Tag Archives: textbooks

CollegeQandA asks: What should I do the weekend before classes start?

What should I do the weekend before classes start?

Your family has dropped you off at college or you arrived at campus by yourself, and you have a few days before classes start – that first weekend.  Is there anything you should do before classes start to pave the way for a good semester?  At Miami the excitement of the new semester has started, and the streets are alive with youthful vigor.

Uhaul van moving in

Get the basics done

For those of you who are in your first-year or new arrivals to campus, your first weekend is about discovering where things are, how to do the most basic activities, and figuring out who might be your new friends and acquaintances.  In other words, expect to be disoriented for the next few days, but make sure you ask questions to everyone so that you do everything you should to just have the basics down.

Your priorities are:

  • If you don’t have your University ID card, then where and how do you get it.  This thing will do a lot around  campus for you.
  • You need to figure out where and when your classes are.  I would find the rooms ahead of time so you’re not late on class one.
  • How do you get your daily food and pay for it?
  • Where are the people who can help you if you need information or things?

All these basics are also needed for more senior students, but I would expect that those of you in that category almost know all of these.

Connecting with friends new and old

Take some time to socialize and meet old and new friends.  The reality is that this is probably the quietest time in the upcoming semester, so you should spend time with friends to reconnect.  However, don’t overdo the socializing with friends and party too much.  There’s no reason to start off the semester already tired and disorganized.  You can easily balance your reconnect to friends with solid preparation.

Get a jump on course organization

If your upcoming courses have an online accompaniment, then there is no reason you shouldn’t take a peak at what material is already posted (including the syllabus), needed books, and creating a semester calendar (I would suggest google calendars) with your actual next few months (you can tie this into your goals too).

Do you have your notebooks prepared for each of your courses?  If there are slides for the course, then do you have them printed?  What other materials will you need for these courses?

Most important – Set your semester goals

The big thing you need to do the last weekend before the semester is to nail down your goals for the semester (whatever they might be).  This doesn’t mean a general goal statement such as, “do well in my classes this semester”.  Instead, to achieve a goal you need to break it into smaller goals that will help you achieve your bigger picture.

You need to make specific goals both semester long and short term.  So, if I want to “get in shape this semester”, I need to include short term weekly/monthly goals that I can measure to get me to the big goal.  Smaller goals such as: “work out three times a week at the rec center” and “follow a progression workout for the next month” are steps to my bi goal, and if I truly want to achieve the bigger goal I can check in and see if I’m meeting my smaller steps.

Be prepared and have some fun to get you in the right mode for the fall semester.

Credits: Photo titled: Moving Truck; by CJ Sorg


CollegeQandA asks: Who are the best teachers in college?

Who are the best teachers in college?

a monk holding books

This question needs some definitions to help us talk about it.

  • Learning – we’ve talked about this before.  Learning is the stabilization of our neural networks in our brain for a desired response.
  • Teaching – guiding and motivating opportunities for students to work with ideas and information so they can learn it through experience.
  • Education – a combination of teaching and learning.

Therefore, the best teachers will be those who can get you to do the learning.  This doesn’t mean that you will like that teacher, you will like how they teach, or you will like what you are learning.  From a rating perspective, you should keep this in mind.

Is it that simple?

From my experience with teachers and teaching, I have had good and bad teachers just like everyone else, but my definition of good and bad (at this reflection point) is not about liking them.  It’s about learning and growing.

Some of my most disliked teachers turned out to be great learning opportunities.  Lecture became useless for learning the material, and for that reason, I learned to turn to other sources like the textbook, friends, and the library.  Now, should those teachers be classified as good teachers?  Probably not, but the point is it is not simple to define best when you approach class from a perspective of learning.

The best teachers are…

Your best teachers will motivate you to learn more than what is required by the course.  They will push you to become the lifelong learner, critically think, and self-author what you think the world should be.   And you will probably like them since the learning process is also social.

There are techniques that we professors learn to help you through the process, but learning (and teaching) is hard.  We are doing research to try and improve this process, but in reality, commitment from both teacher and learning to the education process is all about hard work and slow incremental improvement.  Just like dieting, there is no magic pill…yet.

Credits: Photo titled: Buddhist teacher; by: Artis Rams


CollegeQandA asks: What are the hidden costs of college?

It’s not just tuition and room and board

Routlette WheelThe idea that college is expensive is in our common culture, and it’s true.  The sticker price (sticker price = the tuition cost and sometimes the room and board costs) of colleges is regularly quoted to give you an idea of the base cost of attending college.  Note that depending on your situation, sticker price is not what you should expect to pay when considering discounts and scholarships.  However, sticker price is a nice ballpark starting point to calculate costs.

The reality is that there are other costs – hidden or not – that are not quoted in the sticker price.  I knew of these additional costs, but an excellent NPR article got me thinking about this more.  There are hidden costs, and these costs can be significant if you don’t watch it.

Hidden costs

What are the hidden costs of college?  The article lists a few of these hidden costs, and I’ve added some of mine in the following list:

  • Textbooks – sometimes required for classes
  • Travel – how are you going to get to and from college
  • Healthcare – you need to be protected if you get sick
  • A new laptop – is it really needed?
  • Your phone – the plan and the phone are pricey
  • Calculator – you can’t use your phone on an exam
  • Clothes – you need to wear something
  • Coffee – fancy caffeine drinks aren’t cheap
  • Alcohol – if you’re of drinking age it can be expensive
  • Class supplies – depending on what you are doing you need supplies
  • Fees – any club or organization you are a member of might have membership fees

Shared knowledge

This is an ongoing list/idea that I think we should build and improve on to help others.  In a previous article, I talked about the moving list hack that I created to help you automate packing. I’ve added a second page to that document trying to list and estimate additional college costs that you might need to consider.  Please consider commenting or writing me with other costs so we can collectively help ourselves and improve on this shared knowledge.

Credits: photo title: So Close; by Bruce Martin


CollegeQandA asks: Why do I have to buy this textbook?

Textbooks – a major cost in university

text book stack: Why do I have to buy this textbook? Why do I have to buy this textbook?  At 50 dollars a book, roughly on the low end, and at 500 dollars on the high end, textbooks can be a major cost in university.  Let’s take a look at textbooks from three angles –  teacher, student, and the market.

Teachers perspective

From the professors perspective there are a number of reasons that a textbook is used with a class.  First and foremost, the textbook is complimentary/supplementary material as related to the course.  This means that ideas covered in lecture are also covered in the textbook in another voice, and by another voice, I mean that the authors of the textbook are teaching the material through writing, images, examples, and problems in a different way than the professor.  This is the most valuable aspect of a textbook, as supplementary information, but don’t think that the assigned textbook is the only voice to use to help your learn the course’s ideas.

There is this strange building(s) called the library that, likely, carries a number of textbooks in the related topic.  If you don’t like, are having trouble with, or can’t understand the assigned textbook, consult other textbooks to find the voice that speaks to you best and helps you learn the material.

Teachers might also use a textbook to help them organize how to present the material.  In some cases, your professor is not an expert in the field, and has some expertise, but not to the detail of teaching without a textbook.  In these cases, textbooks provide teachers with insight on one ways to organize the ideas and present them in a logical progression.  This includes problems and challenges associated with the material, which a textbook has carefully created, and likely, has worked out solutions.  Creating a problem related to the material is tricky.

Finally, teaching is time consuming.  Full disclosure: Textbook writers and publishers will incentivize professors by preparing materials including lectures, problems, exams, and quizzes so that the professor can save some of their time.

Student perspective

A textbook can be a major cost to your budget, but even required textbooks are not necessarily required.  You need to find out:

  1. How is the textbook used in this class?  Consult the syllabus and ask the teacher.  Is there open book exams and is this the only textbook you can use?  Are problems assigned from the textbook?
  2. Are there cheaper formats of the textbook – online, used, renting?  Depending on how the textbook is being used this can be fine, but beware that different textbook editions may change the problem numbering, references, and even include different material.
  3. Does the book make sense at my level of understanding?  If you can’t understand the book, check for others in the library.
  4. Does the book provide enough examples?   If it doesn’t do as above, and also look for problem and example books.
  5. Will the book be used in more than one class?  If it is, then the one-time cost can be thought of as lower as you divide the cost per class.
  6. Is this the textbook that everyone uses?  There are some textbooks that many universities use and professionals keep as a reference.  Check to see if the textbook is on all the professors shelves, or if someone working in the field has kept the book.  Normally, these textbooks will appear in your third and fourth year.
  7. How many copies and what lending out rules does the library have for the textbook?  Note that the textbook might be available in the library, but how long can you have it for?

Introductory textbooks in areas such as physics, calculus, english, philosophy, etc. are numerous and come in all shapes and sizes.  I found these books to be less useful, but again depending on question 1 you may or may not need to buy it.

One of the best methods to learn about textbooks is to make friends with people who are a year or two ahead of you and ask them what they thought about the textbook.  Peers provide valuable advice, but don’t take that advice as law.  More than one opinion and thinking for yourself is important in this decision, and the cheaper route is not always the best route.

Market perspective

This is the perspective I have the least understanding of since I’ve never been part of it.   As a student, I felt that many textbooks were a means to make money adding very little value to my courses.  On other occasions, the textbook taught me the course since the professor did such a poor job.

As a professor, the market is making someone money, and note, it is probably not your professor.  I would guess that a few publishers and bookstores are doing very well selling books.
Textbooks are part of university and college life.  Take some time to figure out if you need the book.

Credits: Photo by Logan Ingills; titled: just the ones i’m getting rid of