BY AMANDA ADAMS
Two Rogue Community College math instructors have written a new textbook for RCC Math 20 students. The cost of the textbook is less than a third of the previously used math book, selling for $42. RCC math instructors Charlotte Hutt and Dorette Long were motivated to co-author the book not only to cut costs, but to promote student learning and address the issue of students with learning disabilities.
The textbook, published by the RCC bookstore, is already being used in classes on all three RCC campuses by 347 students this term, according to Hutt.
Debbie McKlennan, another math instructor who has used the book to teach students, praised the new text for encouraging students to think. “It explains ‘why’, not just ‘how,’” McKlennen said. “This provides students with an excellent foundation for both their future math classes and using math in their real lives. The book is easy to read and the application problems are practical, such as figuring out sale prices and calculating interest on student loans.”
According to Lynda Warren, CFO and dean of college services, the RCC bookstore has priced the book so that costs are estimated to be offset in two to three years. After the initial $48,000 in development costs are recovered, the cost of the textbook should decrease even further.
“This is a significant savings to the approximately 900 students who take Math 20 each year [at RCC]. Plus, students are getting text customized to fit their specific needs,” Warren said. “This textbook promotes the use of ‘mental math,’ using calculators efficiently, and knowing what to expect as a reasonable answer,” said Hutt. Last year during fall term, instructors looked at several choices for new math textbooks, none of which met their needs or those of their students.
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” Hutt said. “There comes a point when, if you’re not fixing the problems with the book you have, you’ve gotta fix the book.”
To accomplish their labor-intensive task, Hutt and Long enlisted the help of three other paid contributors: Marie Mueller, editor; Doreen “DW” Wood, formatting; and RCC graduate Jarrod Goode, exercise set formatting. Several members of the academic community volunteered their assistance to the project, including Lane Community College instructor and published algebra textbook author, Alice Kaseberg.
Hutt and Long chose a black and white binder style format in an effort to not only reduce printing costs but to increase the functionality of the book for students. Long, whose focus is on students with learning disabilities, points out that clean space on the pages makes for easier viewing and better understanding of the material. The instructors encourage students to add their own color to the book by highlighting pages. The majority of the book was written at a seventh and eighth grade reading level, according to the authors. Chapter summaries and mathematical terms are at the beginning of the chapter, rather than being at the end of the chapter like traditional textbooks. Because the textbook can’t be sold back, students have the option of removing pages from the book, writing notes in the margins, storing their homework within the lesson sections, and folding and copy pages. The textbook can also be printed in a larger font to accommodate students with impaired vision.
The textbook features local real world applications, such as problems relating to the height of local mountains, comparison of Ashland/Medford water usage, and property taxes for Jackson and Josephine counties. In addition, Hutt and Long tailored the book to include specific fields studied at RCC, such as how to measure using a syringe and comparing CNA salaries to those of an RN. Visual aids and cartoons, illustrated by Michael Gallant, are featured throughout the text. Caution signs warn readers of common errors and rules are depicted with a ruler illustration.
Hutt and Long said they hope that their textbook will encourage other colleges, and even middle and high school teachers, to consider writing their own texts, which will decrease costs to schools and the community. According to Warren, RCC will continue to look at additional subject areas where writing a textbook may benefit the school and its students.
Update: Amanda Adams provided additional information to supplement this article in response to Jason Vannier’s March letter to the editor.
“I think Jason makes a very good point. Here are some of the notes from the math teachers’ interview that might help….
“Both teachers discussed the fact that they had found many errors during the trial run of the textbook last term. They pointed out that this was one benefit of having the textbook printed in binder form; they are able to print out new pages and exchange them.
“During the interview, the teachers admitted that they have received complaints (they said around 5 total), mostly about the copy format and the number of errors that they had to correct. They said that they encouraged student feedback.”
Updated on March 6, 2010.