Why publish an open-access textbook about educational psychology?
I have taught educational psychology to future teachers for over 35 years, during which I used one or another of the major commercial textbooks written for this subject. In general I found all of the books well-written and thorough. But I also found problems:
- Though they differed in details, the major textbooks were surprisingly similar in overall coverage. This fact, coupled with their large overall size, made it hard to tailor any of the books to the particular interests or needs of individuals or groups of students. Too often, buying a textbook was like having to buy a huge Sunday newspaper when all you really want is to read one of its sections. In a similar way, commercial educational psychology textbooks usually told you more than you ever needed or wanted to know about the subject. As a format, the textbook did not allow for individualization.
- Educational psychology textbooks were always expensive, and over the years their costs rose faster than inflation, especially in the United States, where most of the books have been produced. Currently every major text about educational psychology sells for more than USD 100. At best this cost is a stress on students’ budgets. At worst it puts educational psychology textbooks beyond the reach of many. The problem of the cost is even more obvious when put in worldwide perspective; in some countries the cost of one textbook is roughly equivalent to the average annual income of its citizens.
- In the competition to sell copies of educational psychology textbooks, authors and publishers have gradually added features that raise the cost of books without evidence of adding educational value. Educational psychology publishers in particular have increased the number of illustrations and photographs, switched to full-color editions, increased the complexity and number of study guides and ancillary publications, and created proprietary websites usable fully only by adopters of their particular books. These features have sometimes been attractive. My teaching experience suggests, however, that they also distract students from learning key ideas about educational psychology about as often as they help students to learn.
By publishing this textbook online with the Global Textbook Project, I have taken a step toward resolving these problems. Instructors and students can access as much or as little of the textbook as they really need and find useful. The cost of their doing is minimal. Pedagogical features are available, but are kept to a minimum and rendered in formats that can be accessed freely and easily by anyone connected to the Internet. In the future, revisions to the book will be relatively easy and prompt to make. These, I believe, are desirable outcomes for everyone!
Contents of the book
Chapters in the text can be assigned either from beginning to end, as with a conventional printed book, or they can be selected in some other sequence to meet the needs of particular students or classes. In general the first half of the book focuses on broader questions and principles taken from psychology per se, and the second half focuses on somewhat more practical issues of teaching. But the division between “theory” and “practice” is only approximate; all parts of the book draw on research, theory, and practical wisdom wherever appropriate. Chapter 2 is about learning theory, and Chapter 3 is about development; but as we point out, these topics overlap with each other as well as with the concerns of daily teaching. Chapter 4 is about several forms of student diversity (what might be called individual differences in another context), and Chapter 5 is about one form of diversity that has become prominent in schools recently—students with disabilities. Chapter 6 is about motivation, a topic that is heavily studied by psychological researchers, but that also poses perennial challenges to classroom teachers.
Following these somewhat more basic psychological chapters, we turn to several lasting challenges of classroom life—challenges that seem to be an intrinsic part of the job. Chapter 7 offers ideas about classroom management; Chapter 8, ideas about communicating with students; Chapter 9, about ways to assist students’ complex forms of thinking; and Chapter 10, about planning instruction systematically. The book closes with two chapters about assessment of learning: Chapter 11 focuses on teachers’ own efforts to assess students, and Chapter 12 focuses on standardized measures of assessment.
Features that can assist learning
We have organized material and features in ways that we hope will allow for a variety of students, instructors, and institutions to use the book. For instructors and courses that seek a strong focus on research and the research process, for example, we have included an extra “chapter” on research methods—Appendix C, “The Reflective Practitioner”—that discusses the nature of research and the research process. We have also included a set of research-related case studies in Appendix B, “Deciding for yourself about the research,” that describe a number of particular educational research programs or topics in detail and that invite students to reflect on the quality and implications of the research.
Whether or not a strong focus on research is a priority in your particular course, there are additional features of the book that are intended to help students in learning about educational psychology. In particular, each chapter ends with a “Chapter summary,” a list of “Key terms,” and links to Internet sites (called “Further resources”) relevant to the themes of the chapter. One of the sites that is cited frequently and that may be particularly helpful to instructors is the teachingedpsych wiki, an archive of hundreds of teaching and learning materials that supports the teaching of introductory educational psychology. Teachingedpsych is a project of the Special Interest Group on the Teaching of Educational Psychology (TEP SIG), affiliated with the American Educational Research Association.
All in all, we hope that you find Educational Psychology a useful and accessible part of your education. If you are preparing to be a teacher, good luck with your studies and your future! If you are an instructor, good luck with helping your students learn about this subject!