The role of the textbook; the role of the instructor

woman standing at podium; foreground are backs of students headsThis semester, I am teaching a face-to-face Social Problems class. After the first class meeting, a student asked, “Will the test be mostly memorization of terms in the book?” This question prompted two thoughts. First, do most large undergraduate level classes focus on memorization of terms for assessment purposes, and second, I must make it explicit to the class what is my role as its instructor.

For me, the instructor’s role is to connect abstract concepts to concrete examples/illustrations. The textbook is a necessary tool for introducing students to the language of a field or content area, and providing definitions of concepts, terms, and ideas; however the textbook is just the beginning of the learning experience. A skilled and thoughtful instructor must establish the relevance of the content and use relevant media and multi-media to draw a clear line from the abstract to the concrete- guiding the learner to a depth of learning that the textbook alone cannot provide. Indeed, most of my preparation for class meetings consists of searching for and vetting media that will assist with demonstrating the concept, terms, and ideas covered in the textbook.

For more on the importance of demonstration in learning to illustrate concepts; procedures, processes, and behaviors, see M. David Merrill’s paperĀ First Principles of Instruction, particularly the Demonstration Principle, or his book by the same name.