is especially true in math) recommends to buy the latest edition of a textbook (and Calculus books are not cheap) when the previous edition can be purchased for $10. First and second year calc hasn't changed in 6 years! (End Rant) So thats what I recommend, go to the local big bookstore (B&N, Borders, etc..) and see what regular programming books they have on JavaScript (I dunno, something by O'Reilly might work, I haven't touched a JS book in years). One that is pretty up to date with DOM and newer JS features shouldn't be hard to find. Recommend that one to your students.

    Sure, it may not be WebCT compatable (but WebCT sucks anyway), but you're students will thank you for letting them purchase a much cheaper book.

    -Vic
    • by bcrowell (177657)
      Or, when a teacher (this is especially true in math) recommends to buy the latest edition of a textbook (and Calculus books are not cheap) when the previous edition can be purchased for $10. First and second year calc hasn't changed in 6 years!
      The teacher doesn't have any choice. Accrediting organizations force schools to use recent texts, even in fields that aren't changing rapidly.

      Staying with an old edition can also be problematic, because the publisher typically doesn't sell the old edition any more.

    • First and second year calc hasn't changed in 6 years!

      Truth be told, first and second year calculus hasn't changed much nearly 200 years.

      • first and second year calculus hasn't changed much nearly 200 years.

        However, the identities of the problems in the first chapter aren't part of calculus proper, and they change every few years.

      • Truth be told, first and second year calculus hasn't changed much nearly 200 years.

        Well... First of all, the notation changed quite a bit. There was no set theory before Cantor (and its notation didn't stabilize until the 1950's); Newtonian notation is now used only for differential equations (in late 1700's, British mathematicians used it everywhere); vectors are now represented as column matrices instead of row matrices; numerical problems don't use Imperial units; etc.

        Second, there were some discov
        • I was referring to classic first and second year calculus courses, not modern analysis. I did not learn most of the examples you give until I took my first DE and analysis courses.

          I hear what you're saying regarding changes in focus (my university just split up it's 1st year calc courses into seperate Engineering, Life Sciences, and Commerce courses). With this said, the changes in focus do not merit a new edition produced every year.
    • Hah, my Honors Calculus class, the professor is having us use a book from 1927. Richard Courant's Introduction to Calculus and Analysis 1. Though to be fair, this is the 1965 edition. It's a good calculus book, I recommend it highly.

  • Or is academia the only thing keeping Java alive? It really seems as if contemporary CS programs are there in large part to promote the continued use of Java.
    </conspiracy>

    Why is Java so popular in academia but not so popular everywhere else? It would make more sense for instructors to teach something like python instead (since it is arguably both easier to learn and quicker to write).

    Is it not time for Java to be deprecated in favor of something that's superior?
    • One professor who teaches the "Introduction to Software Systems" class at Indiana University (which uses Java with some customized libraries to teach the basic concepts of OOP) was telling me recently how he'd love to rework the class wo he could teach it in Python, but has met with some resistance within the department.

      Some folks, even in CS, are Luddites in their own way, and others simply don't want to change what they see as a system that works.

      I'm with ya, tho. I'd much rather they taught the class
    • Re:Is it just me? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by HeghmoH (13204)
      My (limited) experience is that it's rather the opposite. That is, Java, like C++ before it, is taught because it's what everybody think industry uses, and they feel that they should teach the same.

      Of course, teaching to what industry uses is completely missing the point in a CS program. Languages are easy to learn, what they should be teaching is something that is best suited to learning the underlying concepts, which Java most certainly is not.
      • Re:Is it just me? (Score:2, Insightful)

        by graphicsguy (710710)
        I teach a Data Structures course using Java. As you say, languages are easy to learn (well, not really so easy for many students new to programming). The fact is, there are lots of languages, including Java, that are perfectly acceptable for teaching a Data Structures class. One of the reasons we use C++ or Java in our introductory-level classes is because these are the languages the students are expected to know in a large percentage of our more advanced classes. So it provides a convenient base.
      • I've actually taught Data Structures using both Java and C++. Both universities where these courses were taught did not choose these languages because they were used in industry. They chose them because they thought they would meet the needs of the specific course.

        In my experience, the course in C++ was much less effective. The students spent much more of their time stumbling over the details of C++ (destructors, copy constructors, templates, the virtual keyword) than understanding the underlying data

      • People do not teach Java simply because some believe that it is what the industry uses. People teach Java because Java is simply a better C++ (as is C#).

        Unlike C++, Java is a language typesafe and discourages bad programming practices, as well a providing checks for common programming mistakes such as array bounds or NULL pointers. It also removes need to deal with allocation/deallocation by adding garbage collection and making every object a 'reference object'. In short: Without worrying about having to b
        • People teach Java because Java is simply a better C++ (as is C#).

          That makes two posts now that have responded with this line of reasoning, as if C++ and Java were the only two choices. This comparison is like praising your restaurant's food "because it's better than McDonald's". The fact that this line of reasoning is so common just underlines my point that people are choosing more based on "what industry uses", rather than on what would actually make a good teaching tool.
          • The fact that this line of reasoning is so common just underlines my point that people are choosing more based on "what industry uses", rather than on what would actually make a good teaching tool.

            Perhaps, but you need to understand that the best teaching tool is not perhaps always the 'perfect' teaching tool. There is always going to be something better, but you need to make a tradeoff between the capabilities of a language and the usefullness of a language outside of the academic environment. A good la
            • You haven't really explained why you need to teach the same languages that are used in industry, though, you just kind of restated it.

              Learning computer languages is easy. What's hard is learning how to program, and learning various concepts and ideas. Once somebody knows how to program, understands OO, functional programming, generic programming, etc., then he should be able to pick up a new language in very little time. If you really feel that your graduates should know the languages that industry uses, r
    • Re:Is it just me? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tod_miller (792541)
      This is obviously a troll since the question was about Javascript.

      The european commission has recently choosen only to invest in J2EE apps after evaluating .net, CF, et al.

      Standard.

      If you have heard of a little company called SAP (or whatever they are going-to-have-has-already-will-have-has (reddwarf) be called) then you will know that they have awesome Java desktop solutions.

      Oh, and autodesk? Funny thing, they use a lot of Java, and thier architect studio is written in it.

      IBM? small company I heard ar
  • by tod_miller (792541) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @12:46PM (#11722766) Journal
    I have not suggested any book for Javascript, and nor would I.

    A search for any kind of book on Javascript woudl show up about 4 million websites, about 100k of them with up to date information, and about 20 books published within the last 3-4 years.

    Students can use multiple sources to learn Javascript, a book is not one of them that comes to mind.

    In a web design course in general (or web engineering) I usually get them either a resource on non technical aspects of web design tricks, and point them to W3schools, or certainly suggest a complete programming guide to the language they are learning. (which allows them to study it offline so to speak).

    Many students may not have web access, but I feel that 3/4 A4 pages can disseminate so much about Javascript for a student based course that you do not need a programmer type reference for Javascript, all those no doubt giving thier O'Reiley versus XYZ Javascript book reviews shoudl bear that in mind.

    I say write 4 pages of intro code to javascript and give 4-5 practical examples.

    That is enough.
    • Most of those coming to the class may not have the same learning style as yourself.

      Most instructors (technical) that I have known are self-taught on most topics. They learn by researching on the internet and trying on their own and skim reading books. They often don't take classes. I wouldn't recommend applying your learing preferences to those whom are coming to take your class.

      I have found that the participants in my classes want to have a book. They use it as an anchor or outline to the class, a place
      • Most of those coming to the class may not have the same learning style as yourself.

        I should hope not, because I exhibit a teaching style not a learning style.

        I do not say that they need to self learn, but I believe that for many aspects of this particular course can be covered from your own teaching of materials online.

        That is, you instruct them based on these materials.

        Usually books on simpler topics are either too simple, or are aimed as mini 'expert' references, you know, for those who want to know
  • Take your time looking through various texts. Make sure that the ideas are clearly demonstrated (with real-world examples!) and that the ideas come in a reasonable order. Run them past someone who doesn't know Java and see if they can make sense of it.

    Personally, I've had good luck with Cohoon & Davidson's "Java Program Design". Thorough and clear, though slightly out of date in a couple spots.
  • Don't use webct or any other cms. I found them to be a bigger hinderence then good. Last i checked i was able to get webct to follow http header redirect requests too. Certainly upset a few people at my college landing at tubgirl ;)
  • by ArmchairGenius (859830) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @01:15PM (#11722956) Homepage
    If you have the time, I would try to read as many as possible and then simply select the one you think is the best.
    This will also benefit you in that it may give you ideas for your class, and conversely, if you know what your general curriculum will be already then you can simply see what book matches best with that.
  • by b17bmbr (608864) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @01:33PM (#11723055)
    i teach mod civ and computer programming (ap comp sci) at a high school. i use the textbooks for both classes very little. i find most text books to be horrible and lacking any real content. what i do for mod civ is find much better article, essays, etc., from reputable locations, use source documents, and always supplement with my knowledge of the subject. I use alot of historical texts and sections from them. as for the computer programming, i have found a ton of resources on the internet, but mostly, i explain a concept, then give them work to practice. with the millions of resources available on the internet, it is ahrdly likely a textbook will cover something novel.

    and truthfully, if you need a text book, the teach yourself in 21 days series are as good an introdcutory book as you will find. i also like the oreilly series alot too. the best part about the oreilly books is that they are not too expensive, and they will be useful after the class.
    • i teach mod civ and computer programming (ap comp sci) at a high school. [...] i find most text books to be horrible and lacking any real content.
      I think your data are relevant to K-12 texts, not college texts. College texts are often not very good, but K-12 texts are almost always horrible. They're typically written by a committee of hacks hired by the publisher, and then published under the name of university professors who want to make a buck, and didn't write a single word themselves, or even read the
      • yes i was mostly commenting on high school texts. however, he's talking about teaching at the juco level, which many classes are nothing more than glorified high school courses. (not to offend, as alot of great classes and teaching goes on at the juco level, but alot of it is high school redux) and the class is an "online javascript class", which i doubt would be a class someone who is transferring to CS would take, other than as a interest. so, the class is alot more practical in nature, i assume, whic
  • by kengreenebaum (64286) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @01:39PM (#11723103)
    I both teach classes on digital media (compression and sound synthesis) and have written textbooks, AudioAnecdotes [amazon.com], AAv2 [amazon.com]. I know from the inside that publishers will send evaluation copies of textbooks to faculty if requested (and often do so unsolicited).

    Examine as many textbooks as you can (they greatly differ in both scope and quality). I strongly suggest selecting a text matches your philosophy, and covers as much of your planned course material as possible. It is best if the text provides more depth than the class so your students might want to retain the book as part of their professional library for future reference.

    Feel free to email questions, best of luck. -Ken

  • O'Reilly! What else? (Score:4, Informative)

    by techstar25 (556988) <[moc.rr.lfc] [ta] [52ratshcet]> on Saturday February 19, 2005 @01:39PM (#11723104) Homepage Journal
    Why don't more professors require the O'Reilly books? For most topics, I know we have to purchase some $100 textbook for class, but when we get on the job we end up just buying the O'Reilly reference book. Why not require your students to purchase the O'Reilly book and then just teach selected topics from it? That way they already have the very best reference book to take to work with them. Look at this for instance: Javascript, the Definitive Guide [oreilly.com]. Now they'll never need another Javascript book. They'll thank you when they get into the workplace.
    • I also forgot to add that most O'Reilly books are in the $40 range, which is quite a difference from those $80-$100 textbooks.
    • For the class the poster is teaching, that makes sense. In general, however, the O'Reilly books are very specific (how to use this one piece of software) and are either reference books or very introductory material. It's not a big deal for the majority of classes, I'm sure, but the O'Reilly books teach programming as a tool instead of a science.
  • not texas (Score:2, Funny)

    by Ark42 (522144)

    Basically, just make sure not to get a texas-censored version of whatever you get.
  • From a student (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    As a student of computer engineering, I highly recommend just making your own handouts. You probably have tons of java books at your disposal just make copys of the things you like out of all kinds of books. Make sure you give credit to authors when need of course. I can tell you that students pay more attention to hand-outs then a chapter that they where supposed to read last week sometime.
    In programming most text books are basically just semantics of that language anyways. You are there to teach the HOW a
  • Check list (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mefus (34481) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @03:58PM (#11723925) Journal
    • Did I write it?
    • Did the guy on my approval committee write it?
    • Are minor changes required, ensuring the book will be useless for next year's students when the new edition comes out?
    • Will the campus bookstore offer payola?
    • Is the publisher considering my book for publication?
    • Is the book essentially a coffee table picture book costing $100?
    • Do I plan on using a page or two from the book?
    • Does it have very little content per page?
    • Does it teach to the dumbest person in class?
  • Not Easy (Score:3, Informative)

    by tiny69 (34486) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @04:01PM (#11723944) Homepage Journal
    Having taught a few Linux based courses at a community college, I can tell you that finding a good text book is not easy. I don't have my masters yet, so they following is just from personal experience.

    Start by making an outline for the class. How many class meeting will you have? What to want to teach? What do you think is important? Then break up what you want to do into subjects that can be taught individually. Use your own opinion as to how the course should flow and what seems logical to you. You are teaching the course. Trying to teach a subject out-of-order (in your opinion) will not only confuse the students but it will also frustrate you.

    After you have an outline of how you are going to teach the course, try to find a book that closely follows your outline. This is the hard part. You are rarely going to find a book that presents a subject the way you would like it to be presented. This is the reason why some of the best books on a subject are not the best ones to teach from. This is also why instructors write their own books, so that they can follow how they think the subject should be taught.

    If all else fails, pick a good book that the student can use as a reference after the course. What you will end up with is a good book, but you'll be jumping around within the book like a lot of instructors end up doing.

    One of the problems I've seen are when a certain subject gets taught by multiple instructors. Then the department has to pick one book that everyone will use. This book usually ends up being a compromise that noone likes. There's not much you can do in this situation other than try to influence the choice of the text book in the future. If you are only teaching part time, don't be surprised if you are ignored.

    Get a couple of books that discuss how to teach. Some of the better ones are actually short in length. One of the most important things I learned from one is that students will do most of their learning on their own. You are just there to present the information and to guide them.

    You also need to know the subject well enough to give intelligent sounding answers to off the wall questions. Don't say you don't know. Instead, tell the students that you can't remember the answer off the of your head and that you'll get back to them (or some other excuse).

    The books on how to be an instructor will give you some good advice on how to handle situations you are going to be unprepared for.
  • Simple (Score:2, Informative)

    by Cmdr TECO (579177)
  • The textbook has to have lots of exercises at the end of each chapter, the professor has to know how to solve the problems, and at least a 3rd of the problems should have solutions (w/ explanations) in the back of the book.
  • Contact publishers (Score:2, Informative)

    by Vultan (468899)
    Most textbook publishers will send you free evaluation versions so that you can check them out. Go to the academic sections for major textbook publisher websites (Addison-Wesley, McGraw-Hill, O'Reilly, etc...), find the book you want, and there's always a link for "send me an evaluation copy."
  • by xanthan (83225) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @04:39PM (#11724175)
    If the purpose of the course is to give immediate knowledge that they can take to a job and say "See, I know JavaScript!" then stick to books that you can find at the local bookstore (e.g., the "Teach Yourself in 21 Days" variety). There is nothing wrong with them for what you need to do with the content and what your students expect.

    If the intent is to use JavaScript as a kind of stepping stone class to other higher level content or to really get into the depths of JavaScript (it is, after all, a full blown programming language that is quite capable), using a series of articles from web sites would serve you well for getting them bootstrapped and functional, but a more traditional text that teaches functional programming will make them more productive in the long run.

    Whatever you choose, be sure you take a careful evaluation of the content and be sure to match it up with your course outline. Use the content of the book to reinforce or provide additional reference material for the lectures. (Please don't just lecture the contents of the book!)

    Finally, keep project ideas in mind. You'll need a few simple project ideas that reinforce a particular chapter/lesson from week to week. Plan for a "big" 2-3 week project at the end of the course that brings all of their skills together and can serve as a reference project on their resume.

    Best of luck.
  • Choosing textbooks (Score:3, Insightful)

    by howard_coward (735813) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @05:49PM (#11724578)
    I've been teaching at the college level for many years. Recently it has become true that ...
    1. Textbooks are all the same.
    2. They are outrageously expensive.

    You lean like bandits on the megapublishers to lower prices, or...
    You write up your own notes.
  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Sunday February 20, 2005 @12:39PM (#11728889) Homepage Journal
    For several subjects (math, electronics, javascript and some other languages) there are suitable online resources for learning. Anything of interest to nerds and/or geeks and conveyable using the internet is generally pretty well documented.
  • by miyako (632510) <miyako@@@gmail...com> on Monday February 21, 2005 @03:57AM (#11734069) Homepage Journal
    Like many of the posters, I'm a student, not a teacher (well, actually I do teach, but not anything applicable to the problem domain).
    anyway, here are a list of pet peeves I have with a lot of my text books.
    • A lot of text books focus on a particular application (e.g. programming javascript with Dreamweaver and Internet Explorer). Try to avoid these and focus on books that teach the subject in a bit more general terms.
    • Look for books that give lots of code examples. Theory is a good thing, but some books that say they are teaching a specific language seem to instead focus on trying to books on programming theory.
    • As above, but in reverse. Try to find books that do offer some theory, and don't just focus on having students memorize what a given block of code does.
    That aside, whatever text book you pick, remember that all books have flaws, and be willing to deviate from the book when you feel that it doesn't offer up the best approach. I would also recommend NOT using book assignments, they tend to be extremely trivial, uninteresting, and will not get students excited about the project at all.
    • I'm a student as well and as well as the above, don't limit yourself to one book, but if you use more than one - make them cheap. I'm not sure about other countries - but the main trend in Australia is that if a book (or a couple of books) costs more that $100, students won't buy it. Any less than that and they don't usually mind. Also, whatever book you recommend, make sure it will serve as a reference later on. Generally I find I'm better served by a reference than a book aimed at teaching the principles
  • by wawannem (591061) on Monday February 21, 2005 @10:27AM (#11735563) Homepage
    I worked for a couple of years at a small university [unoh.edu] and being new to teaching, but somewhat of a versed IT pro, I decided to be very idealistic about picking textbooks. I think it is *very* important to read what you are choosing to teach from before you decide. Don't just assume that the book from the last time the course was taught will be *good enough*!!

    That being said, there is another important factor when choosing books. Make sure there are adequate exercises/test questions to go along with a book. I decided to teach a course on a programming language not necessarily popular with most academics (Perl), and I evaluated the few textbooks available. I felt that none were adequate and decided to teach out of one of my favorite books. It was the worst teaching experience I had. It is nearly impossible to create unambiguous questions for tests and creating exercises that are challenging while still short enough to be small assignments is another task I was not prepared to handle. Students need to learn one concept at a time and they need to do a few exercises to get the hang of each new concept. If you throw all the information at them and expect them to accomplish one large task, then many otherwise bright students will be overwhelmed and will not perform as well as they would like. Then, when the time comes, they will let you know using the all-powerful course evaluation that they were not happy with the course. Many people (especially students) do not realize how much goes into creating a textbook. If it were really a great scam to take money from students, then textbook authors and publishers would be huge, rich companies. Quite a bit of time is spent on the exercises and teaching resources involved in the book. In my estimation, I would say that more time is spent in the external content than is spent on what the student receives.
  • by HenkLecturer (861537) on Monday February 21, 2005 @05:08PM (#11739021)
    When reviewing a textbook, start checking at the end: a book without a *very* extensive index (10 pages at least) had better be used as fuel for a fire.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    What is out there, several hundred on the shelf of the technical bookshop. What did the last tutor use, that is what I will. I then read the book. Discussions on complex stuff page 2. Too late.

    Realistically how can any serious teacher review all the books on a subject unless they are teaching a narrow field with little published, even then you typically only have 4 weeks between when you are given a subject to the actual start date unless you are very very lucky.

    I still have not 'read' the text book
  • by Frobnicator (565869) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:47AM (#11743009) Journal
    I've trained several interns, and have gone to all three local universities to confront instructors about this problem. I've talked with deans, and even seen one teacher called in and get a repremand for this problem.

    Whatever else you do, FOLLOW THE LANGUAGE STANDARD!

    If you don't want to follow the language standards, please don't teach langauges that the industry uses. Teach them in languages like SmallTalk, or perhaps lesser-used languages like Scheme and Eiffel.

    JavaScript has a standard. It is ECMA-262, or ISO/IEC 16262. It doesn't matter if you choose a book, or web sites, but one thing is critical: Make sure what you teach follows the standards. Since you will also using HTML, follow the HTML 4.1 standard, or XHTML 1.0. Don't use XHTML 1.1 yet, since nearly every server is misconfigured for it. Both standards are available at no cost.

    In C, there are too many textbooks that teach things like void main(), encourage the use of scanf and gets, include examples that violate the standard and show undefined behavior, and have generally bad code. If your department teaches C, have your department verify that the books follow the standard. It's available for $18.

    In C++, there are too many textbooks that don't follow the C++ standard. They often teach pre-standard C++ or mingle it with standard C++, pretend the language is just C with classes, fail to teach large portions of the language such as templates or the container and algorithm libraries, include examples that violate the standard and show undefined behavior, and have generally bad code. Again, if you teach C++ at the school, make sure your books follow that standard. It's also available for $18.

    Doing this will save your students between 6 months to 1 year of correcting your school's bad teaching.

    Thank you.

    • Heh, you'd be amazed how many universities out there teaches theory languages like Prolog or Scheme in favor of real languages like C++ or java.

      Somehow the whole "concept over syntax" idea in universities is bullshit. No class should waste student's time and tuition money like that.

  • Which ever vendor makes it the most worth my while, their book will be my selection.

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