Teaching Outside the Textbook


"I have to carry my textbooks to campus at least three days a week," Melissa Fitzpatrick, a sophomore double majoring in Accounting and Finance, said, "it would literally be a huge relief if I didn't have to carry around such heavy textbooks." (Brooke Whitten | Grand Central Magazine)

Professors at Central Michigan University are exploring alternative ways of teaching students this semester; methods outside of the textbook. Whether it be online readings, information packets or Powerpoint presentations, professors are going beyond the traditional textbooks that although useful, come with a steep price tag.

This method helps the professors be “more responsive to our students at CMU when I can design the course myself,” said French Professor Dr. Amy Ransom.

This is Ransom’s second semester teaching Advanced French II without a textbook, with the first time being in Spring 2008.

Cost was “absolutely a factor” in the decision, Ransom said.

While there is no required textbook, Ransom requires a workbook that has French grammar exercises in it. The workbook can be purchased at the CMU Bookstore for $18.95.

For Ransom, there were more factors than just cost that lead to the text-less choice.

“We haven’t found one that we’re thrilled with because the choices are limited,” Ransom said.

With choices of textbooks insufficient, Ransom combined a variety of readings, mostly from a mixture of published texts with some from the Internet, and used them to teach the class in worksheets along with Powerpoint presentations she assembles.

“The plus factor for the students is that I am choosing texts that are interesting to me,” Ransom said. “I’m enthusiastic about it, so hopefully the students will be.”

Professor of Journalism, Dr. Timothy Boudreau, agreed that cost was also a contributing factor that led to his Mass Communications in a Contemporary Society and Introduction to Journalism courses going book-less.

“Publishers started charging $130 for something that students never read,” Boudreau said. “That’s just crazy.”

In place of the textbook, Boudreau assigns weekly readings from the Internet.

“It is difficult for the textbooks to stay current,” Boudreau said. “Assigning online readings gave me more flexibility, and made the readings more timely.”

Dr. Mark Francek has also chosen to go textbook-less this semester for his Physical Geography class, as he has for the last six years. With students in mind, this alternative way of teaching seems to be working.

“My teaching evaluations have been good,” Francek said.

In place of the traditional paper text, Francek uses an e-book that is currently available for free.

“The content I found in the online textbook was comparable to what I found in pay version in quality,” Francek said.

Since some of the information in the e-book is out-dated, Francek assigns online readings, journals, podcasts and articles to his class to keep material current.

“I have nothing against textbooks,” Francek said. “I am always looking for the best options for my students.”

Going book-less is going well, aside from presenting one downside according to Francek.

“It’s difficult to tell students to bring their online textbooks to class,” he said.

Addressing the problem, Francek prints out sections of the e-book or articles for the class when needed [as long as there are no violations to copyright].

“It’s expensive for the kids,” Francek said. “If you could save them a few bucks, why not?”