What issues should I consider when selecting instructional materials?
How can I use electronic resources to enhance student learning?
How can I help my students use textbooks more effectively?
A key feature of effective teaching is the selection of instructional materials that meet the needs of students and fit the constraints of the teaching and learning environment. There are many pressures for educators to match the audiovisual stimuli of television, computers, and electronic games with which students are experienced. The speed of personal computers and the ease of authoring systems permit instructors to design and customize computer-based audiovisual presentations and to develop computer-based assignments for their students. The tremendous increases in rates of information transfer, access to the Internet, and posting of materials on the World Wide Web give instructors and students an almost limitless supply of resource material. In addition, the ease of electronic communications between an instructor and students, and among students, provides new opportunities for sharing questions, answers, and discussions during a course. At the same time, there remains a major role for student use of textbooks and for instructional use of demonstrations, films, videos, slides, and overhead transparencies.
Carefully scripted presentations and activities run the risk of emphasizing teacher delivery rather than student learning. Carefully planned and prepared instructional resources sometimes tempt instructors to race ahead and to cover more. The rapid-fire presentations combined with audiovisual overload can tempt students to remain intellectually passive. One way to avoid this is to intersperse activities which assess student understanding and encourage reflection and critical thinking. Another possibility is to reduce the pace of the class session, by pausing periodically to invite questions.
Instructional resources usually fall into one of two categories: student-centered and teacher-centered. In the student-centered model, instructional resources can be used for tutorials, problem solving, discovery, and review. In the teacher-centered model, resources are used for presentations of supplementary or primary material in the classroom as described in some examples in Chapter 2. Information technology can also be used for communication and for information retrieval.
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7 Choosing and Using Instructional Resources What issues should I consider when selecting instructional materials? How can I use electronic resources to enhance student learning? How can I help my students use textbooks more effectively? A key feature of effective teaching is the selection of instructional materials that meet the needs of students and fit the constraints of the teaching and learning environment. There are many pressures for educators to match the audiovisual stimuli of television, computers, and electronic games with which students are experienced. The speed of personal computers and the ease of authoring systems permit instructors to design and customize computer-based audiovisual presentations and to develop computer-based assignments for their students. The tremendous increases in rates of information transfer, access to the Internet, and posting of materials on the World Wide Web give instructors and students an almost limitless supply of resource material. In addition, the ease of electronic communications between an instructor and students, and among students, provides new opportunities for sharing questions, answers, and discussions during a course. At the same time, there remains a major role for student use of textbooks and for instructional use of demonstrations, films, videos, slides, and overhead transparencies. Carefully scripted presentations and activities run the risk of emphasizing teacher delivery rather than student learning. Carefully planned and prepared instructional resources sometimes tempt instructors to race ahead and to cover more. The rapid-fire presentations combined with audiovisual overload can tempt students to remain intellectually passive. One way to avoid this is to intersperse activities which assess student understanding and encourage reflection and critical thinking. Another possibility is to reduce the pace of the class session, by pausing periodically to invite questions. Instructional resources usually fall into one of two categories: student-centered and teacher-centered. In the student-centered model, instructional resources can be used for tutorials, problem solving, discovery, and review. In the teacher-centered model, resources are used for presentations of supplementary or primary material in the classroom as described in some examples in Chapter 2. Information technology can also be used for communication and for information retrieval.
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TEXTBOOK USE IN TEACHING AND LEARNING The mode of teaching so common today—the lecture-text-exam approach-is an artifact of centuries of European education. The professor's main role before the wide availability of the printing press was to lecture on information obtained from a rare copy of an often ancient book. Despite the fears of the faculty at the University of Salamanca during the sixteenth century, the textbook rapidly became a useful supplement to the class lecture rather than its replacement. Today a textbook is available for almost every college science class. As McKeachie (1994) notes, ''. . . my years of experience in attempting to assess teaching effectiveness have led me to think that the textbook, more than any other element of the course, determines student learning." Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Textbooks Books are a highly portable form of information and can be accessed when, where, and at whatever rate and level of detail the reader desires. Research indicates that, for many people, visual processing (i.e., reading) is faster than auditory processing (i.e., listening to lectures), making textbooks a very effective resource (McKeachie, 1994). Reading can be done slowly, accompanied by extensive note taking, or it can be done rapidly, by skimming and skipping. There are advantages to both styles, and you may find it useful to discuss their merits with your students. Issues to Consider When Selecting Instructional Resources What is the effect of the resources, methodologies, and technologies on student learning? How are students using them? What are students learning from them? Which students are using them? How and to what extent are students using optional resources? One important aspect of any science class is helping the student to make sense of the mass of information and ideas in a field. This can be done by showing students how to arrange information in a meaningful hierarchy of related major and minor concepts. Well-chosen textbooks help students understand how information and ideas can be organized. Textbooks have several major limitations. Although a well-written book can engage and hold student interest, it is not inherently interactive. However, if students are encouraged to ask questions while they read, seek answers within the text, and identify other sources to explore ideas not contained in the text, they will become active readers and gain the maximum benefit from their textbook. In order to meet the needs of a broad audience, texts are often so thick that they overwhelm students seeking key information. Texts are often forced to rely on historical or dated examples, and they rarely give a sense of the discovery aspects and disorganization of information facing modern researchers. Changes in Textbook Style and Content Science textbooks have evolved considerably from the descriptive and historical approaches common before World War II. Today's texts are far more sophisticated, less historical, and contain more facts than in the past, with complex language and terminology (Bailar, 1993). Illustrations and mathematical expressions are more common. Emphasis has shifted toward principles and theory. Modern texts attempt to deal with issues of process as well as matters of fact or content. They are replete with essays, sidebars, diagrams, illustrations, worked examples, and problems and questions at
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many different levels. One result of these changes is that the average book length has increased two to four times in the past several decades. In response to the need for quality science textbooks for all students, not just science majors, some authors are returning to descriptive and historical approaches. Generally, books for science literacy courses describe important ideas and discoveries, present a limited number of fundamental concepts, and emphasize the links among different facts and principles. Others (e.g., Trefil and Hazen, 1995) take an interdisciplinary approach, by covering a range of science disciplines in a coherent, connected manner. Textbooks and Effective Learning Research on the effectiveness of textbooks has focused on two general areas: text structure and layout. The study of text structure has focused on how the reader builds cognitive representations from text. Recent work categorizes the structure of science text as either a proof-first or a principle-first organization (Dee-Lucas and Larkin, 1990). The proof-first organization develops a proof or argument that builds to a conclusion, usually in the form of a fundamental concept, principle, or law. In principle-first organization, a concept or principle is stated explicitly, then the evidence needed to support it is presented. The prevalence of the proof-first structure in contemporary textbooks may be due to the fact that most college science textbooks are written by scientists with little formal training in education. They present science the way it is practiced by experts. However, studies by Dee-Lucas and Larkin (1990) indicate that the principle-first structure is more effective for long-term retention and understanding by novice readers. Layout and illustrations are important predictors of a text's effectiveness. One of the most effective types of illustration, especially for students with low verbal aptitude, is a simple multicolor line drawing (Dwyer, 1972; Holliday et al., 1977). Although more visually appealing, and more prevalent in the current textbook market, realistic drawings or photographs are less effective at enhancing student learning. The organization of information on a page also affects student learning (Wendt, 1979). How to Choose and Use an Appropriate Textbook Before selecting a text, it is important to know what books are currently on the market. Colleagues who teach the same or a similar course (in your department or at other institutions) are good sources of ideas and information. Your campus bookstore's textbook manager can provide the name and phone number for textbook sales representatives from many different companies. Science education publications (see Appendix B) carry advertisements from major publishers, and some feature a book review section or annual book buyer's guide. Professional society meetings also provide a chance to talk to publishers and see their new textbooks. Many companies will supply review copies to potential textbook adopters, in return for information about the course in which it might be used. There are a number of factors to consider when selecting a textbook. To be of greatest value to students, the objectives of a textbook must be consistent with those of the course. Authors often try to meet particular objectives in their books, and these may differ among the choices. Skim the preface to see whether you share the author's approach to the subject.
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Consider how the table of contents aligns with your course syllabus and teaching philosophy: Is coverage of topics broad or specific? Are key principles stated precisely and clearly? Are the explanations and interpretations consistent with your teaching style? In addition to content, evaluate the text structure and layout as discussed in the previous section. Textbooks vary greatly in their level of difficulty with respect to readability, depth of theoretical treatment of information, and complexity of end-of-chapter problems. Colleagues who have adopted the book can provide insight about these issues. They are also helpful for determining whether a textbook contains errors, which have been shown to have a large, negative effect on student learning (Iona, 1987). Considerations in Choosing a Textbook Look at it from the point of view of novice users. Is it accessible? Is it clear? Is it organized in a useful way? Consider the information and the weight. A single large encyclopedic text, of which only certain chapters will be used, may be selected by a professor who thinks that students ought to have all of that text's material available. A book which is more appropriate for the course may be available, often at substantially lower cost to the student. Choose a book that contains most of the information that is needed, and supplement it with additional readings. This alerts students to the existence of other resources. Match the text to the audience in terms of its preparation and prior knowledge. The text should be read-able from the students' point of view. Check the book carefully for errors. The text itself is rarely the only resource available to the students and instructor. Many publishers have a separate study guide, often with chapter summaries and solutions to textbook problems. Upon adoption of a text, publishers often provide (or offer for sale at a reduced price) transparencies, slides, and computer test banks. Software to accompany textbooks is also becoming more popular. This software can vary considerably in quality and usefulness, so you may want to ask for a demonstration disk before purchasing it or requiring that students purchase it. Once you have chosen a textbook, help your students use it effectively. A number of suggestions are given in the sidebar. Allow time during the first week of class to introduce the text and outline your strategy for its use. Encourage your students to use the text by asking them questions that require higher-order critical thinking skills drawing on and extending its material, methods, or examples. Simple factual questions are of little value to long-term retention or true understanding. Higher-order questions require students to think about the readings, ask questions, integrate material, and develop answers in their own words. When appropriate, help students to understand that a text book is not always the final authority on a topic, particularly in fields where new information is discovered at a very fast rate. Students may learn that it is okay to question the text if the instructor also openly disagrees with some interpretations or approaches in the book. The instructor can use different interpretations as examples of unresolved problems and illustrate critical thinking by presenting reasons and evidence for differing opinions. However, be careful not to develop such a negative attitude toward the text that students stop using it, or question the teacher's judgment for choosing it. What If I Can't Find the "Perfect" Textbook? After a thorough search, you may find that the book you want simply does not exist. Publishers have realized this and have taken steps to customize their products to meet faculty needs. It is possible to select certain chapters of a given book to be bound as a volume. It is also possible to
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Suggestions to Students on How to Use a Textbook Study assigned readings before each class. Be prepared for questions, references to those readings, and other activities building on that material. Take notes in outline form as you read the text, indicate key points with a highlighter, note connections between sections, make lists of questions that come to mind or uncertainties, and pause frequently to summarize the key points of each section or chapter. Compare your lists of questions and your lists of key points with those of others in the class. Bring questions to class or recitation sections and ask the instructor to answer them. Review the text after the class to gain additional perspective. Look in supplemental texts to see how other authors present similar topics, especially if the points seem vague or unclear in the primary text. Remember that often the presentation that introduces new information, concepts, and vocabulary will seem foreign. Another presentation with a slightly different twist may help you see something differently or may confirm that you have identified key points. Review the text before exams and quizzes or periodically throughout the term. Study and review worked examples before attacking the homework problems. Read over questions, exercises, and problems that are not assigned and think about how to answer them. Group questions or problems by the topics they address or the methods required to solve them. Summarize by writing your own problems. Consult worked examples in other texts. combine chapters of different books from the same publisher. This approach offers considerable flexibility, given that many smaller textbook publishers are now subsidiaries of larger corporations. Another option is to combine resources from several different publishers and to offer students a "coursepack" instead of a textbook. Many college bookstores and copy centers will work with faculty members to collect chapters, readings, and supplements. They obtain the required copyrights, and bind and sell custom-designed materials tailored for a particular course. INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY USE IN TEACHING AND LEARNING Internet The Internet is an international high-speed electronic communications network (linking many local, regional, and national networks) which allows individuals at institutions or at home to access each other's computers for rapid communication or information retrieval. For some, the value of the Internet is that it allows users at remote locations to sign-on to computers where they have accounts, often using connection software called telnet. For others, rapid electronic communication and document sharing replaces phone conversations and meetings and facilitates collaboration. Another major use of the Internet has been to provide free public access to documents in electronic form. Many individuals and organizations "post" documents on their own computers so that others can obtain electronic copies (without need for special accounts and passwords). File transfers can be made by FTP (file transfer protocol) software, and for many who have posted documents to their Web pages (see below), file transfers can be initiated by as little as the click of a button on the title of the document.
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World Wide Web The World Wide Web (WWW) is a system of linking information (text, sound, graphics, and video) in a way that allows for easy movement between related documents and sites. To use the Web you need a computer with special software that is called a browser, such as Lynx, Mosaic, Cello, or Netscape, or equivalent services available through commercial Internet providers. Highly detailed text, graphics, and videos are available on a wide array of topics. The Internet and the ease of information viewing and retrieval that are possible through the Web mean that students are no longer limited to information provided by textbooks and printed materials in libraries. Students may "search" on the World Wide Web for preprints and reprints of articles, for discussion bulletin boards on specialized topics, for conference abstracts and proceedings, or for topical compilations of materials for research or teaching. Most Web navigational software systems include search engines that allow the user to locate information or sites by topic area. With more than a thousand new Web sites added every day, browsing for information on the Web needs to be done even more carefully than a literature search for library references. Bear in mind that while the Web holds enormous potential in providing access to information, much of the information available has not been reviewed for quality or reliability. Examples of Faculty and Student Use of Web Resources Course Web pages give students easy access to assigned readings and reference material. Student presentations to their class mates through creation of Web pages. Student access to resource information for papers or research projects. Access to discussion groups and the latest information on particular topics. A number of electronic resources are available to those seeking information about education. Many professional societies have created Web pages with information about their educational initiatives and with links to other resources. Also, consider looking at the information posted by those who fund educational initiatives, including the National Science Foundation, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the Department of Education. Other databases of references and curricular initiatives are provided by the NRC Committee on Undergraduate Science Education (http://www2.nasedu/cusehome), Project Kaleidoscope (PKAL), the Eisenhower Clearinghouse, and the Educational Research Information Center (ERIC). Electronic Communication Electronic mail ("e-mail") enables students and faculty to communicate with each other and with people all over the world. Many groups have adopted or created systems under which messages sent to a single address are delivered to mail accounts of all members of the group. This kind of electronic bulletin board is called a "listserv." A variation of a listserv bulletin board is a moderated listserv for which all messages are viewed by a moderator (and perhaps condensed, grouped, arranged, and/or edited) before being broadcast. Another form of group electronic communication is through a bulletin board on which messages are posted, called a newsgroup. Interested readers must sign on to a particular electronic address to find and read messages or posted documents. Bulletin boards of this type permit readers to leave their reactions to and comments on the postings of others. Many instructors use electronic communication to facilitate interactions among students, and between students and themselves. Some faculty
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members create course-related Web pages with a mechanism for students to enter their comments or messages when they are connected to the Web page. Sample uses of e-mail or Web pages for communication include: Students send questions electronically to the instructor, which gives them an opportunity to express a doubt or misconception that they might have been afraid to voice in class. The instructor can transmit the question and the answer simultaneously to all students, without identifying the individual who asked the question. Students send or post questions about course material and are encouraged to answer each other's questions. Faculty members can monitor these exchanges to gauge student understanding and progress. Faculty hold "electronic office hours" in addition to traditional ones, so that students can ask a question and receive an answer almost immediately. This approach is becoming more common at institutions with a large commuter population, where students cannot always attend the faculty member's office hours. Faculty require drafts of student papers to be submitted electronically; not only does this make it easier for some faculty to review the draft, it forces the student to become familiar with technology used in the workplace. Faculty members distribute or post homework assignments, homework solutions, exam solutions, and other supplemental information electronically. Faculty create electronic "suggestion boxes" where students can post their comments about the course; consult the administrator of your campus e-mail system for ways to make the postings anonymous. Choosing and Using Electronic Technologies Before reviewing particular software, it is important to know which course goal it will help you to achieve. The next step is to talk to publishers, colleagues, and personnel from your campus's academic computing department. Lists such as those published by Boettcher (1993) and Kozma Advantages of Interactive Computer Software Increased motivation because software packages offer feedback and respond to the questions and uncertainties of the student. Increased enjoyment of learning because students shift from the passive role of receiving knowledge to the more active role of becoming seekers of knowledge. Reduced learning time due to personalized instruction which accommodates different learning styles. Self-paced instruction encourages the student to invest the time in weak areas rather than in areas they have already mastered. Increased retention from the enhanced engagement and participation of the learner. Mastery can be more nearly ensured because programs can be designed so that new material will not be covered until the current material is mastered by the student. Privacy because students interact on a one-on-one level and are free to ask questions without feeling intimidated or embarrassed. Opportunity to conduct simulated laboratory procedures and experiments which are too dangerous or expensive to be performed by students, or which require expensive laboratory equipment.
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and Johnson (1991) describe award-winning software developed by faculty members. Many software vendors offer demonstration disks that illustrate many of their products' features. In addition to working with the demonstration disks yourself, invite students to give you feedback on the product. After purchasing software for student use, you should invest the time necessary to maximize its benefit to students. Some class time (or special sessions in a computer lab) may be needed to teach the students how to use the software effectively. If students will use the product outside of class, introduce the software to the staff at the campus computer labs, so that they will be prepared to answer students' questions. Faculty usually need to develop "courseware" to help guide the students through the software. The great advantage of multimedia systems is that the combined audio and visual explanation helps students learn and remember. But to avoid student frustration with interactive systems, instructors should make their expectations clear and should provide opportunities for students to get assistance.