Journal of Nursing Education

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Textbook Selection: Perils and Pointers

Margaret Parsons, PhD, RN

Abstract

The springtime of the year brings new plant life in great abundance. Some of these plants are new growth from old roots; some are new growth from new seeds. A few may be hybrids, but entirely new varieties are rare. The spring of the year also seems to bring increasing numbers of nursing books from a growing variety of publishers. Nursing has always been good copy, a situation apparently unaffected by falling enrollment in nursing education programs in some parts of the country. Indeed, the number of texts published annually with nursing titles continues to escalate: in 1978 there were 73 such titles. By 1985 there were 141, constituting almost 12% of the total titles published in the health care area.

There are new editions and revisions of old books, new books on standard topics by known authors, new books on standard topics by new authors, and a few new books on new topics. The publishers, of course, want to sell as many copies of each new book as possible. To that end, review copies are made available to faculty so that rational decisions can be made regarding the usefulness of any new books in helping students achieve course objectives. Some publishers' representatives can be very persuasive if not frankly aggressive in seeking new markets for new books and since books often serve as the major content medium in any nursing program, the ancient aphorism caveat emptor, i.e., let the buyer beware, is very appropriate.

The purpose of this article is to help the buyer (i.e., faculty member) be aware of the points that should be considered in making the decision to adopt a new book for student use in nursing courses. Faculty who assume this responsibility have usually learned the process through trial and error. It is our feeling that informed faculty, making systematic evaluations, can make better choices in the textbooks students must purchase.

The first questions which must be addressed in considering the usefulness of a textbook involve its relationship to the philosophy, curriculum and objectives of the educational program. A text which complements the philosophy of the program will serve the educator and clarify focus for the student. A highly integrated curriculum can be complemented by a text which is organized around broad concepts, while such a text may be a source of confusion and dissonance in another curriculum design. If the terminal objectives of the curriculum indicate a primary role for the graduate as a generalist, for example, the courses and the textbooks should be consistent with that end.

The faculty should be clear about the exact use for which the book is intended. Basic texts which are broad in scope and include both primary concepts and technical procedures are designed for use throughout a program of study and may retain their usefulness for some time to follow. It is possible for such a book to be too broad, too ambitious, too shallow, however; and here the common sense of the evaluator is as important as critical screening. On the other hand, books dealing with just one type of health problem, one role of the nurse, one or more developmental levels, for example, are common. If this narrow focus is necessary, it is important to determine the extent to which this "specialized material" may be included in a previously purchased general text. This evaluation, plus another look at the course and terminal objectives should solidify a decision regarding a specialty text.

Questions regarding authors' and publishers' qualifications are not as easily answered but they are important. A wellknown, much published leader in a field will…

The springtime of the year brings new plant life in great abundance. Some of these plants are new growth from old roots; some are new growth from new seeds. A few may be hybrids, but entirely new varieties are rare. The spring of the year also seems to bring increasing numbers of nursing books from a growing variety of publishers. Nursing has always been good copy, a situation apparently unaffected by falling enrollment in nursing education programs in some parts of the country. Indeed, the number of texts published annually with nursing titles continues to escalate: in 1978 there were 73 such titles. By 1985 there were 141, constituting almost 12% of the total titles published in the health care area.

There are new editions and revisions of old books, new books on standard topics by known authors, new books on standard topics by new authors, and a few new books on new topics. The publishers, of course, want to sell as many copies of each new book as possible. To that end, review copies are made available to faculty so that rational decisions can be made regarding the usefulness of any new books in helping students achieve course objectives. Some publishers' representatives can be very persuasive if not frankly aggressive in seeking new markets for new books and since books often serve as the major content medium in any nursing program, the ancient aphorism caveat emptor, i.e., let the buyer beware, is very appropriate.

The purpose of this article is to help the buyer (i.e., faculty member) be aware of the points that should be considered in making the decision to adopt a new book for student use in nursing courses. Faculty who assume this responsibility have usually learned the process through trial and error. It is our feeling that informed faculty, making systematic evaluations, can make better choices in the textbooks students must purchase.

The first questions which must be addressed in considering the usefulness of a textbook involve its relationship to the philosophy, curriculum and objectives of the educational program. A text which complements the philosophy of the program will serve the educator and clarify focus for the student. A highly integrated curriculum can be complemented by a text which is organized around broad concepts, while such a text may be a source of confusion and dissonance in another curriculum design. If the terminal objectives of the curriculum indicate a primary role for the graduate as a generalist, for example, the courses and the textbooks should be consistent with that end.

The faculty should be clear about the exact use for which the book is intended. Basic texts which are broad in scope and include both primary concepts and technical procedures are designed for use throughout a program of study and may retain their usefulness for some time to follow. It is possible for such a book to be too broad, too ambitious, too shallow, however; and here the common sense of the evaluator is as important as critical screening. On the other hand, books dealing with just one type of health problem, one role of the nurse, one or more developmental levels, for example, are common. If this narrow focus is necessary, it is important to determine the extent to which this "specialized material" may be included in a previously purchased general text. This evaluation, plus another look at the course and terminal objectives should solidify a decision regarding a specialty text.

Questions regarding authors' and publishers' qualifications are not as easily answered but they are important. A wellknown, much published leader in a field will usually produce a quality product but a new author might do just as well. Looking at educational credentials, current and past positions, and previously published journal articles can provide data by which to evaluate a new author. The publisher's reputation may be a consideration. Major publishers usually have special divisions for educational texts, and this arrangement allows for both quality and quantity control. The educator who has selected a text for purchase by students must be assured that the publisher can provide the necessary number of copies in time for students to use at the beginning of a term.

An attractive, easily understood, accurate textbook can be a servant in the finest sense. Textbook evaluation or assessment for the servant role may be compared to the assessment of the client. First, the evaluator inspects the whole; then the individual parts or systems are assessed.

The outward appearance of the book is important insofar as size is concerned. It is not unusual for a textbook to exceed 2000 pages. Students who commute and are loaded with several other similar texts for other courses may have valid reasons for not having "your" book at a particular time in a particular setting. The print size and style can be helpful or distracting and difficult. The volume of reading required from a textbook demands attractive, clear, easy-on-the-eyes print. Page surfaces which reflect light or pages which are so thin that print can be seen through the pages can be distracting and annoying to the reader.

Individual pages should be equally attractive, with "breaks" in the printed material when appropriate. Such "breaks" in the form of charts, tables, photographs, or material outlined or set aside for emphasis do require more space and paper. Therefore, the evaluator must decide if the nonnarrative materials enhance the overall book enough to justify the increased size and cost to the student. While such interpretation of usefulness may be subjective (by the evaluator or the student), there are guidelines which can help. Illustrations and photographs should clearly interpret or clarify the narrative. Photographs which are of poor quality or are obviously dated may be distracting. It is also becoming more and more important that photographs in nursing texts reflect the pluralism of American culture by avoiding exclusive emphasis on Caucasians. Equally important are the quality and number of illustrations. Excessive use of models to illustrate concepts may dilute the effectiveness of a model when it is most needed. Because of the wide variety of cognitive styles served by nursing texts, the evaluator needs to look for a balance between narrative and non-narrative forms of expression.

The table of contents serves as a map and may reveal much about the approach of the text. Chapter titles may follow a problem or dysfunction format organized around physiologic systems for example. Individual chapters may then utilize the same internal framework for examination of a problem. This format is a popular scheme and one which may become integrated into the thinking or problem solving of the student as he or she needs. Generally, the table of contents includes simply the chapter titles and page numbers. Occasionally, a detailed table of contents is utilized. Whether one requires this detail is a matter of choice; however, if detail in the table of contents compromises a complete index, the educator and the student may need to modify usual researching procedures.

Comments about the appearance of the text itself have been made above. In evaluating style, one must consider such factors as the level of difficulty of the writing, whether it is overly technical or dull, and the presence of a balance between creative approaches and gimmicks in presenting material. In teaching problem solving, the educator may need to decide between a textbook which prescribes one approach or presents several alternatives. Again, the objectives of the curriculum may indicate which format is most appropriate. A similar comment may be made about the inclusion of research findings in the text. Research conclusions are appearing with greater frequency in textbooks. Whether this focus is valuable depends upon the importance of research in the curriculum. Probably more important, however, is a determination by the teacher-evaluator of the timeliness and significance of the research cited.

The inclusion or absence of study aids is another factor which needs to be considered. An adequate glossary of terms is important especially for beginning level students. Lists of objectives, study guide questions and suggested learning activities should be evaluated in relation to the program's conceptual framework, course objectives and outcome objectives.

The index can be an invaluable aid, especially in gargantuan generalistfocused textbooks. Here the presence of detail is probably never superfluous, especially from the student's point of view. Double listings (e.g., "cancer, of bladder" and "bladder, cancer of) are probably worth duplication if the user of an index is new to the subject.

Once you have examined the overall textbook and its individual parts, you are ready to proceed using a systematic process to evaluate the textbook for possible adoption. Such a process is suggested below.

Unless you are teaching an entire subject area alone, you probably want to have some input from your colleagues who will be using the same book for the same group of students. It is unlikely that you will be able to read the entire edition of each book you could consider.

It is important, however, to read the entire preface of any book you are likely to consider for adoption. It is in the preface that the authoris) describe the philosophy and objectives, explain the general approach taken in writing the book, and project the intended audience for whom the book was written. A well-written preface will allow you to consider the book in the light of your school's philosophy and objectives, and give you at least a general idea of whether the book is one likely to meet the learning needs of students in your school.

One good alternative to reading the whole book is to select a topic about which you are knowledgeable and read that section in the new book or books you are considering. This allows you to check for accuracy, clarity, and currency of content. In addition to reading a section of familiar content, it is useful to read a content area in which your knowledge base is less secure or less current. This allows you to further evaluate the clarity of the author's presentation. If in reading an unfamiliar area you fail to clarify or add to your existing understanding of the topic, then it is important to evaluate further before adoption. If each faculty member who will routinely assign readings from a given book would likewise read a familiar and a not-so-familiar section then your collective evaluations should allow you to make a good choice. When the choice has been made and the order placed, the reviewers should send their evaluation of each book to the appropriate publisher who will forward such information to the authors for their consideration in future revision.

It is unlikely that any one book will meet every criteria you set, but if after review of a new book you and your colleagues can agree that a particular book is clearly an improvement and that the book is appropriate to the level of student and type of program in which you teach, then your search is ended, at least until the new crop appears next spring.

10.3928/0148-4834-19861001-10

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