Prepping for the Geography Textbook Sprint

We are just over a week away from our first shot at running a textbook sprint and I’m feeling anxious, excited, and nervous.

The sprint will bring together 5 Geography faculty who will, over the course of 4 days, complete a first year Geography textbook. The venue at UBC is booked, the faculty are pumped and ready to go (we’ve got people from SFU, UBC, Okanagan College, and one person from both University of Fraser Valley & BCIT). Along with those people, we’ll also have Adam Hyde facilitating the event for the 4 days. To support the faculty, a number of my BCcampus colleagues will be on hand; Amanda Coolidge will be bringing her Instructional Design sensibility. Brad Payne his programming chops, and Hilda Angreeni is on board as the designated graphic designer/illustrator. All will bring a big dose of awesomeness and enthusiasm. Late, but very welcome, additions are librarians Jon Strang and Erin Fields from UBC to assist with researching.

So, we have the team in place.

Prepping for this has been making sure the logistical details are taken care of – venue, accommodations, food, supplies, networks, communication, etc. That has taken a good bulk of time and is increasing as we get closer to the June 9th kickoff. But a big part of the work has also been to try to continue some of the research I started earlier this spring on the pedagogical qualities of a good textbook.

It’s a fine line here because a big part of what makes a book sprint successful is this sense of shared ownership and responsibility that comes from this little community of people we are pulling together. Much of what the textbook will be is determined by the people in the room in the first hours of the sprint. Everyone needs to feel that they have had input to make the book in order for the process to work. But we did want to try to provide something of a framework and some examples of the elements of a textbook to try to help with setting the structure of the book.

One item I found that I quite liked was this Wikibooks article that talks about the structure of a textbook and how structure aides learning. After spending some time with Amanda and Hilda talking about the 5 rules for structuring content mentioned in the article, we thought that making it into an infographic and having it as a poster would be a useful tool to have in the room. So, with Hilda’s design magic and Amanda’s wordsmithing, we have this nice little artifact adapted from the original Wikibooks articles that we think will be a decent reminder of some of the principles in play when structuring content.

RulesOfTextbooksReally, when you look at those principles, you can see that these principles could easily apply to structuring any learning material, not just a textbook. Hopefully it will be a useful guide to help get us started developing the textbook, and provide some overarching advice that can help us mesh the work of 5 different content experts into a consistent and unified finished product.

I have to say, I am nervous about all of this. We’re asking a lot of the participants to create a book from start to finish in 4 days. And not just any book, but a book full of facts that need to be verified and checked, engaging learner activities, and pedagogical elements that make it a compelling alternative to a commercial textbook. It is a challenge, for sure. But beyond that it is an experiment in collaboration. Some things will work, some things won’t. It’s a first for all of us and right now there are questions that can only be answered in the doing. And I am ready to do.


Clint Lalonde

Just a guy writing some stuff, mostly for me these days on this particular blog. For my EdTech/OpenEd stuff, check out


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