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.