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September 22, 2005

Teaching from Your Textbooks

There's a raging debate going on at Liberty and Power Group Blog and the Volokh Conspiracy (discussion here). Aeon Skoble posted a very thoughtful discussion entitled, "A Textbook of Cluelessness," in which he criticizes Law Professor Ian Ayres, who argues that it is "borderline unethical for profs to assign textbooks they have produced."

Here is how I replied to this assertion today on L&P:

My, my, I've just looked at all these comments and the ones at Volokh too! Some are calling for Aeon's prosecution now for "profiting" from the pittance he makes in royalties if he assigns his books to his students.
Frankly, I'm at a loss.
If you teach a course on Marx's concept of alienation, and you happen to have written the book on Marx's concept of alienation, what's wrong with assigning the book to the class? That's what Professor Bertell Ollman did when I took his course on Marxism. And I profited enormously.
And when I teach cyberseminars on my own work, I have to assign my books. I'm teaching them! In a sense, what could be more fulfilling than reading and studying a text that your own professor has written? If you have questions about the book, what better source to ask?
I realize this is not the issue at hand: People are just ticked off that somebody somewhere might be making 4 cents in royalties. Clearly those who are upset over this have no clue about the standard academic contracts that require an author to sell 1000 or 5000 books before even making a dime on anything, on a sliding scale that nets you a couple of hundred dollars a year if you are lucky! (There are exceptions to this, of course, but they are exceptions). If some think we're in this for the money, well... we picked the wrong profession, folks!
As an aside, I've done some work on pre-Bolshevik education in Russia, prior to the Communist takeover. One of the things that really irritated Narkompros (the "Commissariat of Enlightenment") [once the Bolsheviks took over] was the fact that Old Guard professors were... HORRORS!... lecturing and using their own books as texts in their classes. Such books projected the individual professor's interpretation of history or philosophy, rather than the politically correct and approved version. As the Old Guard was exiled or shot, the requisite PC texts slowly replaced everything else. If you happen to have been an approved Marxist, you could teach your own PC text at that point. Otherwise, fuhgedaboudit!

Comments welcome.

August 18, 2005

My Interview at Sunni's Salon

The tenth anniversary celebrations continue this afternoon with the publication of my interview at Sunni's Salon. I have known Sunni Maravillosa for a long time, and she's a total sweetheart. Her interview of me is comprehensive, wide-ranging, sometimes intimate, and always entertaining.

The 8-page interview starts here.

Comments welcome.

August 04, 2005

The Art of Cyber-Pedagogy

Yesterday, I read a really interesting article by Michael J. Bugeja in The Chronicle of Higher Education, entitled "Master (or Mistress) of Your Domain" (shades of Jerry), with the descriptive subtitle: "Creating a Web site for your latest book can showcase the work and aid your case for tenure and promotion."

I'll put aside the issue of aiding one's case for tenure and promotion. I'd like to suggest that it might actually aid one's cause (which might not actually aid one's tenure or promotion). And I think more classical liberal and libertarian scholars should consider doing it.

First, let's take a look at Bugeja's points. He writes:

For better or worse, the Internet is playing a larger role in editorial decisions about books and in promotion and tenure evaluations. It is commonplace for external reviewers to Google Web sites or troll databases before rendering their decisions on behalf of publishing houses and institutions.
Search committees also are using the Web to evaluate the writing or scholarship of job applicants before inviting them to on-campus interviews. ...

I advise authors to create a Web site with the title of their texts as the domain name and to assemble other sites with domain names identifying their scholarship. ... Authors are responsible for getting their books reviewed, purchased by libraries, and adopted by professors for use in research or in the classroom. In the past, that required an author to fill out a questionnaire for the publisher, identifying editors, book reviewers, and colleagues who might have interest in the work. The Internet has changed that.

Bugeja explains how he marshalled his own resources to promote his own work. Who is a better salesperson than the person who authors the work and knows it, inside-out? He "e-mailed reviewers and technology columnists, directing them to the Web site" he had established for his book, "asking if they would like a copy. Several said yes, generating reviews and citations that I added to my site under 'latest news.' Without the site, the book would have died along with the trees that gave it life at the printing press. Instead, it went on to win a research award with reviews in top publications. That's the benefit of a book site."

Bugeja tells us that his book site boosted classroom sales too. He reminds us that those who surf the web expect some things for free. The Internet may not be a "medium for professors concerned about copyright issues or intellectual property," but Bugeja encourages authors "to share [their] pedagogies or methodologies," giving readers, potential teachers and students alike, "all manner of free information, including lectures for each chapter; sample syllabi for large, middle-range, senior, master's, and doctoral classes; end-of-chapter materials; forms for paper assignments, journal exercises, and presentations; sample midterms and final exams; a bibliography; and an index." He even provides

a 103-page instructor's manual in both Word and PDF formats. Online manuals save the publisher printing costs and allow potential users to manipulate syllabi, lectures, and other downloads. The most popular free feature on my site is a twice-monthly teaching module meant to stimulate classroom discussion. To date, I've added more than two dozen such modules to the site on content too topical to include in a new edition but nonetheless related to the concept of the work.

I especially like Bugeja's suggestion that authors archive "reviews, recent articles, and information about" themselves. I've been doing such things for over ten years now on my own site, and I've had URL forwarding for the titles of all of my books. Just try typing totalfreedomtowardadialecticallibertarianism.com or, more simply, marxhayekandutopia.com, and see where that takes you. I'll never forget how my pal and colleague, Lester Hunt, once characterized my site. Linking to it from his site, he wrote: "Chris is a true liberal. In the interest of provoking dialogue, he puts some very adverse criticisms of his controversial work on his site, together with his replies." I think that's actually very important. And I think more liberal/libertarian scholars should be doing it precisely because it documents the history of a discussion of a particular work, while also providing the basis for future dialogue.

The one thing authors should not supply, of course, is: the book. But links to services where you can order the book online are always helpful. As Bugeja puts it: "That's the point of the site, and all links lead to that outcome."

I've not yet put a syllabus for my books online, but I do have one available for use in a cyberseminar that I give now and then on my "Dialectics and Liberty" trilogy. But Bugeja has given me a good idea about developing more study guides and syllabi for my various publications so as to facilitate their use in the classroom.

It would be a good idea, I think, if those in the liberal/libertarian academy do more to develop these kinds of web resources in a more formal manner. It is one way to develop a "parallel institution" of learning, while at the same time providing a blueprint for the use of such materials in established institutions of learning. Additionally, it gives each of us, as authors of the works, a chance to frame the discussion in a way that is most likely to generate further interest in our own contributions and the contributions of our colleagues in the libertarian academy. I've seen some development of this model on the sites of some of my colleagues; in the light of Bugeja's essay, I think this is something that can benefit each of us individually and the cause of liberty more generally.

Comments welcome. Cross-posted to L&P, where comments are posted here.