- October 3, 2016
The Strengths of the Textbook Genre
The textbook genre is a well-known, largely permanent and exists as a sole entity itself, as well as one of the central backbones of college education. Genres are defined by their scenes and the underlying experiences that we as individuals attribute to them and expect from them (Devitt, Reiff and Bawarshi). The college education scene employs the textbook genre as a response to the need of a condensed body of knowledge for teaching and learning. The development of this genre in the past 30 years has been consistent in some aspects of its trajectory from the 1980's until current day. An analysis of two examples of the textbook genre, taken from two different time periods, 1980s and 2008, reveal that they supplement science differently in the textbook. The way they supplement or reduce narrative in the genre showed the genre adapted to the rapid growth of information. In more recent textbooks the authors have presented more condensed and practical information in response to that growth, as opposed to narrative. The ease at which the genre can be adapted to suit the time periods material and information, allows this genre to persist in modern education. Both examples of the genre are intended for undergraduates to understand the subject, and both encourage the readers to interact with the genre in the learning process via mathematical problems. This reveals that this genre has existed as a response to rheotrical situations for so long, because learning practical sciene topics require interaction with practice problems this genre usually presents. Also, legitemacy is maintained because of the reputation of the authors and their presenting of sources used to make arguments. This legitemacy trumps other primary sources of information that may be found online, and allows this genre to persist as a response to the need for a condensed body of knowledge in education.
Cosmology, The Science of The Universe by Edward Harrison is an introductory cosmology textbook published in the 1980s, a time where science was beginning to compound exponentially upwards. Steven Weinberg, the author of ,"Cosmology" had his book published the year of 2008, intended for an audience that had been exposed to the glamours of space exploration. The intended audience in 2008 were the students of physics, whom were already presently acquainted with the developments of the modern world in physics and cosmology while the older counterparts in the 1980's still had a substantial part of the universe in a fog of uncertainty. The 1980's students would be the pioneers in cosmology and the study of the universe. The sentiment is expressed in the preface of the 2008 textbook where Steven Weinberg attributes the establishment of the science of elementary phyiscs in the year 1980, which was also the date of the publication of Dr. Harrison's textbook (Weinberg p.vi). This pattern of acknowledgment of the year 1980 as a time of rapid growth in the field reveals that authors can modify a textbook to better reflect the time period in which they are writing. The author is conscious of the infancy or maturation of the material and can easily adapt the genre to it. This maleability makes it possible for this genre to survive in modern education.
The modern, most recent view of the genre of textbook is that of a body of knowledge written for the consumption of an educator or a student, whom both are expected to read the books. The knowledge is expected to be introduced in higher and higher degrees of competency since a science book builds on the knowledge previously written. A general physics book such as these two Cosmology books both, regardless of time period interact with mathematical problems and expect the student to practice mathematical problems. It is self evident that the 2008 textbook on Cosmology took a mathematics heavy approach starting as early as page 2, "The coordinate transformations that leave this invariant are here simply ordinary three-dimensional rotations and translation" (Weinberg). Weinberg writes the textbook with little room for discussion or illustrations such as the 1980 book by Dr. Witten. The 1980's book written by Dr. Witten, apart from the mathematics, focused on the creative thought that inspired the study of space, with fantastical images spanning the entire history of human experience, as seen in the illustrations that dot the pages and the quotes that begin the chapters; ""He has ventured far beyond the flaming ramparts of the world and in mind and spirit traversed the boundless universe- Lucretiues (99-55 B.C.)"" (Harrison). The presence of quotes, of depictions of early cosmology reveal a reflection of the 1980's as a time of rapid growth in Cosmology, and the book serves to both inspire and teach. The lack of quotes and illustrations in Dr. Weinberg's textbook show the effect of science at its peak density, as opposed to the early onset. Regardless of the presentation of information, both books employ problem sets and mathematics in order to teach key sceintifc concept of physics. The consistent mathematical problems that appear decades apart reveal that not much has changed in the way this genre responds to the teaching of important concepts. In both books, practice is emphasized as a tool to teach the mathematics that interact with the science of the universe.
The education genre in the northeast, during the 80's was that of unbridled imagination urged on by the space race, and the content of this textbook is set to inspire confidence in the young entering freshmen about the beauty of space. In 2008 however, with cosmology becoming more theoretical and less inspired by novelty, the textbook reflected the dramatic shift in the genre of space and how to present it. This reveals that when textbooks, the genre in question, interact with ever-expanding science, textbooks tend to lose their ability to read as a novel, and more as a technical manual. Weinberg, even ackgnowladges the burden of too much information and states, "So much has happened in cosmology since the 1960s that this book necessarily bears little resemblance," to his earlier books (Weinberg p.vii). This shift in science is mirrored in the genre, and we can conlude that the genre has been adapted with the times, and thus stayed relevant as a source of educational information
Finally, having discussed how two different cosmology books present the study of cosmology, the next logical jump would be to discuss why the textbook genre existed then and continues to exist now. The purpose of the textbook has not changed since the three decades of publishing in between them. The academic scene still requires textbooks as the primary method of teaching. One of these reasons is that the condensation of knowledge is universally regarded as the best means of transmitting information. Books usually have physical material that they quote from in regards to their knowledge, and this is what a student or educator can expect from a textbook, knowing that the knowledge is sound. For example "Cosmology" contains references at the bottom of the page of information (Weinberg 30) or at the end of the chapter (Harrison 68). The authority that textbooks provide as primary sources is one of the strengths of using this genre as a response to the need for a condensed body of knowledge. Teaching using websites such as Wikipedia, which reference linked sources, still do not uphold the agency that professors who write textbooks do. A reason for this stems from the argument presented above, about the unchanging nature of education in a scientific field requiring practicing math problems, that both books promote even 30 years apart, while simultainously synthesizing information.
In conclusion, the student plays the part in the academic scene, by interacting in a set pattern with a textbook. In the cosmology textbooks listed above, the role the student assumes is that of a blank slate, and its up to the way their previous experiences with textbooks to synthesize the material. This genre, the textbook, even when examples are seperated by decades, not much changes in the way that it presents science to the reader. It has matured to represent the growing body of science, but the fundemntal practice of science remains consistent. The student can open a textbook and find a blend of culture and science or just science without narrative if the information is dense. In either case, the author of a textbook of science understands the primary goal of teaching, and the role a textbook takes up in that role. The authenticity as a primary source makes this genre response in science education more prevalent than online sources of information, and has contributed to the stability and consistency of this genre in education.