One of the core philosophies in my teaching was to move away from single-use or disposable assignments, and move to something more durable. Let’s face it: students create too many essays that disappear into a digital drawer at the end of the semester, never to be seen again. Their labour gets a grade, but it doesn’t do anything to change the world. What if I tell you that it could? (At least a small piece of the world?) I wrote about that on my teaching blog. I also knew that in my narrative statement for tenure, I had to explain to my colleagues why I chose to have students create textbooks for fellow students. Can’t I, as the expert in the room, do this better, because I actually know the topics? Here’s the main reason why I trusted my students to do a better job:
Sure, I know the content, but I don’t remember anymore what it is like to be new to all of East Asian history. An undergraduate student is perfectly positioned to bridge that gap. (Also check out Adam Grant‘s piece in the NYT.) And of course: students are experts in knowing what a student needs from a textbook, much more so than I am. So I let them write the textbooks for China’s Magical Creatures (and where to find them) and Korean History, and their successors in the course used those chapters as their starter kits before diving into primary and scholarly sources. And then they get to write their own chapter, or improve our existing textbook. The third edition of China’s Magical Creatures is coming out soon!