Friday, September 16, 2005

I'm Writing A Text-Not- book

This summer I hemmed and hawed and wondered about this textbook project I had been announcing to everyone. I knew what I didn't want: when I circled the book displays at the 4 C's, I saw nothing but the same old, same old, even when it was accompanied by a disk of exercises. BW textbooks tend to be of two major ilk:
the first ilk being the Evergreen model, which is divided into two sections, writing and grammar. The other ilk is made up of books that combine grammar and writing into each chapter.

But it's still grammar and it's still a textbook, and I teach in a networked lab. I have a great deal to say about all of this, and I'll be posting my thoughts throughout the year.

Right now, though, I want to discuss what my project isn't. It isn't a textbook and it shouldn't cost much. I haven't talked with the college yet about publishing and copyrights in this technological age, but I will and soon.

Instead of a textbook, I want to create an interactive CD (memory stick, whatever) that would be connected to an online site. Or maybe I simply want a site which I can pack with things specific to my course and be interactive rather than static.

When I say that I want it to be specific to my course, I mean that I don't want to publish with the big boys. I don't care if I'm not the next big name in the Basic Writing publishing world. What I do want is to be able to create a space where all of my assignments, explanations, links, exercises and outside readings can exist, be revised and change all the time. I want these spaces to be far more interactive than I've seen (cursorily, I'll admit). I want it to be cheap. I want my students not to have to spend too much on a book-- especially since I've yet to ever teach an entire book in any class and subsequently feel there's a lot of wasted paper being lugged around. So I want to be efficiently economical, too.

One of my first steps is to really look at the platforms out there as they exist now and see if any don't already do what I want, or if a combination of things would work.

In the hazy land of brainstorming, I can start to see what I mean when I say that I want to use some of Elbow's ideas but bring them down to a BW level--that is, instead of taking BW student through a 5-paragraph template or a single process model, I want something that will help the students arrive at what their best writing processes are--something that would work intuitively with them or for them, and I can see concept mapping being of some use here ("here" as in right now, here, and "here" as in the kind of thing I want the students to use.)--and I want there to be links say, on that concept mapping page, so that the student who is finding mapping frustrating, can use a different kind of invention process.

So, another first step is to begin to outline (or map) what I want to see in terms of writing online--inventing online--moving through possibilities online--getting away from any lockstep procedure that dictates how a student must write.

As I do that, I think that what I want will be come clearer to me. But I suspect that I'm going to be taking a year to figure out what I want and how I want to express it or provide it, and then, I'll knock out a far more coherent plan than I am capable of articulating right now.

One of the places I'm heading to is, via Kairosnews, the Next\Text Project where I can investigate similar projects. here's how they explain it:

In this networked age, the printed textbook has likely reached the end of its useful life cycle, but a robust digital competitor has yet to emerge. The next\text project seeks to encourage the creation of born-digital learning materials that enhance, expand, and ultimately replace the printed textbook.


At 12:48 PM, Anonymous clc said...

Not sure what I can contribute on the technological end of how to do this, but I did want to say something about so-called basic writing or developmental textbooks. I 've found that in nearly every case where a textbook is labeled as such, the instruction is painfully formulaic and the tone is often patronizing. They are usually riddled with fill-in-the-blank exercises which have no connection to real writing. Most of them remind me of books I had as a student in grammar school.

At 2:07 PM, Blogger Nick said...


Glad you found Next/Text. Halfway through reading your post, I was thinking I'd call that to your attention. If you go back to Kairos,Matt Barton's post about his Wiki textbook idea might help your thinking too.

I spend --well, it's my job-- a lot of time wondering about the kinds of things you're imagining. Part of what you're describing, it seems to me, is a learning object repository --a shared space where assignments can be stored and removed, ammended and shared, built on and refined. At C&W Joe Moxley showed a version of that he and his group made using Microsoft's Exchange Server, I believe. But another thing you're imagining, it seems, is an interactive space. So you need some way for students to engage the book and for the class of writers to act beyond reading words and beyond filling in blanks in work books, and beyond writing paragraphs off to the side and handing in hard copy.

Another thing, infrastructurally, it seems your project imagines a need for is some degree of searching/organizing of all that content. Another element it seems to me is content that's more than just words and pictures. Books are good at words and pictures, so you'll have some of that. But it's hard to read online, so why favor that?

Lots of interesting things come into play and varied systems. Wiki's can do some of that, blogs can do some, but you need other technologies too and the ability to add elements and features.

At 10:32 AM, Anonymous Joanna said...

ClC, the textbooks that I've seen do address writing, but they just don't go far enough because they can't, being print media. Since I teach in a computer lab, I want something that is relevant to the computers.
Nick, thanks, for the advice, and I will head over to Kairos in a sec. You're articulating what I need in a more concrete fashion than I've been able to, and I appreciate that.
I'm mulling over your idea about print being easier to read, and I'm not certain that this is always the case anymore. But I'm equally not convinced that online reading is the ONLY way to go either. So, like a jug of apple cider,I'm mulling.

At 12:30 PM, Blogger Nick said...

One other thought . . .

. . . if you're going to do alternative textbooks, do alternative textbooks. Don't mimic print models, and also don't mimic the tone and voice of print textbooks. Find a different voice that's more suited to the electronic forms you're going to experiment in.

Now don't get me wrong, some textbooks are really a joy to read --Everything's an Argument comes to mind; and others have the right voice and tone for the genre -- A Writer's Reference.

But too often textbooks cover the same ground in the same way with close to the same voice and cadence. I think the genre causes that. A writer has a textbook idea and before pitching it to a publisher, researches other books like or not quite like the idea. Further, the writer's frequently been a textbook user for many years.

So naturally a textbook voice rings in the head and textbook prose, or an approximation of it, seeps onto the page. And that's ok, but why not do something different?

At 12:39 PM, Blogger Rosa G. said...

Why not indeed! Thanks for all of the good, concrete feedback, Nick!


At 10:03 PM, Anonymous joanna said...

Why not, indeed! Thanks for the advice, Nick. I read Matt Barton's post--he and I are on the same, uh, page when it comes to money.
I hadn't thought about the tone of voice yet and am now giving your suggestion it's due inasmuch as my students are developmental and need to be reading college-level prose that isn't stale.

At 10:27 PM, Blogger jon said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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