This post complements Janet’s webinar, Texts Plus: Ancillary Materials & Companion Sites, for the Textbook and Academic Authors Association on April 24.
When we write a book for instructional purposes, completing the manuscript is only one step of the process. We also need to develop materials that instructors and students can use to teach and learn about the book’s content. Ancillary materials can be used to explain difficult concepts or procedures, or to offer the opportunity for the student to practice skills in realistic exercises. They can include a basic set of PowerPoint slides or a wide range of resources such as sample syllabi, cases or examples, supplementary readings, media, assignments, and quizzes.
In this sequential line, after we submit the document with all the figures and tables, we coordinate with the publisher to identify the kinds of resources that will complement the book. Some publishers offer a publicly accessible companion site for each text, others host separate password-protected areas for instructors and students.
We hope that a robust set of materials will encourage faculty members to adopt our books. But, how do we know what instructors and students want or need? Are ancillary materials a waste of our time, or the most important part of the project? I’ve been exploring the ways academic authors approach these add-on activities. While looking for examples from creative and forward thinking scholars, the Pulitzer Prizes were announced– and the Washington Post’s winning journalist nailed it. Martin Baron, the Post’s executive editor, described David Fahrenthold’s process:
Fahrenthold’s prize-winning reporting was a follow-the-money tale that combined dogged reporting …with the creative use of social media, especially Twitter, to “crowdsource” the public’s collective knowledge of people and events.
In the process, Post editor Martin Baron said, Fahrenthold, 39, “reimagined” investigative reporting. Traditionally, Baron said, reporters have kept their work “secret and guarded” until they have developed enough information to publish. Fahrenthold instead shared his progress on stories via Twitter and openly asked readers for tips and information that guided his work. Baron noted that this process now has a name: “the Fahrenthold method.” (Farhi, 2017)
Can we as academic authors also reimagine our process of writing?If we adapt the “Fahrenthold method,” instead of waiting until we finish the book manuscript to create ancillary materials, we would write about the subject matter of our book and interact with the instructors and students who are interested in the topic at the same time. Instead of protecting our writing while it is still in progress, we would open it up and cultivate an energized following. We can use Twitter or other social media, as Fahrenthold did, to share ideas or examples and ask for input. We can also use interactive online events like webinars to try out presentations would can later refine and record.
Let’s reimagine ancillary materials a step further, and think about where we will share them. The publishers companion site is an excellent location for a set of materials book users can easily find. Such sites can also have a marketing value because potential readers can readily see ways to teach the book. However, companion sites are usually difficult or impossible to update. We can use our own website or blog to remedy this problem, and keep fresh content available to instructors who have adopted a book. When we give presentations, or try out new applications of the ideas from the book, we can make them available for others to use. If we maintain our interaction with instructors, will undoubtedly hear about their dilemmas– and can develop materials to help.
This re-imagination of ancillary materials means development of instructional resources is an ongoing a parallel process to writing and promoting the book. What are your experiences as a textbook writer– what kinds of resources did you feel were a valuable accompaniment to your book? What are your experiences as an instructor, or student– what kinds of resources do you prefer? Use the comment area to share ideas or links.