CATESOL News Fall 2012

Course Packet as a Primary Text: Benefits and Challenges
by Anthony Halderman

“Many instructors are starting to use their course packet as a primary text,” says a fulltime bookstore representative at Cuesta College. “Wow, this might be something I might be interested in,” I thought to myself. My impetus for inquiring into this topic commenced.

I conducted twenty-two interviews with faculty and staff who are creating and supporting course packets as a primary text. I gleaned critical issues from my discussions. A course packet as a primary text offers both benefits and challenges.

Several benefits have inspired faculty to create their own course packet to substitute the traditional textbook. We can customize material that fits nicely within the time frame of our term. Many of us have experienced not using a whole text during our term. Terms can range from 6-18 weeks

Many faculty have commented that texts don’t always neatly adhere to course curriculum. Personalized course packets can more closely adhere to course objectives. We can personalize the exercises and activities to better suit our own teaching style. By doing so, we can develop greater insight into our course curriculum and class objectives.

One of the more obvious reasons why course packets benefit students is the reduced cost. Traditional textbooks cost continues to increase and a course packet printed through your college costs far less. Pending the copyright information you use, the number of pages, color or B&W, and type of binding and lamination, your course packet could cost between $8-20.

Perhaps the secret sauce lies in the opportunities for semesterly revisions, modifications, and updates. In most cases, if not all cases, faculty will naturally take the opportunity to revise their material every semester, quarter, or term. Providing the “best” material for our students inherently exists in our job description. One highly accomplished colleague posits that customized course packets benefit the college, the faculty, and students.

However, challenges exist also. One of the most obvious and pressing issues rests in copyright. Copyright infringement must attract our utmost attention. Creating a course packet used as a primary text that can sustain a whole term requires much planning and time. Several options exist to help avoid this problem. Cuesta College’s Textbook Affordability Committee helps faculty with some of these issues. Perhaps your college has a similar committee and can guide you through the process.

Another challenge is complying with course curriculum and student learning outcomes. While planning and organizing your course packet, your material needs to comply as much as possible. “Too much” creativity, imagination, and innovation might not meet classroom curriculum. College courses that transfer into a four year university also require substantial reading material. Providing such course compliance and substantial reading material in your course packet can prove challenging. Oversight of course packets can also pose a challenge. Deans, division chairs, program directors, and colleagues might look a bit unfavorably upon not using traditional textbooks.

Another great challenge lies in preparation time. Course packets as a primary text require much frontloaded time. Getting it all together before the term begins needs much planning and preparation. However, as time progresses the time necessary to prepare a course packet drastically tapers off. As your course packet becomes more established, the modifications, updates, and revisions will consume less time.

The opportunity for instructors to use course packets as a primary text has never been greater. Course packets can offer themselves as a viable option to the traditional textbooks due to increasing textbook costs, developments in desktop publishing, and the pioneering of fellow colleagues willing to both share and collaborate on material.

Anthony Halderman teaches English at Cuesta College and Cal Poly University. He's created, and regularly modifies his course pacekt.

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