For many students, a textbook’s author is merely a typed name on the front cover. For students in SCSS 150, narratives of tragedy and grief, the textbook’s author stands in the front of the classroom.
Nancy Berns, associate professor of sociology, uses her own monograph, “Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us,” in her class. After six years of research, writing and revising, Berns’ challenging publication process offers students a new perspective in the classroom.
“They can ask questions about it, and they get a better sense of where I’m coming from in terms of my perspective on grief,” Berns said. “I think students enjoy that part of it.”
Besides a new understanding of the instructor, students gain insight into the monograph’s extensive research, she said.
“It helps them understand the research process because I can talk about how I did the research on a book they’re actually reading,” Berns said.
Berns’ book targets both scholars and students, which added a tricky layer to the already arduous publication process. Directing a book toward two distinct audiences, Berns said, unnerves publishers.
“It was really hard trying to balance two audiences,” Berns said. “It was a fun challenge, too, but that certainly was tough.”
For Berns, the tough publication process and the finished product are equally rewarding.
“I enjoy the process a lot,” she said. “I guess that’s why I can be patient through the years. It’s not just the end result I’m enjoying, it’s actually doing it that’s fun.”
Drake’s College of Business and Public Administration also features its own textbook author in Douglas Hillman, a professor of accounting. Hillman’s love of teaching led him to pursue textbook writing in 1980, and the rest is history.
After nine editions of “Principles of Accounting,” and seven editions of “Financial Accounting,” the ever-changing teaching trends keep Hillman motivated to modify his textbooks.
“If it takes two years to write a book, you’ve got to be thinking two to three years out,” he said. “That’s what you’re always trying to do.”
Monitoring educational trends improves Hillman’s teaching, he said, even leading him across the nation to pursue new methods.
“For me, it has really helped my teaching over the years because I have kept up so well on what’s happening,” he said. “I’ve had the opportunity to travel and visit faculty all over the country about teaching. I’ve been able to go and sit in on focus groups and listen to faculty saying what they’d like to see in a textbook, what they’re teaching, what works for them and what doesn’t work for them. All those experiences have certainly helped me working on the books and have helped me in my teaching, too.”
Though his textbooks aren’t currently used in any Drake courses, students routinely respond to his writing with interest.
“Some of them are surprised,” he said. “Some of them are intrigued. It may give the professor a level of credibility amongst his students. In other words, ‘Oh, he must know the subject.’”