Sunday, December 12, 2010

Textbook Poll Results

Here are results from the first 77 responses to the textbook poll I mentioned recently. Charts are via Google's api, and numbers for the pie charts are percentages. I don't really know who ended up taking this, unfortunately, but my guess is that it is predominantly undergraduates at the University of Virginia.

  1. How likely would you be to purchase an optional textbook for a math course, if it were a reasonable price?
    One of the fill-ins was: "Only if I perceived to be beneficial to my grade."
  2. Would you be comfortable using a student compiled textbook for a math course if your professor used it as the main textbook for the course?
  3. If you were taking a mathematics course and your professor provided you access to a free, online textbook in addition to your regular textbook, how likely would you be to reference the additional book for extra help and problems?

    With a write-in "Depends on how well I understand the respective material."
  4. If a free digital copy of a textbook were legally available online, how likely would you be to buy a paper version?
  5. To what extent do you use your textbook in a math course? (multiple answers allowed, counts are number of respondents). The available answers were: "I real all relevant sections", "I skim example problems", "To do extra unassigned problems", "I focus on highlighted formulas", and "Only to do assigned problems".

    Also a few fill-ins:
    • Whenever I find I don't understand a topic I find the book explains it in a very simple understandable way.
    • To try and find lost-related Equations
    • Reference tables and equations in the back of book
    • never
    • Paperweight
    • I do not own a textbook
  6. What changes/improvements would you like to see in how textbooks are structured?

    Here's a sampling of answers:
    • A couple comments about digital versions:
      • "Putting textbooks online is hard for a lot of people (including myself!) to read from"
      • "would prefer more kindle/e-reader-friendly books".
    • Some about textbook usage in relation to class:
      • "Perhaps if the textbook order followed the order are curriculum is taught."
      • "Force students to use the textbook by alternating between online homework and maybe do quizzes based out of the book."
      • "More similarity between the material taught in class and the material in the textbook and more sample problems."
    • Some miscellaneous comments:
      • "Less space on corny math jokes. More space on actual math."
      • "More colorful; Black and white only is hard to look at and discourages you from using the book"
    • Most of the responses were about examples and solutions:
      • More examples
      • More and more-detailed examples of problems; detailed answers in the back of the book
      • More concrete examples and better solutions to the problems
      • To have more examples problems where the problem is worked out step by step and explained
      • clearer example problem presentation, clearer explanation of concepts
      • In the example section of a chapter, I would like to see questions that are actually challenging, something that will actually be on the test. The textbook companies always provide the most basic examples, which most of the time, are not helpful for actual application later.
      • When working out sample problems in each section split the problem into two sides. The left side would have the actual mathematical processes with each individual step shown. The right side would have the processes explained in words, not just symbols, which would make each step more understandable.
      • more steps to the answers
      • i would like to see example problems with full explanations of EACH step as well as a break down of definitions into simpler terms.
      • Solutions that show the work
      • More examples of how to solve hard problems, instead of just the basics.  If the point is to learn the material, why just assign really difficult applications of the principles as problems when you could just as easily show us how to solve them in the body of the text?
      • Many of the problems in the textbook seem rather easy compared to the problems on WebWork or questions asked on the test. It would be nice to have more problems in the textbook that would be comparable in difficulty to the UVA level of calculus.
      • Answers to every problem not just odds.
      • I think they are good but textbooks ought to have answers for all the problems - our textbook has answers for just the odd problems.
      • More examples would be nice, because for many people that is the best way to learn - by examining problems and understanding why they are done a particular way.  Also, better explanations of each step in given examples.
      • Make more sense with it. Show answers for EVERY PROBLEM and show how the answer is SOLVED. Don't just use one example and then hope that the people can figure out how to do the rest of the assigned problems. Show all the steps involved to do each problem. Make an ""answer"" textbook instead of putting the answers in the back, so that way people can have the assigned problems AND the answer textbook open so they can understand the steps required to solve the problems. It may sound like people are just going to copy the work, and maybe they will, but the answers will show a thorough way of how to solve the problems, which will help people do much better on quizzes and tests overall.
  7. Do you have any additional comments or feedback?

    A sampling:
    • "The text book we have no has not helped me at all - my teacher explains everything we need to know, so the only use it has is practice problems. In the future I would suggest saving students thousands of dollars and not making a textbook mandatory"
    • "Try not to use all the example problems from the text book, it takes away a student's resource if the lectures are not helping."
    • "I haven't opened my textbook at all this year."
    • There were also two comments about how textbooks are too expensive.

    There was also a fairly lengthy response expounding on the virtues of e-books and the ePub format in particular. It mentioned how videos right in the textbook "could be a cool new way of learning mathematics." And apparently this student loves his or her iPad:
    iPad and tablets will run rampant in education/academia in the next 5 years. My iPad has transformed the way I take notes, do my reading for class, organize my life, and access my material. I have never been so prepared for class in my life, I don't necessarily do anything beyond what is assigned, I just now have the time to do it on-the-go, interactively, and efficiently. It's one of those cases where I am working smarter, not harder. And I owe it all to the iPad streamlining my academic life. Textbooks are going paperless and nearly half of mine are (all on my iPad).
Perhaps the thing that struck me the most about these results were all of the comments about examples. Many students seem to want answers to all of the problems in the book, not just the odds, and also want more detailed solutions. I can certainly see the appeal of this to students, and how it might seem helpful. However, I'm not sure that it actually would be helpful. Unfortunate as it may be, struggling through problems yourself seems to me to be a better way to really learn the content, instead of relying on textbook solutions. It's too easy to get stuck, look in the back, see what was done, and then think you understand what is going on. It's the same problem one of my students mentioned this semester: students may think they understand what's going on when they are listening to me talk about examples, but then feel stumped when they get to doing problems by themselves. Certainly I'm happy to hear that things make sense when I talk about them. But if students think they understand what's going because they can follow lectures and examples in the book, they may be fooling themselves. The only test is to struggle through problems without a guide (until you really need it).

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