Being Intentional about Using a Handbook.

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We sometimes display an encouraging if not particularly forceful approach to handbooks. We might require one, or recommend one, or recommend any of several, either at our individual course level or as a writing program policy. We tell students that “It’s there if you need it.” We might reinforce the “as you need it” model with our marginal comments on student papers, sometimes encouraging students to “Look it up in your handbook.” We then go about teaching our courses, with little structured use of the handbook either in classroom or out. Some students figure out it’s not really all that important, and what they need to know is on the Web anyway. Others buy it and wonder why, selling it back if they can at the end of the term and taking a loss.

I saw a very different approach when I visited the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign a few weeks ago and met with directors of the international writing program, a large program that delivers courses for an increasingly important population, international students, for whom English is a second language. Directors Jin Kim and Cassandra Rosado are faculty in the linguistics department. Linguistics divides teaching responsibilities with the English Department, which offers writing courses to native speakers. These program directors take the handbook seriously. As the author, I am thrilled they have chosen to use Writer’s Help, Version 1.0 and now, this fall, Version 2.0. But I am also impressed with their very methodical and intentional uses of a required handbook.

What’s different? They require students to buy the text, meaning, in this case, access to the online site, good for four years. They train their instructors in their pre-term workshops to use the chosen books effectively (and show them how easy it is to determine if students have purchased access). They’ve created an in-house Web site to support the use of Writer’s Help, with technical documentation and useful information about how to use the resource. They provide model assignments to their instructors and TAs, showing how to weave the handbook content into the syllabus and into specific assignments. They require several common assignments over the first few weeks that take students into the handbook, help them learn to search productively, and demonstrate the value of the resource.

Cassandra and Jin also take advantage of Bedford’s technical and instructional support staff to get the most out of the required text, customizing it for their specific program and their own students. They show instructors how the work of one semester and the creation of a syllabus and assignments can be carried over to the next term, and how they can use a source file for a course to build multiple sections. They have figured out ways as program administrators to create a standard syllabus, which can then be inherited by all the sections and customized at the section level by individual instructors. They seek analytics from Bedford, so they know what students are searching on, what is being emphasized in courses, and how to continue to create rich interaction among instructors, students, and the text. I used the terms methodical and intentional above. I think that captures their approach.

If we require students to pay for books and instructional resources, to my mind we have an obligation to show students the value of the resources. Toward that end, we should be methodical and intentional in our uses of course resources.

Bedford provides strong support for instructors who want to create the best value for students from Bedford products. You will find links throughout the Macmillan English Community to instructor resources.

My Bits coauthors and I always try to share best practices. Sure, we authors all love to sell books, but even more, we love to see our books used to good advantage. Check out these links if you want to keep thinking about “using the book.”

From me:

From Nancy Sommers:

From Andrea Lunsford:

About the Author
Dr. Stephen A. Bernhardt is recently retired from the University of Delaware, where he held the Andrew B. Kirkpatrick, Jr. Chair in Writing, from which position he promoted strong writing and communication skills across the university. He is the author of Writer's Help, a Web-based reference handbook from Bedford/St. Martin’s, now in Version 2.0. He teaches courses in scientific and technical communication, first year composition, computers and writing, and grammar and style. He taught previously at New Mexico State University and Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. You can learn more about Steve at his Web site.