The New Textbook

Earlier this year, I discovered that the intro psych textbook I’ve been using (Psychology: The Science of Behaviour, 4th Canadian edition by Carlson et al.) was no longer going to be updated. That book has a copyright date of 2010, which means it was published in 2009, which means that the content dates back to 2008. I could no longer keep using this (now really outdated) book. I also noticed that several other major textbooks (including the one used by many other psychology instructors, Psychology, 2nd edition by Schacter et al.) were being released in new editions. You know what that means? A phrase that strikes terror into the hearts of instructors: textbook review.

Contrary to what you might think, we instructors do not love spending time reading through dozens of introductory psychology textbooks. In fact, the Associate Chair (Undergraduate) was having none of it; something to the effect of “over my dead body.” Yeah, no one loves doing a textbook review. However, there was growing sentiment in favour of looking at new textbooks; this included some pressure from the publishing company representatives (“textbook reps”) who we often deal with, and also their bosses. (There were Marketing Managers and Vice Presidents of publishing companies flying out from Toronto to talk to us.) Next thing I knew, an intro psych textbook review committee was struck, and I was on it. And the Associate Chair is (to the best of my knowledge) still alive.

Our first step was not to gather together every intro psych textbook that’s still in print. Over my dead body. No, literally--that would kill me. That many books would outweigh me by 10 times. And I’d probably retire before I finished reading all of them. (Hint: There are a lot of intro psych textbooks.) No, our first step was to figure out how to reduce the number of books to something manageable.

Plus, we were on a tight deadline. Our committee was put together in early March. Plenty of time to get ready for September, right? But consider this: How long does it take you to read a textbook? Exactly. And then, after the book has been chosen, many of us who teach intro psych change our lecture notes to reflect the content of the new book, make up new exams, and so on. That takes time. So: The sooner we could decide on a book, the better.

But could we even all agree on a single book? For the longest time, there have been two books used by intro psych instructors. It would be ideal if the decision were unanimous, but usually there has been a dissenter going his own way, picking the book he liked best, even if the rest of the committee didn’t. Um, that would be me.

Moving ahead, we decided to narrow the field by asking each major publisher for their best book. That means, among other things, their highest-level book. See, not all intro textbook are created equal. Some are aimed at the community college/high school market. (No, we’re not interested in that--UAlberta is one of the top “Medical Doctoral” universities in Canada.) There are also abbreviated textbooks that fit what we would teach in two single-term courses into one. (That’s not for us, either).

That left us with a shortlist of nine books, from McGraw-Hill Ryerson, Nelson/Cengage, Pearson, W. W. Norton, Wiley, and Worth. Wait, six publishers and nine books? Some publishers submitted multiple entries; some publishers had a new textbook written by American authors, but also a “Canadianized” version of the same book updated by Canadian authors. (A Canadian edition would be nice, but was not an absolute requirement for us.)

Armed with our stacks of books, we cracked them open and started to read. The books are provided to us for free, although many publishers encourage us to read their books online at CourseSmart (an online platform for ebooks).

This, we all decided, would be our criteria for selecting our textbook: The content. Not whizzy cool interactive online this, or shiny neat adaptive testing that, or pedagogically relevant student-tested learning management system the-other. Just the content. Books started to fall by the wayside. All things being equal, we do like to see Canadian content. Many committee members (myself included) required a chapter on genetic and evolutionary influences on behaviour. (Many American textbooks leave evolution out, for fear of alienating potential customers whose religious views would be offended by any mention of Darwin. Tsk.) One committee member made up a list of all the errors that one book had. Not typos, but egregious problems with the content. Yikes.

By early June, we had our list down to, well, one book. Yeah, for the first time since the late 1990s, we were unanimous. It’s a high-level, Canadianized book that’s been around a while. It’s got an interactive online platform (Connect), and an interactive study tool that uses adaptive testing (LearnSmart). The company has even done research to demonstrate the effectiveness of these tools. I’m really happy with our choice: Psychology: Frontiers and Applications (5th Canadian edition), by Michael Passer, Ronald Smith, Michael Atkinson, John Mitchell, and Darwin Muir, published by McGraw-Hill Ryerson. (See the custom edition covers at the top of the page.)

And price? Yeah, we got you covered. Instead of just ordering the hardcopy textbook (half of which is used in PSYCO 104, the other half in PSYCO 105), we asked for a custom edition that split the book in half and is softcover bound; this brings your on-the-shelf price down. In fact, it should be about $80 at the Bookstore, which is about half of what it would be for the full hardcover textbook.

You’re welcome.

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