Photo by Autumn Walter |CIGAR|

The University of Rhode Island has several 100-level courses that many students take where instructors are required by the department to assign the same textbook or textbooks to all sections of the class.  

In these introductory level classes, there are typically either large lectures or many sections of the same class. These types of classes include courses such as COM 100 Communication Fundamentals, WRT 104 Writing to Inform and Explain and WRT 106 Introduction to Research Writing.

 In COM 100, professors are required to assign the textbook to all sections of the class because it is referenced in class discussions and all tests are based off the textbook, according to Dr. Kevin McClure, the chair of the Department of Communication Studies. McClure said COM 100 is the only class in the communications department where professors are required to assign a certain textbook.  

McClure said that COM 100 instructors use the book often. He said it is helpful that they are able to customize it with Pearson, the publisher of the textbook. McClure said they are “very sympathetic to the cost” of the textbook, saying that the department tries to use the least expensive option when assigning textbooks in order to help students save money.

The Writing and Rhetoric Department is another department at URI that requires instructors to assign textbooks for introductory level courses, such as WRT 104 and WRT 106. Jeremiah Dyehouse, the chair of the Writing and Rhetoric Department, said they “use textbooks as a way to make instruction more consistent” among different sections of the same course.

Dyehouse said that the Writing and Rhetoric Department has many more part-time faculty members than most departments. He said that the instructors are “great teachers,” who have many have different backgrounds. Because of their different backgrounds, the faculty members have “different types of training and expertise.” Assigning a common textbook helps to provide structure across all class sections of the course.

While all sections of WRT 104 and WRT 106 are required to assign the same textbook, Dyehouse said the department “does not want all instructors to have to assign the same writing assignments.” In order to avoid this, Dyehouse said instructors have the option to “assign [writing assignments] from a menu.” This allows for instructors to have flexibility towards the exact direction they want their sections they teach to go in.

“[the] direction we’re going in is using materials we develop as a department with less cost for students.”

Dyehouse said it is important that “students can read a careful, consistent account” of information. Requiring all instructors to assign the same textbook for WRT 104 and WRT 106 sections means that all students enrolled in those classes receive the same information from the course textbook.

Similar to McClure and the Communications Department, Dyehouse said that the Writing and Rhetoric Department, as well as himself, try to assign the most cost effective textbook options for students. Dyehouse said the department has a textbook selection committee, which consists of full and part-time staff, that decide which textbooks are most beneficial to use.

When asked if the textbooks are needed and used enough by students to be required, Dyehouse said that he has seen disappointment among high ranking members of the University when a student does not use their textbooks.

“A bad reason not to assign a textbook is because students refuse to read them. A good reason is saving money,” Dyehouse said, adding that although it is “a lot of work for faculty,” the “direction we’re going in is using materials we develop as a department with less cost for students.”

Dyehouse concluded that he wants “teachers to be the glue, not the textbooks to be the glue as they historically have been” in courses within the department.

Other introductory level courses at URI, such as BIO 101 and CHM 101, do not have textbooks that are required by the heads of the departments.

The Chair of the Biology Department, Evan Preisser, said that he “does not require instructors to use a particular textbook for any class.” Preisser said that all the instructors of BIO 101 must meet together and assign the same book, but there is no certain textbook that they must require.

“If all BIO 101 instructors agree, they could choose ‘no textbook’ and I’d be fine with it,” Preisser said. “It’s truly up to them.”

The Chemistry Department uses essentially the same approach as the Biology Department. The Chair of the Chemistry Department, James Smith, said they never require a professor to assign a certain textbook.

“The department would never presume to tell an instructor which book to assign,” Smith said.

Just as it is in the Biology Department, Smith said it is a “group decision” when it comes to deciding what book to assign for an introductory class such as CHM 101. Smith said that all professors of CHM 101 must assign the same textbook in order to ensure there is “continuity between different sections.” He said he has no input on which book is used. Smith said while the same book must be required for all sections of a course, it is up to the individual instructor how they use the textbook.

Smith said that the textbook the Chemistry Department uses is “very clear,” which allows students to “feel comfortable knowing they have a good textbook.” He said CHM 101 typically uses the same textbook from year to year which allows students to sell the book to other students, which helps keep the cost down.

When assigning textbooks for introductory level courses at URI, the general theme between different departments is ensuring that textbooks provide consistency in instruction for all sections of a course while attempting to remain as cost-effective as possible.