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William is an Assistant Professor at Mount Saint Vincent University in the Department of Business Administration and Tourism and Hospitality Management. He is fascinated by research around how individuals construct and create their social realities, intrigued with the powers of creativity and innovation, and an avid proponent of outstanding service experiences. When not teaching, writing, or researching, he tries to spend time with his family and occasionally paint. He is currently completing his PhD in Management at Saint Mary’s University.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Walking the walk in the first week back

I haven’t written much here in the last few days. The first week or two back into a new semester are always a tad chaotic and disjointed, no matter how well you plan. So I have been writing, but just other things.

The first exciting piece of news is that I’ve resubmitted a chapter of my dissertation for review. This little victory came from following my writing goal (captured Jan 2nd on Mark Leslie’s blog) and getting up very early each day to craft bits and move it forward. Yeah me! Now I’m starting to work on some administrative paperwork and ethics approval forms, followed by the next chapter and then likely some revisions.

Mostly though, I’ve been reading textbooks, taking notes and solving problems. Yup, just like a student. And no, I’m not taking these courses – I’m teaching them.

There is a method to my madness. I’ve encountered the ‘we don’t read the textbook’ groups; maybe it’s a generational thing, but who has time for a new research project right now. Many of my students are buying the textbooks, but not reading them. Boring, they say. But sometimes that’s just how the presentation of information is the first time.

At first, I pondered about the demise of attention spans in this, the YouTube generation. (I don’t hate me YouTube; I spend more time than I should watching stuff there.) Then, I thought about the ramifications of the whole group of parents/teachers who focused on self-esteem over real accomplishments. This might be the outcome of that failed esteem love fest; Johnny won’t read the textbook because is makes him feel confused and sad with all the new information he has to work to understand.

The question I was faced with is how to address this, not accept it. Do I rant about it? Perhaps waggle my finger and shout “thou shalt read the text!” Fear is an effective motivator? Then I had a different thought.

My students struggle with reading, with writing and math. (Do not get me going on the public education system teaching actual skills.) Perhaps it’s just the case that no one ever taught them how to independently approach the material in a textbook.

So, for the next few weeks, if not the whole semester, I will read everything that I assign to my students, approaching it from their point of view. I’m highlighting key items and definitions right in my text, making notes in the margins, and summarizing the chapters in my own words and with my own examples. On paper. With a pen.

I’m showing them what I’m doing as well. I pass around my notes so they can see. We spend 5 minutes talking about the structure of the chapter, how to deconstruct it, and what the author is actually trying to focus your attention on. I’m sharing my stories of what I think the material is saying to me. I want them to start sharing their notes, their stories of engaging with the textbook, even where they thought it was dry or thick. I’ll tell you how this ends up, success or a failed experiment, down the road.

Right now, I would love to hear your thoughts on getting students engaged in the reading process, whether textbooks or other resources? Let me know. But, I have to run now; a few more pages call out to me before tomorrow’s class.


  1. My grandfather always said that university was where you went to teach yourself how to learn. Sounds like that's exactly what you're helping them do. As to reading, I always found that being graded on the material was sufficient motivation to read/comprehend it... but then, I'm old school.

  2. How to get/keep students engaged in reading?
    The perennial question in the publishing realm. We started with Canadian examples, locations, and context with which students would be familiar. We asked our authors to write less academically, in a more relatable voice, to "tell a story". We included more examples and real life applications. We added cases so the students could see how the ideas worked in practice. We added photographs, and visuals in full colour. We included learning objectives upfront and concept maps at then end of the chapter. Key terms were added to the margins and definitions for more challenging words too. We include chapter opening "vignettes", true life stories based on topics of interest to students. Despite this, there is still a huge contingent of students how do not read. We are now beginning to cull extraneous content and streamline the books. We now have bar code scans in books that provide access to study content on your mobile device...maybe this will help? This is the age of 30-second attention spans - where to next?
    As for the cause - low expectations from parents, no accountability in school & brutal role models on tv.

  3. I rarely read a textbook while in University. That being sheepishly admitted, I think the reason was, that almost all of my professors taught the same material in class as could be found within the pages of the textbooks they required you purchase. (For an ridiculous price I might add)
    Teaching material that not only compliments and builds upon the material taught in class, but is also part of the marking scheme seemed like the best way to encourage students (meaning me approximately 12 years ago!) to actually buy, and read the textbook.


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