Saturday, November 19, 2011

Should you follow a textbook?

Yes. Closely.

This is the conclusion I have slowly come to over the years. Furthermore, the more junior the class the more closely you should follow a text.
Often I have struggled to find a text I thought suitable or have drawn on material from several books. This has meant giving out lecture notes.

It seems closely following a book is most effective if you can actually get students to read it! This appears to be a major goal of people who use methods such as Peer Instruction.

Having said all that you can expect student complaints. "You are just telling me what it is in the book". "There is too much reading". "Why are we paying you?" "Don't you have any ideas of your own!"

I welcome your thoughts. I would be curious to learn of systematic studies which showed whether student learning (rather than satisfaction and comfort) was actually enhanced by closely following a text.


  1. I think a textbook, assuming one exists, is likely to be much better than an individual's lecture notes.

    One thing I really hate is when lecturers just reference a bunch of texts which are impossible to learn from, and then don't explain them in lectures.

    I think a lecturer should never expect the students to understand concepts significantly more advanced than those explained in lectures. If the lecturer can't get through the material in lectures then most students have no chance of understanding it. That's why I don't like peer instruction. I think it only works in first year because first year is relatively easy.

  2. I like to test and assign from the textbook but lecture from everything so that they are responsible for what they hold in their hands, but use ectures to enrich the material. I dont ask questions from anything beyond the text because it's harder to study from.

  3. Students would learn evn more (and certainly derive better value from lectures) if they were assigned reading *before* the lecture and truly expected to do it. To be successful this doesn't mean that students have to completely understand everything in the text the first time they read it - but the value of a lecture as adding to and reinforcing material can then be clear.

    However, I will note that I am yet to jump on this approach in my own undergraduate teaching. (There is a fair bit of inertia associated with having a well developed set of lecture notes that would need a serious rethink with this different approach.) I have colleagues in technical topics who do use this approach and are very successful instructors.

    David Sholl

  4. To be honest, as a student, I don't do readings before lectures. Seems like a waste of time if I can just learn it in the lecture (& afterwards), anyway. There's much more to life!