What I didn't put into the last post about the textbook was how much stumbling I had to go through just to squeak out a first chapter. I was originally doing this for credit, but found the process (of figuring out how to write, not getting credit) rocky going. My summary of how I did at the semester's end, when I was horribly behind on everything (and contemplating dropping out of college, actually):
Overall learning has been fantastic but mostly non-apparent to people other than myself. Learning according to plan has been abysmal. I will now turn my attention back to submitting deliverables.
The goals I had when I started writing the textbook changed dramatically over the 5 months I struggled to pump out just one chapter.
Initial goals: "Under the assumption that the current model of how textbooks are created and used for learning is no longer the most efficient method we have available for facilitating student learning, how can we create a new type of textbook that will take advantage of the technologies and theories we have around today in such a way that it helps students learn better than they did before1? Also, what is the process one must go through in order to write a textbook?"
By the end, that had boiled down to a much simpler question: "How can we understand what goes through a student’s mind when they’re reading a textbook and how can we use that information to redesign what textbooks are and how they are used?"
I also saw my personal philosophy about teaching and learning shape itself into much more clarity during the time I worked on the textbook (and indeed, whenever I pick it up to work on it again). For instance, on "coming from a place of abundance":
First of all, there must never be shame. Students work best when they come from a place of playful empowerment rather than one of intimidation and inadequacy. At the project’s start, and during brief periods of glory within the semester, I felt that sense of empowerment and freedom. I proposed my project largely because I thought that if I initiated a project, I’d feel that sense of freedom all the way through it. However, I soon learned that it wasn’t enough to statically define your project at the start. In order to have a sense of playful empowerment, one must be free to change, rewrite, scrap, delete, wreck, rebuild, and tinker with all aspects of the project at any time during its course.
And on teaching as the creation of an environment (as opposed to 'stuff from my head goes into your head'):
If we want students to be able to roam freely within the intellectual culture they are studying, we need to let them wander the countryside with a dictionary in their back pocket speaking to as many different natives as possible; teasers and references are the equivalent of giving the student an address-book of helpful native speakers to (optionally) look up.
The most important thing I learned was about... learning.
I would say that while I have learned a great deal of what I needed to learn, it was not what I had set out or planned to learned. In one sense – the checkbox of requirements sense - I’ve mostly failed in fulfilling my goals. In another sense – the formative learning experience sense – I’ve gone far beyond what I originally expected.
It's pretty neat to look back on how much this has shaped the subsequent education-related things I've done. Yeah, I know I could have tried to copy-paste somebody else's textbook-writing process onto myself, but that... first of all, I looked for that, but it was hard to find people who can teach that kind of thing.Second, I figured that (1) for a non-standard textbook, I'd probably want a non-standard process - which is not necessarily true - and (2) I would learn a lot by trying to work a process out myself - which was very true, and I'm ultimately glad I did it.