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Eye on Psi Chi: Winter 2008
On the Lighter Side: Advances in Textbook Publishing
Joseph J. Palladino, PhD, University of Southern Indiana
Mitchell M. Handelsman, PhD, University of Colorado at Denver

Copyright 2007 by The General Psychologist (Division One). Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

We are disheartened these days to find that students have such strong and widespread feelings of entitlement and are becoming more and more self-centered. We find it a sad commentary on today’s society and a gloomy predictor of tomorrow that students are more concerned about the prices of textbooks than about the truly important issues of the day—such as low professor salaries and exploitative indirect cost recovery (ICR) policies. One thing students and faculty can agree upon, however, is that the publishing industry needs to change and change fast. We are here just in the nick of time before Mother Nature hits the delete button on publishing. Prices are indeed going up and technological advances have made it difficult to do business as it has been. For example, delivery systems for information—many of them in alternative media—are proliferating, student reading patterns are changing, and faculty are experimenting with creative assignments, courses, and curricula.

Because we are so concerned about these issues, and because we can’t continue our research until ICR rates go up, we thought we’d enlighten you about how publishing houses are tackling the problems. During our last summer vacation (while the legislature was out of session and we weren’t lobbying for higher salaries), we visited a number of top publishing houses to get the scoop about innovative ideas in the textbook industry. The bad news was that it was a short trip, because all the major publishing houses (both of them) have merged, so it took us an afternoon in New Jersey to conduct all the interviews we needed. The good news was that many creative ideas should keep us all excited about teaching and learning for many years to come. In this article, we touch on some of them. If we get stuck for ideas for our next column, we’ll do a Part II.

The first order of business is to make textbooks more accessible to students. For example, publishers will soon insist that authors write their texts in the current quasi- English that is more in tune with today’s fastpaced world. Every sentence will be packed with the sophisticated symbols of our evolving language.
"Like, you know, man, you know, like.” Here’s a short excerpt from a new introductory psychology textbook, called "I-Psy”: "So, like, Milgram was all, like, give the shock, man! You know? And the teacher was, like, no way, dude! Way! said Milgram. So, like, the teacher gives the shock, and the learner goes, Ow! Let me out of here, dude! My heart is starting to bother me!....”

To match students’ (and faculty’s) decreasing attention span, recent books have gone to a "modular” format, with traditional chapters split into shorter units that can be digested in one sitting. New texts have now been designed not just by modules, but by paragraphs. This new approach to texts is called "paragraph oriented organizational rubrics,” or POOR.

In POOR textbooks, each paragraph will be preceded by one "learning objective,” to give students a preview of what they will be reading. For example, "Learn what unconditioned is.” (We can’t think of a better way to inspire students to want to know what a "stimulus,” is!) Following the learning objective will be a question to really get students thinking, such as, "What do you think unconditioned means?” The paragraph comes next, followed by a short summary of the paragraph, a list of key terms (in boldface, of course) that appeared in the paragraph, 12 multiple-choice review questions (titled "Ya gotta know”), and a "rehearse, reflect, relax, and reflux” section (Part of the elegant SQ4R7B6 r2 study method). Are students going to digest this information, or what? Sticking with the technology theme, every text will have a special icon to direct readers to key links on Google and YouTube. After all, this is where our students spend their time anyway; what better way to introduce them to the global community of online learning.

The astute reader will notice that these modifications, while clearly leading to more student learning, might put a strain on textbook length. Publishers are compensating for the additional length of POOR texts in a number of ways. For example, we all know that professors can already order custom books, with chapters that they do not cover taken out. In the next generation of textbooks, they’ll be able to take out individual sentences or facts that they don’t want to teach. For example, a professor who wants to focus on positive psychology can take out negative reinforcement, negative punishment, negative correlation, and even neutral stimuli. A professor disturbed by his/her fixation at a particular Freudian stage of psychosexual development can have that stage deleted from the chapter.

How many of us have noticed that all introductory textbooks are basically the same—same chapters, same order, same, same, same. But the new generation of texts will be different (at least at first). For example, text chapters will be reorganized so that the first six chapters are devoted to Abnormal Psychology (or as students would say, "Like, the real psychology”). The all important section on History will be streamlined to start with Phil Zimbardo and go all the way up to Dr. Phil. All sections dealing with the brain and nervous system will be deleted as they are just too hard and really don’t lend themselves to critical thinking. Of course, there will be an extended section on sexual behavior, complete with a "Try it” section.

Another way to shorten books will be to remove from the references any empirical study that has not been replicated. This means that reference sections for many courses will be cut by up to 99%. In addition, all references by the authors of the book will be shortened to "AR” for "author reference.” This will cut the references by an average of 35%. Another 15% of references can be shortened by using small symbols to refer to the psychologists previously known as Skinner, Watson, and Milgram. The use of symbols and abbreviations like AR is likely to catch on because books will be formatted for small computer, iPod, and even cell phone screens. Therefore, we’d better get used to symbols such as these:
  • MRN – More research is needed.
  • SI – Recent research has found that serotonin is implicated in this.
  • CBTR – The most (or only) effective treatment for this condition is cognitivebehavioral therapy.
  • ETH – There are ethical issues involved which we need not go into until you are out of graduate school.
  • CCOG – The traditional conditioning explanation for this phenomenon is no longer accepted. Recent evidence shows a cognitive explanation is more accurate.
  • PP – This is the symbol that will be used throughout the text to indicate that the particular problem can be treated by Prescribing Prozac. We expect that this symbol will be used thousands of times in the next 7 years (i.e., the next seven editions of any text).
  • The word "bio-psycho-social” will be replaced by the symbol formerly known as the symbol formerly known as Prince.
All these format changes will likely make students happy by bringing prices down. But authors, do not despair! The publishers are sensitive to your #1 concern: The used book market that diminishes your revenue. One remedy for this problem is to make books entirely electronic. Thus, students would have to buy a password to get into their books. These passwords would expire after one semester. What about, you might say, students who print out the books for their friends who will take the course the next semester? Good question! Two possible solutions: First, the material would be encrypted in such a way that it would be impossible to print, or a notice would go right to the registrar of the student’s home institution, where the cost of the book would be automatically added to next semester’s tuition (If the students are in their last semester, the cap and gown rental fee would be increased).

The second solution would be for the book to customize itself each semester. For example, in one version the False Positives would be in the upper left corner of the table, and in the next version they would be in the lower right. For printed books, the ultimate solution to the used book problem is a pretty low-tech one: Books will be published in disappearing ink. The ink will start fading after about a year; 6 months for the smaller books that are used in first semester classes. Some have argued that the technology is imperfect, and that a high percentage of books might actually start fading much sooner than expected. Thus, some students might buy a book and have it fade half-way through the semester. To this criticism, some professors have argued, "What’s your point?” Indeed, in the markets where these books have been test-marketed, there have been no reports from students of unreadable books. Although, three students have asked where the cartoons have gone….

Not all improvements and innovations will make texts shorter. Newer intro books will have an added appendix. Yes, we know that students don’t read them, but publishers want this new section for marketing purposes, for faculty that actually read texts before adopting them. This section will be devoted to completely discredited ideas that we keep putting in texts because everyone else does and because students need to know the history of our discipline. Consequently, this will be the longest section in the text. Here you will find an extensive section on Freud (encompassing everything he ever said), a revision of Erikson’s stages (demonstrating that adolescence now stretches from age 8 to 62), an updated version of Maslow’s hierarchy (which now has a level just for the need to check email every 10 minutes and to text message during class).

We are sure you will agree that the future of textbook publishing is brighter than at any time since our early ancestors carved threecolor graphs and boxes into the prehistoric text-slabs that have been found deep under the libraries of Midwestern universities with such ancient untranslatable symbols as "ALLPORT,” "THORNDIKE,” and "JAMES.” Please let us know if you have other ideas for how to make textbooks more affordable for students, lucrative for authors, and useful for all of us who are interested in, like, you know, teaching and, you know, Man, like, learning.

Joseph J. Palladino, PhD, is professor of psychology and chair of psychology at the University of Southern Indiana. He earned a PhD in general-theoretical psychology from Fordham University (NY). In 1989, he was elected to the status of fellow of APA. He has served in Division 2 of APA as president (1991-1992), editor of the Methods and Techniques section of Teaching of Psychology, and chairperson of the Program Committee. In 2000, he was elected Midwestern Vice-President of Psi Chi.

Mitch Handelsman
received his PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Kansas in 1981. He is currently professor of psychology and a CU President’s Teaching Scholar at the University of Colorado Denver. He served for a year (1989-1990) in Washington DC as an APA Congressional Science Fellow. He has won numerous teaching awards, including the 1992 CASE (Council for the Advancement and Support of Education) Colorado Professor of the Year Award, and APA’s Division 2 Excellence in Teaching Award in 1995. He has published several book chapters and over 50 articles in journals ranging from the Professional Psychology: Research and Practice to the Journal of Polymorphous Perversity.

Copyright 2008 (Volume 12, Issue 2) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology


Eye on Psi Chi is a magazine designed to keep members and alumni up-to-date with all the latest information about Psi Chi’s programs, awards, and chapter activities. It features informative articles about careers, graduate school admission, chapter ideas, personal development, the various fields of psychology, and important issues related to our discipline.

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