Sociology's Digital Textbook Transforms Learning

By Stephanie Wejbe, Student Intern of CHASS College Computing

The students from Professor Robert Hanneman’s Sociology 110B course are the first to utilize the first digital, multimedia textbook demonstrating the available technology for instructional purposes. The textbook features text, audio, and video demonstrations.

The textbook provides multiple advantages for students. It proves to be incredibly cost- effective since students will not have to purchase a hard-copy, which normally costs $80 to $100 for the course. Access acts as another positive feature, since the digital text is available 24 hours a day and seven days a week on-line, and free to eligible users as long as they have Internet access. In addition, the textbook also comes in a CD-ROM format, which can be purchased at the bookstore at a minimal cost.

The digital textbook enhances instruction for faculty. Faculty can quickly and easily add, delete, or modify the materials that they are making available to their students. Using multi-media provides a wider array of tools for the instructor in presenting the course materials. Some areas are best conveyed using animation/film; while others using audio. Plain text can be enhanced with hyper-links and pop-up tools (like glossaries of key terms or links to web sites). Hanneman states, “The tool-kit is a bit more interesting than a regular textbook.”

The digital text allows for a more “interactive” learning experience for students. The textbook is organized by chapters, as a regular textbook. Self-tests, built-in simulations and virtual experiments, and other similar “active learning” tools assist students with the studying process by having them spend more time with the material. Most sections of the text are followed by short “check quizzes” that give immediate interactive feedback. Hanneman states, “The goal is to help students judge for themselves whether they understand the section well enough to go on, or whether they should re-read.” A number of film clips are introduced that show students how to do particular problems using various available software packages, allowing the user to pause or review the clip as much as desired.

Three primary groups contributed to the production of the textbook. Former Associate Dean of Research and Instructional Technology and Sociology Professor Robert Hanneman serves as the primary author and also Augustine Kposowa and Mark Riddle. CHASS College Computing designed, created, and developed the website and CD-ROM. Support was provided from the Academic Senate and Office of Instructional Development.

Initial response to the digital textbook, “has gone more smoothly than I thought it might,” Hanneman comments. A follow-up survey at the end of the quarter will be given to get further reactions to the digital text, but for the most part Hanneman claims that comments have been positive. To accommodate the interests of students who are not fully comfortable with reading the text on the computer, they have adapted by printing parts of it to write notes in the margins or underline text.

Hanneman believes digital texts have a number of advantages, which other courses in the Humanities and the Social Sciences can learn from. “I expect that we will be seeing more and more courses supported this way across a wide variety of disciplines in the future.”

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