June 14th, 2010

The Role of the Text in Course Planning


As you plan a new course or revise an existing one, when do you decide on a text? I worry that many of us make that decision early on and then use the text to anchor our course design decisions. What gets included in the course as well as how it’s presented are often strongly influenced by what’s in the text and how it’s presented there. As the authors below point out, that’s not the role the text should be assuming in course planning.

“Too often, the selected textbook defines the course scope, sequence, and depth. Many instructors implicitly adhere to the view that a textbook’s inclusion of information, in part, legitimizes teaching that content. Textbooks exert a significant influence on how content is taught—from the sequence of material to the manner in which it is presented. The issue here is not the value of textbooks, but rather the role they play in determining the curriculum and mode of instruction. Textbooks should be a tool to assist in learning, but they should not dictate the scope, sequence, and pedagogy in a course.”

Would you agree? If the problem is that we aren’t aware of the extent to which the text is influencing the decisions we make about what to include in the course, when to present it, and how to approach content topics, one solution might be to plan or revise the course before selecting the text. It does help to see how texts handle various course topics, but maybe we delay deciding on which text and use a number of them during the planning phase.

Relying too much on the text during the planning process reinforces our already strong content orientation. Course planning does include content decisions, but it should also include careful consideration of the learning activities (assignments) and experiences of a course. They are the vehicles through which students come to know the content. And planning must also look at assessment issues—how it is we (and students) will know if they acquired an appropriate level of knowledge and skill as a result of the course. Certainly the text has a role to play in course planning and revision. It just shouldn’t be the only or central player in the process.

Reference: Clough, Michael P., and Kauffman, Kenneth J. (October 1999). Improving engineering education: A research-based framework for teaching. Journal of Engineering Education, 527-534.

  • Cody

    As an ABD with a strong desire to stay in the classroom (in a hard science), the problem I've seen is that too many profs stick to "the" textbook, instead of treating it as "a" textbook and consulting several others. Why are the myriad of texts available for a particular course examined only when choosing the official one?

    Instead, I think the variety of texts that are available should be incorporated at every stage of the course planning process–from the syllabus to daily lecture prep. It seems to me that this would have two benefits: lectures that are a bit different from the assigned text (thereby helping students with a second dose of the course material), and keeping the course notes a bit more polished, as there's always a new textbook that should be considered.

    Just my thoughts. Great post!

  • Inez

    As an instructional designer, "The textbook is NOT the course" is one of my favorite mantras.

    I agree that planning at least some of the course content before choosing the text is a good strategy. That way a text that supports the course content can be chosen instead of the text driving the course. Sometimes I see faculty who don't agree with the way the text is laid out, but follow it anyway so as not to confuse students.

  • Craig

    I agree that the text should not be central. Still, the learning activities must procede with some goal or set of goals in mind, so they still must come second. right?