By Robert Koerner
Within my faculty career, which began in 1968, the teaching of technical subjects such as geotechnical and geosynthetics engineering has gone from (a) writing on a chalkboard, to (b) prepared overhead transparencies, to (c) prepared 35mm slides, and now to (d) prepared computer-based PowerPoint® presentations.
The following table attempts to capture the pros and cons of each in a classroom setting, where it is seen that the PowerPoint method far outweighs the others and one has to actually stretch to find disadvantages. Perhaps the main issue in this regard is that one (I am often guilty) tends to present too much information and also do it much too fast. To somewhat alleviate this, the instructor can make the presentation available for student before the class. In such a situation, a potential disadvantage could turn into an advantage since the students now know what will be presented before the actual class … instructor beware!
With the presentation vehicle now established, let’s turn to the need and cost of a traditional hard-copy textbook on the subject matter. Technical textbook costs have not only kept pace with college/university tuitions, they have, percentage-wise, actually exceeded them.
For example, the fifth edition of Designing with Geosynthetics published in 2005 by a major technical book publisher now costs (at this writing) from $109 to $378! As a result of such high textbook costs, students buy used copies, use older editions, or go without.
Fortunately, I was released from my contract with my former publisher and shopped around, eventually finding an on-demand publisher. Its forte is publishing biographies, autobiographies, and coffee-table books and had only published three other technical textbooks.
When I questioned their respective authors, I got recommendations of good, moderate, and bad. Undaunted (perhaps foolishly), I signed a contract requiring a $3,800 up-front cost that ended up doubling because I needed a two-volume set.
The original manuscript (which was in really good shape) was submitted in January 2011 and, after five complete and agonizing reviews, edition No. 6 was published a year later in January 2012. Everything was done electronically and it was mind-numbing to guide and correct the nontechnical editors (who never saw an equation, Greek notation, intricate curves and tables, numeric examples, etc.) to finally get it into final publication form. I am sorry to say that there are still some (hopefully not many?) small errors. But to compensate, it is inexpensive (see the following booksellers listings).
Finally, let’s juxtapose the modern method of lecturing, i.e., by PowerPoint, with the above e-book version of the sixth edition of Designing with Geosynthetics. Students should certainly be able to afford $6.78 for the two volumes and certainly have their own computers.
What’s left in this scenario is for you, the instructor, to have your presentations on PowerPoint. In this regard, I want you to know that the entire 914-page
two-volume Designing with Geosynthetics book now has an accompanying set of approximately 750 PowerPoint slides for your use. Furthermore, it is completely free. Still further, it is not encrypted so you can change, modify, add, or subtract at your desire. Send me an e-mail at email@example.com and include your postal address and I’ll send you the CD.
With this combination, most of you can teach geosynthetics; you with your set of presentation slides and the students with the e-books on their computers. They even have a hand free to take miscellaneous notes in the traditional manner.
It is about time that more than a select few colleges are teaching geosynthetics to our graduating students. By my count only 12 out of 600+ colleges in North America teach a stand-alone course on geosynthetics. Thus, each year we fall behind in producing geosynthetics-smart graduating students.
Let’s have more of you (faculty and practitioners) get on board by offering to teach geosynthetics even as adjunct faculty at your local university or college. You might be pleasantly surprised that your offer is accepted.
Best wishes in this regard!