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The midterm is coming up in my survey class without a textbook, and this has given me two thought about this experiment. Both are good.
1) A lovely thing about assigning documents rather than a textbook is that each individual document can conceivably show up in a student’s essay to prove their arguments. Textbooks have lots of facts, of course. If anything though, they give rise to a forest through the trees problem there are so many. I literally can’t remember the last time I’ve ever seen any discreet fact from a textbook that I haven’t mentioned in lecture show up in a test essay. Documents, besides their value as primary sources, are discreet pieces of information all by themselves. I’ve become optimistic that I might read about the reading I’ve assigned while grading for the first time for a long time. I’m hoping less reading will actually come through better since they might actually read it and remember it better.
2) I’ve seen offers from the big textbook companies to create your own textbook. Since Milestone Documents has opened the whole site to subscribers, I can actually tell students that they’re free to read anything from the years we’re covering whether I assigned it or not. It’s a nice way to offer some of the encyclopedic qualities of a giant textbook without wasting all that paper.
PS to Neil: Since I know you’re reading this, put me down for another semester. I can’t tell how well the students like this, but I know that I’m certainly happier doing things this way and shouldn’t that count for more since I’m the one who’s supposed to decide whether they’re learning anything?