Monday, November 4, 2013

A textbook-free [Introduction to Biological Anthropology] curriculum

[Update June 11, 2014: Here's how far this project has come.]

A map of some of the Internet (source)
I'm thinking hard about ditching the textbook for my big general education (and major requirement) course: APG 201: Human Origins (aka Intro to BioAnth). 

It's for two main reasons: (a) seems like there may be enough high quality material available on-line for free to cover what this course requires, and (b) I don't teach the course in the order that any of the textbooks do. 

Here's where I discuss my approach in further detail, although I've been modifying it since then. The key to my approach is starting with accessible observations of nature, first, not theory. Once we identify some key similarities and differences between humans and others we move on to explaining those similarities and differences.  We start with common ancestry and change over time, including persistent mutation, before covering natural selection. 

Although I'm about to submit an order for the same textbook I've always used to my campus bookstore for Spring 2014, I'm working on the textbook-free curriculum now. It's because I'll need to follow these on-line, open access readings behind-the-scenes along with a status quo run of the course, first. If it feels good, then I'll go for it in Fall 2014 Spring 2015. 

Here's my working list, unit-by-unit, of readings that can replace a textbook and complement lecture material. There are too many already, and many may be better prep materials for a lecture than assigned readings for students, nonetheless I'll be continuing to update it as I find more. 

If anybody has any suggestions to add to this list, please send them my way.

Note: I have not vetted all of these items. Many of them are brand new to me. Once I have a final list of readings for a textbook-free course in Fall 2014 Spring 2015, I'll make a separate post. 

Unit 1: Anthropological and Scientific Perspectives 

 Unit 2: This View of Life 
 Unit 3: Explaining the Similarities and Differences 
Unit 4: How Evolution Works
Unit 5: Primate Ecology and Behavior
Unit 6: The Hominin Fossil Record
Unit 7: Modern Human Origins, Variation and Race
Unit 8: The Cultural Controversy
Videos (I only show clips in class. Long films are homework.)
Books (not textbooks) 
  • Darwin's Origin of Species: A biography by Janet Browne
  • Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea by Carl Zimmer
  • Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin
  • Our Inner Ape by Frans de Waal
  • Skin: A Natural History by Nina Jablonski


Anonymous said...

Amazing work!! Thank you very much for that list!

Holly Dunsworth said...

I hope it's helpful. I'd love to know if others are using completely free, open access, on-line material to teach courses.

Just to spread the word...All those articles at are peer-reviewed and there are links to other Open Access peer-reviewed articles as well. Some are professional essays (like Anne and Ken's fantastic one at Aeon), a few are my blog posts that I know students enjoy.

Holly Dunsworth said...

...and some of those links are to websites where, if assigned as reading, specific tabs, pages, etc will need to be picked. They're also useful for homework assignments. Like becoming a primate expert, working on molecular clocks, thinking through a scientific problem, and doing the quizzes at Understanding Race.

Unknown said...

This is AWESOME, Holly! Thanks so much for sharing!

Ken Weiss said...

Wow, Holly, what a service to so many! This post shows how the social networking sphere can really reach out and across a vast span....people around the world who may come to know of your ideas and links can teach way beyond what their local resources may provide.

James Goetz said...

Holly, that looks excellent. In fact, last week I was checking out THE NATURE EDUCATION KNOWLEDGE PROJECT and saw your name as an editor.

May I make a request? I almost emailed you about this last week while I was doing some research. I was hoping to find a good summary of the the Neolithic Era / New Stone Age. I found what I needed elsewhere, but I would love to see your site have a basic and/or intermediate article on the New Stone Age.

Holly Dunsworth said...

I agree that more archaeology articles would be really useful! Thanks for the request... it will help when we try to convince them to do more in that area, but it's possible someone is already working on it.

Holly Dunsworth said...

I asked my students (in this course) today if they could think of any downsides to going to completely online readings. (Most, had none to contribute and just encouraged me to do it.) Here's a concern though: Many prefer to read on paper (like I do) and the cost of printing the articles out is something to consider. Not only that but students don't seem to have their own printers, and the community printers that freshmen and sophomores use (the majority in my course) are often out of paper and ink and charge too muc. So some sort of packet via the bookstore is what they highly recommend. Many profs have experience making these packets. Only 2/120 students had tablets for reading online or pdfs, by the way.

James Goetz said...

Oops, I forgot that the NSA is not within the perview of paleontology :-)

James Goetz said...

I suppose that the cost of printing a packet with all of the articles in a readable font size is a key to this. You could do a simple feasibility study by printing all of the articles and then asking the university printer how much the packet would cost for the students. If the cost is drastically less than the textbook price, then you are golden.

Holly Dunsworth said...

Packets are common and seem to be about 30 bucks.

James Goetz said...

I do not recall packets nearly the size of a textbook, but that is two decades ago. Can that $30 packet and links to video clips really replace an entire Introduction to Biological Anthropology textbook?

Ken Weiss said...

Certainly it can! Students largely don't read textbooks any more, and textbooks have become immorally expensive. The mix of materials including online will increasingly become the norm I think.

Holly Dunsworth said...

Forgive me James if my initiation of this packet discussion seemed directed at you. And to answer your question. No videos ... Just articles to be printed and there's more than enough online to suffice and printing open source materials isn't costly.

James Goetz said...

Holly, I did not suppose you focused it on me. But as a parent of 2 college students and what might be 4 college students, this caught my eye. My first concern was the tediousness of reading everything online, and I thought your idea was good enough for careful scrutiny and consideration.

Holly Dunsworth said...

I'd love it if fellow educators or authors would suggest articles or links to add as potential student resources in Intro to BioAnth. I'll be adding to this list myself over the next several months and so you may want to check back here periodically for more ideas for your own courses...

Cynthia Bradbury said...

Holly, Wow. This gives me so much to think about. Thank you for so generously sharing your work.

Have you checked out the efossils site. I like it for my online class because the photos show so much detail.

Ivan said...

Very very interesting work! Thank you very much.
Apart from having to read it online - issue, my concern would be that any online resource can "decay", or go offline, or move, or something else. I guess it would be a good idea to have a copy stored somewhere locally to you.