Why You Should Write a Textbook by Mazin Hassan
We’re excited to share with you a guest post by Mazin Hassan, Cognella Academic Publishing Acquisitions Editor, in which he speaks to why all academics should consider writing or editing a textbook for their courses and the greater academic market.
Writing a textbook is something every higher education instructor should consider for their regularly taught courses. Having worked with many professors on new titles, I am in a privileged position to witness time and again the immediate impact that a well-designed resource has on student and instructor satisfaction. I speak with professors daily to get them to see the light and publish new textbooks to address issues with their current text. After four years of conversations with professors about publishing, I’ve found myself making the same set of points in my advocacy: it’s not as hard as you think, the control over student learning is unparalleled, and it will save you time (and your sanity!) in the long run.
The Difficulty of Publishing a Textbook
You’ve probably heard that an original textbook can take one to two years to complete. There is no denying this uncomfortable fact, but it takes a rather narrow view of what a textbook is or can be.
An anthology, for example, is a textbook made up of readings that can be put together in as little as one to two days. At Cognella, authors are granted access to a comprehensive online library, provided with specific reading suggestions for their consideration, and they work with a licensing team that secures permissions for the use of all materials. This streamlined approach takes care of the heavy lifting generally needed to put a new title together. Anthologies give us the ability to borrow “the best bits from the best books,” and allow us to place foundational readings alongside more contemporary pieces, creating a special kind of title with multidisciplinary elements.
Interactive ebooks and Cognella Active Learning titles can also be developed in less than a year. These titles make far greater use of online and experiential activities, minimizing the need for a full 300-page manuscript. The last few years have led to a far greater appreciation of the science behind knowledge retention, such as the revelation that viewers retain 95% of a video message versus 10% when read in text. This allows us to make better publishing decisions and better use of non-textual materials. When we go beyond the exclusive use of text,and employ a variety of materials to support core learning, we are following a best practice for knowledge retention and extension.
Not all publishing projects need be as painful as a doctoral thesis.
Control Over Student Learning
Professors are not always content with the organization, content, and timeliness of their textbooks. Let us imagine a hypothetical scenario where Professor X assigns select chapters (to be read out of order and some only partially) while also providing class notes, PowerPoints, and additional readings. It is evident from this scenario that the assigned textbook is a poor fit for the needs of Professor X’s class. When professors publish new texts, it allows them to organize the table of contents in a manner built around the needs of their students. This new text can (and should) contain the following:
1. All the information needed to succeed in the course in one place.
2. Readings that follow the weekly class schedule.
3. Practice areas and concept checks to prepare students for examination.
4. Recent trends, popular culture, and current events incorporated to support learning.
A well-written text is one that is designed around the needs of the course, guides students through the learning goals, and proactively addresses common misconceptions and frequently asked questions.
It Saves You Time
One last truism I’d like to share is that humans are laughably bad at calculating the true opportunity cost of any given decision. My psychology authors are better positioned to speak about biases of immediacy, confirmation, and representation, but suffice it to say that we make decisions without a full understanding of benefits and drawbacks.
What if there was only one text containing all the information needed to succeed in the course?
What if the text was written with that week’s lectures in mind, better priming students for the new concepts they will encounter?
What if the text spent additional time simplifying the most difficult concepts for students?
What if the text addressed the depiction of the discipline in the news and in popular culture?
When you carefully consider these questions, it’s self-evident that a better written text is an invaluable timesaver. When the text does not meet the above goals, the shortcomings leave students with questions and concerns to be answered in class, over email, or during office hours. Fielding student questions is never a bad thing, of course, but the five-star professor anticipates and addresses routine student needs pre-emptively. This allows for more substantive discussions overall.
There are a lot of moving pieces and people involved in any publishing project. It’s easy to see why a new textbook can seem like such a daunting prospect. But take it from an editor, publishing is only about half as scary as it might seem at first glance and it offers a phenomenal return on investment on your time and effort.