Sunday, November 14, 2010

Can We Know the Sources of Pseudocontext?

There is a saying that a camel is a horse designed by committee.  I am starting to think that textbooks suffer from the same problem.

On the blog dy/dan, there is a comment by josh g. on pseudocontext.  He is responding to my comment. Here is an excerpt of josh's comment.
I guess that’s part of why I keep coming back to trying to imagine the process in which these kinds of problems get written. We should be able to critique these problems in a way that deconstructs where these things come from, not one that just points the fingers at particular authors or even just specific problems.
I agree with josh completely.  I think that those of us who are worried about pseudocontext are starting to be able to see the boundary between context and pseudocontext.  So, looking for specific examples is not as important now.

What I did learn about textbook writing this week is that there are many different people who are involved in the process.  There is the author, project manager (I met two at the dinner), the editor, the supplemental materials authors, and the reviewers.  I guess that a textbook is the camel designed by committee.

I asked several different people about who controls the content of the text book.  Everybody answered that the authors have a lot of freedom in the content of the text.  Every problem is written by the authors.  However, one person mentioned that the reviews influence the number and type of exercises in each section.  There are nineteen reviewers for the textbook from which I took the example from the post.  I've seen texts with a full page of reviewers' names.

So, imagine that you are a textbook author and you just finished your masterpiece of a text.  The reviews come in, and the editor says that you need to include three more word problem in the section on systems of linear equation, and fifty new word problems in the entire text.  You have to get everything done next week so that the publisher can get the book to print, incorporate your problems into their flagship online homework system, and add them to the solutions manual.  You need to do this on top of your teaching load.

I don't know first hand about publishing a textbook.  If my scenario is far fetched, then please correct me (politely) in the comments.  However, I can see how well intentioned and intelligent authors get stuck with problems that they don't like in their texts.

There are two ways that I can think of to get involved in improving the quality of our textbooks.  Both options require a time commitment on your part.
  1. Become an author.  Textbook companies are looking for authors.  If you have the next great textbook in your head, get it on paper.  You can also self-publish, but be sure to cover all your bases before going that route.
  2. Review textbooks for publishers.  I've been asked once to review textbooks, and that's after only four years of teaching.  I declined because I had six preps that semester.  You could go looking for opportunities.  There is a small amount of money to be earned