Creative Uses for Textbook Companion Web Sites

by Denise R. Boyd

In today’s competitive textbook market, it’s difficult to find a textbook that doesn’t include free access to a companion Web site. These sites are packed with useful study tools, many of which can be adapted for use in classroom presentations. Moreover, the prices students pay for their books includes the cost of developing them, so I have always felt obligated to find ways to use them. In my experience, there are three categories of uses for the materials commonly found on companion Web sites: (1) for ungraded, self-directed student reviews of textbook chapters; (2) as graded assignments; and (3) as presentation tools in the Internet-wired classroom or computer lab.

As most experienced instructors know, self-directed use of available study materials is often the variable that separates successful and unsuccessful students. Students who are inclined to use every available means to learn and achieve in your class should benefit from explicit instructions from you as to how to use the study tools on the companion Web site effectively. First, you might recommend that, after reading each chapter, they take chapter quizzes found on the sites until they achieve perfect scores. Alternatively, these quizzes could be used along with the chapter objectives displayed on the site to preview chapter content. Second, most sites include some type of electronic key term flash cards. These are especially helpful to students who like to make such tools themselves as the electronic cards can save them a great deal of time. Third, you might urge students to visit the computer lab for an on-line review of to-be-tested chapters prior to coming to your classroom for an exam. This strategy might be more helpful than reviewing at home because learning is often linked to the setting in which it occurs and to the emotional state the learner was experiencing during the learning process. Both the lab setting and the student’s state of anxiety about the imminent exam are closer to the actual setting and emotional state that will be associated with taking the exam. As a result, recall should be enhanced. Of course, you should point out that such a review will likely help only those students who have already studied extensively for the exam under less time-pressured conditions.

There are several ways of using the materials on companion Web sites for graded assignments. One way is to use the e-mail tools provided on most Web sites. Students can e-mail completed quizzes or their responses to essay questions directly to you. However, if you have a large number of students, your e-mailbox will experience a virtual overflow in short order. A helpful alternative is to require students to keep the activities they complete in either an electronic or actual folder that they submit at the end of the term. I use this approach for both distance education and on-campus classes. My instructions have varied from an explicit list of companion Web site activities that must be completed for each chapter to an open-ended requirement that there be at least 50 items in the folder. When using the open-ended approach, I require that students’ choices include a variety of types of activities and be representative of all required chapters. I have found this strategy to be particularly useful for Web sites that include Web links along with audio and video clips. Students are required to summarize the content found at Web links they visit and in audio/video clips they choose to listen to.

Internet access and the equipment needed to display Web sites to an entire class are available in a growing number of college classrooms. Further, on many campuses, instructors can bring an entire class to a computer lab; or a class may be scheduled to meet exclusively in a computer lab. In such settings, the materials available on the textbook companions Web site can be used to enhance lectures and other classroom activities. For one thing, many such sites include links to Web sites where useful images are available. I find these images to be particularly helpful in teaching biological topics to introductory and developmental psychology students. And the preparation time involved in incorporating them into lectures is much less than that associated with creating transparencies or PowerPoint slides. I also routinely display chapter objective lists on companion Web sites when introducing students to a new chapter. Further, I use the key terms flashcards in class as pre-exam reviews.

In summary, whether used by students independently or as a source of assignments and classroom presentation aids, companion Web sites can be one of the most useful of all the ancillaries provided with textbooks.

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