BTB #195: Usability Studies in Textbook Design

Usability of Complex Information Systems, Evaluation of User InteractionMichael Greer“We’re in the midst of a fundamental transformation in the way people read,” declares textbook editor and former English professor Michael Greer. Collaborating with Prof. Tharon Howard of Clemson University, Greer has contributed to the just-published collection, Usability of Complex Information Systems, Evaluation of User Interaction. Their account of textbook usability studies with contemporary college students reveals that “the conventions that teachers are familiar with are not familiar to students.”

Greer spoke with Chris Kenneally while attending PubWest 2010, the annual conference of the Publishers Association of the West, held earlier this month in Santa Fe.

“Students interact with websites, with apps, with various kinds of information products that are both like and unlike books,” he noted. “They’re coming of age in a culture that is one of digital literacy, and we don’t really know what that means. There is perhaps a fundamental disconnect between the literacy that their teachers practice in the classroom, and the literacy that those students have grown up with.”

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4 Responses to “BTB #195: Usability Studies in Textbook Design”

  1. Ray Taylor November 14, 2010 at 3:37 pm #

    “the conventions that teachers are familiar with are not familiar to students.”

    Um…. isn’t the whole point of going to college becoming familiar with [academic] conventions?

    I agree that textbooks are incommensurate with the experience and skills of students, but they always have been. The whole issue is about the obsession with the presentation of facts as opposed to effective ways to represent ideas. If academics could write about ideas they would be successful writers and probably not in academia.

  2. khouloud Khammassi March 30, 2011 at 11:47 am #

    @ Ray Taylor: Let’s agree — or try to agree — first that textbooks are teaching aids and not the only/main vehicle to transfer knowledge. Learning is a social event and therefore it is a permanent negotiation between the instructor and the learner. Therefore, standardizing textbooks is a way to reduce the pressure on the learner by increasing familiarity with using e-textbook and obviously shifting the focus to content. Now, the content is a different issue. It is bound to the political, economic, ideological, etc preferences of communities.

  3. Matt April 27, 2011 at 6:21 pm #

    Also, when you say “…isn’t the whole point of going to college becoming familiar with [academic] conventions?” one way to interpret what you asked is to say, it is the job of the student to adopt the old conventions, ignore all advances in psychological science that say there is a way we can help students learn more, faster, and just accept what those before us had to use. If that were the thinking in all industries, we wouldn’t have computers, online classes, social networking, cell phones, etc, all of which can potentially increase our productivity which increases what we contribute, which increases our knowledge. I can call 911 in the forest now because I have a cell phone. I can connect with scholars on LinkedIn and increase my knowledge.

    It’s okay to challenge the usability of textbooks. There could be some untapped method of delivering information to students that might increase learning dramatically, and if so all the better for society and the advances it would bring. I’m not saying there is, but why fight it. I don’t agree with making college easier, but I think the illusion of education becoming easier may just be a bi-product of more efficient, more permanent learning.

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  1. What Students Can Teach Textbook Authors | CCC's Beyond the Book - November 18, 2012

    […] 2010, also at the annual PubWest conference, Greer discussed “Usability Studies in Textbook Design.” Collaborating with Prof. Tharon Howard of Clemson University, Greer had contributed to the […]

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