If You Build it, They Might Read
BY KEVIN DIFFILY // MARCH 26, 2012 //
Every Curry student must take “Fundamentals of Communication” to fulfill a CLAC requirement. They’re also required to purchase a dense textbook at a price that ranges from $60 to $130, depending on where and how one buys it.
Those who teach the class, and many of the students who take it, agree that the course carries great value. But the book…not so much.
For that reason, a number of professors in the Communication Department are working to create their own textbook for student use. Led by Professor Brecken Chinn Swartz, the group is looking to shelve the current book, “Communicating Effectively,” 10th edition, and develop something more user friendly for students.
Swartz said she and other professors in the Communication Department had discussed using a different textbook for all sections of the course—because it’s a CLAC requirement, between 6 and 15 sections are offered each semester—but came to realize that nothing met all desires. So, Swartz suggested that the group write its own book, “a team approach that would allow everybody to contribute their expertise into the course content and the teaching methods,” she said.
To date, those contributing to different chapters of the book include professors John Barrett, Dorria DiManno, Nina Hofman, Marcy Holbrook, Jerry Gibbs, Roberta Kosberg, Rob MacDougall, Vicki Nelson, Sharon Sinnott, Ruth Spillberg and Swartz, all of the Communication Department.
Swartz said the goal is to create a book that is less like a classic textbook and more interactive. The new book, with a working title of “Communicating Well: A Fundamental Toolkit,” will give a broad overview of certain concepts so that professors “can really talk around it, without all of the stories being told in the book, which we think is not effective for how students read these days.
“It was amazing how coherently our vision fell together in terms of the kinds of chapters that we wanted, the way we wanted to approach the book, the format of it, and the graphics of it,” Swartz added. “We’ve really been amazingly on the same page.
“It’s not just about the field of communications and what the main concepts are,” she said. “We’re hoping that the management student, the nursing student, the computer science student would be able to use the concepts in the book…for small-group communication, professional communication, and our way of viewing communication in the world.”
Jeremy Kittredge, a sophomore criminal justice major, agreed that the book Swartz described would be a vast improvement over the text he used in his “Fundamentals of Communication” class. “I didn’t really like [the old book] because it was too bland,” he said. “I felt like a lot of the material was just unnecessary. It was way too dry and specific.
“Students who are taking ‘Communication’ simply to fulfill a requirement have no interest in reading about the in-depth specifics of nonverbal communication, for example,” Kittredge added. “I’d rather have the basic concepts detailed in the book and have the professor talk about them in class.”
Mark Doneghey, a sophomore biology major, echoed that sentiment. “The old book was an absurd amount of reading,” he said. “It was just overwhelming.”
“Communicating Well: A Fundamental Toolkit” will be offered as a hard-copy book only. However, Swartz said the book would include worksheet pages and that it will cost markedly less than the current offering. Whereas students like Kittredge and Doneghey reportedly paid about $80 for their books, the new text will hopefully cost around $30, Swartz said.
Contributing professors are working to have their final manuscript sent to the publisher, Cognella Academic Publishing, by the end of this academic year so that the book can debut in the fall. Swartz said she hopes that next semester will serve as a trial and that professors can identify the strengths and weaknesses of the book and tweak it as needed for future use.
“Curry will be unique in that we have a textbook that is written by our faculty,” she said, “and we’re hoping we’ll be a leader in the industry.”