who’s still using a textbook?


Though I have dozens of organizations-related textbooks on my bookshelves – for the past several years I have not used one for the classes I have taught (e.g., organization theory, organizational behavior, international management).  It seems that for the topics I teach there is plenty of accessible first-hand, academic (or somewhat distilled) material that one can put together in electronic format (and its free), and thus I really don’t see the need for textbooks.  Yes, textbooks do give you testbanks, many now come with all kinds of nifty clips, exercises, ppt slides and various gimmicks, but, I feel like a tailored readings list (along with some associated cases) works infinitely better.  I can focus on the matters that I think are essential, prepare my own notes, and, I believe the end result is a much better learning experience. 

In business schools, however, I don’t dare quite go the route that Brayden does in his sociology classes – he for example assigned Ferraro, Pfeffer, and Sutton’s recent AMR piece (see his post here, which also highlights his students positive reactions) for his undergraduate sociology students to read, while my students perhaps get a somewhat more practically-oriented angle on various organizational matters (the readings tend to come from academic books chapters, AME, HBR, SMR, Organizational Dynamics-type journals etc). Frankly, I think however that there is much to be said for moving a bit more toward a core disciplines-type model even in business schools, as some of our previous posts have suggested. 

I did actually slip in an org theory classic into my org behavior class this semester – Meyer and Rowan’s Formal Structure as Myth and Ceremony.  Our discussion ended up being excellent (well, it was also enhanced with a clip that I found from Curb Your Enthusiasm that brilliantly illustrates the article’s thesis, and, I prefaced the reading with plenty of heads-up warning about the academic jargon that they were about to encounter).  After clearing up some confusion around language – we nicely covered important issues related to organizational environment, the origins of structure, rationality, legitimacy etc. 

I am not going to go on the record suggesting the demise of the college textbook, though, as I have talked to colleagues in b-schools and sociology about their teaching, my sense is that 80% plus go sans textbook.


Written by teppo

December 1, 2006 at 6:19 am

Posted in academia, books, education, teppo

7 Responses

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  1. I agree that textbooks are often not the best way to go. I say this as someone who has gone both ways and I also am an author of a social psychology textbook. I think the text can be good though at times. I found them more helpful when I was first teaching–especially for a really broad survey course like intro to sociology. I knew nothing about a good chunk of the topics and the book helped to provide a foundation for me to work with. I also think that some texts can help students sort of “map the field” in a way you don’t usually get from a selection of originals. But that can be provided in other ways as well.

    There is another issue with texts that may contribute to their demise–its getting less worthwhile to write them. The amount of money the authors receive on books the company is selling for ridiculously high prices is a joke. Not to mention that with the used book market becoming so much more efficient, editions cycle more quickly, thereby increasing the amount of work you have to do to keep up. Sure their are a few people who are getting rich off of text books, but most don’t sell enough to really make it worth the effort.


    Dna Myers

    December 1, 2006 at 7:24 am

  2. ‘twould be nice if I could spell my own name correctly… -D


    Dan Myers

    December 1, 2006 at 7:26 am

  3. Hmmm… I’m currently an undergrad business major, and I would feel so lost without my textbook. I read the chapters before we go over it in class, and its incredibly helpful to hear pretty much the same stuff repeated 2 different ways. We had handouts for some other classes I’ve taken, and I tend to get a little confused about what we’re supposed to get out of them. Articles tend to also be more wordy and less informative than textbooks–it feels like you have to read more per each concept.



    December 1, 2006 at 12:45 pm

  4. I teach only upper-division courses and so my perspective is a little slanted. At this level (mostly seniors) textbooks have seemed inappropriate. One of my goals in those classes is to help them become sociologically literate. Now that they’ve had two years of education leading up to it, I feel like they should be prepared to read, comprehend and discuss academic sociology and not just expect me or a text to spoon-feed them concepts. Starting next semester my department is also requiring every undergrad sociology major to take a regression course, and so hopefully more of them will enter my classes better prepared to discuss statistics too.
    That said, I can see why textbooks would be useful in the lower-level courses. I’ve never taught intro to soc, I but imagine that freshman and sophmores would panic if I threw Meyer and Rowan at them. Aren’t a lot of intro textbooks now accompanied with a reader? If so, I’d probably consider using both.



    December 1, 2006 at 1:47 pm

  5. The other reason I don’t use textbooks is that I like to mix things up in my class too much to be bound by a text. Every semester I take off a few readings and add a few more. It keeps the class fresh and keeps me interested in teaching it. Again, this is probably easier to do in an upper-division course.

    Students really seem to enjoy the challenge of reading from the academic sources too. I’ve had a few students tell me that they like the challenge and feel like they’re learning.



    December 1, 2006 at 2:57 pm

  6. In an intro course, I think it is a good idea to have students read some original stuff. My most successful attempts at intro combined a readable text with 3 or 4 solid, generally interesting books (Freedom Summer, Second Shift, Declining Significance of Race–that sort).

    I’m not a huge fan of readers but mainly just because they have a tendency to pick a lot of stuff that doesn’t match what I’m planning to emphasize and then the students are buyng a lot of pages I’m not going to assign. Plus editors change the selections too much from edition to edition and when you have activities constructed around a specific article, you have to rearrange too much when the new edition comes out.


    Dan Myers

    December 1, 2006 at 3:31 pm

  7. […] (and heretofore), but all I could find in my cursory search was Teppo’s helpful post on moving away from textbooks and a few others that he links to there. The class I have been asked to teach is a mid- to […]


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