Switching textbooks for an established class: Bad idea or worst idea?

I’ve been using the same textbook for my Intro to Anthropology course since 2008 and now I’ve got that itch to go upsetting everything by choosing a new book. Originally, I didn’t put much thought into choosing this book either. I just copied whatever textbook the more senior professor was using. Hey! I was a grad student and writing my diss, okay?

The textbook is just fine. My class is good. I’ve got good lectures, assignments, and examples. But I just can’t leave well enough alone. I want a new book.

As an adjunct instructor I have little say in what I teach — whatever the chair wants the chair gets. So I’m saddled with teaching Introduction to Anthropology now and into the foreseeable future. I do have the power the determine my students’ assignments and I’ve created a real nice set up balancing a good physical anthropology textbook with short cultural anthropology articles. In the past I’ve allowed for a ‘recommended’ text to supplement this, but now I’m seriously thinking about switching things up big time.

Am I being foolish?

I’ll give a counter example. Once upon a time (at a different job) I was given Food and Culture to teach, something outside my area of expertise. The first semester, honestly, it wasn’t that great. So the following semester I completely retooled it. That was a smart move and it improved the class.

This is different. This is my Intro class which I’ve taught a bazillion times and now I’m bored with it. I want to do something new, but I can’t. But maybe I could get the same thrill from starting over from scratch?

Of course there’s room for improvement without touching the book. Like any competent professor I continue to tweak my established courses, keeping the things that work and altering or eliminating the things that fall flat. I could do more of that. Or I could do something even more radical like introduce a new topic and drop another.

But the class is fine. This is stupid. Why am I screwing everything up when it already works? The one great perq of my job is that it is easy and switching books will only make me work more.

I want a new book!

Matt Thompson

Matt Thompson is Project Cataloger at The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia, and currently working on a CLIR ‘hidden collections’ grant to describe the museum’s collection of early 20th Century photography. He has a doctorate in anthropology from the University of North Carolina and a Masters in information science from the University of Tennessee.

6 thoughts on “Switching textbooks for an established class: Bad idea or worst idea?

  1. Change the book, and be sure to include something that you you need to read carefully in whatever part of anthropology which rings your bell the loudest. It is also ok if one of your books is a bit above the level of the students. They will have to stretch to read it, and you will stretch in explaining to them what it is all about.

    Changing books is one of the few privileges of being a adjunct–take advantage of it!

  2. The main person you are teaching when you start out is yourself. It’s a pity that the students have to sit there watching you do it, but they learn something from it and they like being taught by someone whose situation is nearer to their own. You would be wasting your time as well as theirs if you stuck with something you already knew. Hence the need for a new book.

  3. Let me present an argument for not changing the book–the expense for the students. If you’ve taught this class enough times, that means there are enough used copies of the book in circulation around the university that you teach at for the students to be able to pick up a cheap copy without too much trouble.

    I teach an intro level archaeology class, and I specifically chose my textbook because it was one that other profs had used, and that I had seen used copies of in the school bookstore. It’s fairly expensive new, but significantly cheaper used.

    Of course, if your textbook doesn’t cost very much, maybe this issue is less important, but it is certainly something I think about, with the price of textbooks being what it is.

  4. I’d probably do a hybrid–keep the textbook (Quentin’s argument is a v. convincing one) but shake things up a bit by including an new article or two that I really like and that would stretch my students and me to think in different ways.

    That way, you bring some freshness into the course without creating TONS of new work for yourself.

  5. If you’re going to teach the class the same way it doesn’t really matter what book you use. If you’re bored with the class it sounds like you need to reimagine it from the ground up – I suggest you look at doing it via backward design. You might end up with way more than just a new textbook.

  6. I’ve opted to teach the class backwards. I’ve always taught Intro to Anth by starting with evolution and ending with cultural topics. This time out I’m going to start with cultural anthropology and end with the biological. Anybody ever try it that way?

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