Textbooks: To choose or not to choose?

Below is one of a series of posts by participants in the 2020 Open Pedagogy Fellowship. Fellows will share their unique insights to the process of converting a syllabus to open or zero-cost resources, and/or review a workshop from the Open Educational Resources Bootcamp held in mid-January.

Stanley Chen is an adjunct lecturer at Lehman College (department of Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences). He has taught undergraduate courses in Introduction to Linguistics and Articulatory Phonetics. Coming from a second language acquisition, formal linguistics, and speech background, Stanley has developed expertise in teaching linguistics to students across different disciplines.

Textbooks: To choose or not to choose? by Stanley Chen

Using a textbook in class is the easy way out for an instructor: the material is prepared and ready to use. One can even be snippy and point out which parts of the book were not well-written or inappropriate for the intended audience. However, when one is relying on OER, one needs to take the responsibility of the material being read by the students and all of a sudden, there is a change of scenery.

One of the core things to teach in a phonetics class is mapping the relationship between a sound and its IPA (i.e., International Phonetic Association) symbol. After comparing over 10 different introductory texts, I found there are always going to be subtle differences from book to book in terms of vowel space organization. In the end, I decided to adopt a system that in my opinion is most neutral and straightforward. I let my students know upfront that this might not be the “one” that they’ll be using in future courses; however, it will serve well as finger holes to get a grasp of the bigger picture. When they encounter the material again, they should feel confident no matter what system is being introduced.

The situation for consonants is a little better for there was more consistency across textbooks. Nonetheless, I decided to implement my own chart for teaching purposes. As a learner who doesn’t enjoy rote-memorization myself, I like to come up with unique ways to help me remember details. For instance, my chart is a seven by seven square (I split the liquid sounds into two separate rows on purpose to make this possible), which is easier for me to remember. The affricate sounds (i.e., tʃ and dʒ) are placed in the third row because they are a combination of a stop (i.e., row one) and a fricative (i.e., row two). I often tell my students that if they remember and add the first two rows together (like in addition), they get the third row for free without memorizing it!




I also encourage my students to explore on their own. Not that they should believe and trust everything that’s out there, but to keep in mind that there is always more than one way to learn. When I was a student, I stumbled upon this great site called “Sounds of Speech” developed by the University of Iowa. It is great for understanding the anatomic and physiological piece of sound production. There’s no doubt that there’s a lot of great things out there; it’s making the choice of which ones are reliable that’s difficult.

Through the aim of using open source resources, I ended up designing more of my own materials given that not everything is available to the public. As I am implementing them in class, I find myself conveying to my students not just the content that is being taught, but also the rationale behind why the content was chosen, and how I came to that decision. To some extent, I feel that these interactions are probably more valuable than the content itself. In a way, my students are seeing how the instructor is also a learner and that learning is much more than just following one fixed book.

About the Author

Elvis Bakaitis is the Interim Head of Reference at the Mina Rees Library.