Current Reading

This blog is primarily for me to blog my responses to books that I'm reading. Sometimes I blog about other stuff too, though.

I'm currently reading Against Method by Paul Feyerabend.

Word cloud

Word cloud

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The hour is very, very late

I'll step away from blogging about books that I'm reading, and instead blog about an article.  Today in the Chronicle they published a press release (dolled up to look like journalism) about a company called zyBooks.  They apparently produce interactive online activities and presentations.  I think that such things are fine in many contexts, and can be a useful component of many sorts of classes.  So far, so good.

What bothers me is that the thrust of the sales pitch is not simply "These are great activities that make people think."  Rather, the thrust is that students don't like books, don't like lots of text, and so we should adapt.  It is one thing to believe that reading and activities are both important parts of a college-level science class.  I believe that such a stance is referred to as "common sense" or even "consensus."  It is quite another thing to disparage text and reading.  It is a sign of just how deeply-rooted the anti-intellectualism really is.

What's funny about this is that the physics profession already tried replacing a "wall of text" with graphics and activities. Introductory textbooks don't have a whole lot of plain text.  Instead, there are lots of sidebars with definitions and questions and color pictures and diagrams, and lots of section breaks and examples and checkpoints.  This style is commonly mocked for its sensory overload, and few students seem enamored of it.  Honestly, I can't blame them for not reading.  I've had students tell me how much they like Moore's Six Ideas-Unit R (which I use to teach relativity) or Eisberg and Resnick's Quantum Physics of Atoms, Molecules, Solids, Nuclei, and Particles (which I use to teach sophomore-level quantum physics).  Both books have a certain amount of diagrams, and Moore definitely has more bells and whistles than Eisberg, but they have far more text than the standard freshman books (and I've never had a student praise the freshman books).  My own experience is consistent with the student feedback: I can't say that my standard freshman books made much of an impression on me, but Feynman, Landau, and Purcell (all of which had far more text) certainly did.

The rot runs deep and the hour is late.  Reading is openly disparaged in marketing to faculty.  I know a person who has openly published articles bragging about how his general education class (ostensibly in a "science and society" category) requires no reading and is graded entirely on multiple-choice questions.  (It is only the thinnest pretext of civility that keeps me from naming names.)

I don't know what will happen next, but I think I'll take a break and read a book.

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