The question, dear Horatio, is how often do you change your course material? Textbooks come out with new editions seemingly every year (or bi-annually at the very least) but to those of us in the trenches, the ability to revisit our lesson plans is limited by the fact that generally we teach year round. In the week here or there between semesters, I am either getting caught up from the previous term, prepping for the upcoming term, or taking a much needed vacation. Meanwhile, new editions, and their rivals from other publishers, are piling up in the mail room. I only recently discovered that the mail room is delighted to send them back for me, so I now no longer lug around unrequested pounds of books destined only for:
A dusty shelf
A needy student
A school library
That takes care of the ones I do not wish to review. But what about the textbook I already use? Nowadays the very choice is taken away from us, to use the 12th edition instead of the 13th, since everything is bar-coded and computerized and bookstores are compelled to purchase the latest and greatest from the publisher. This regardless of whether you think they made a grievous error in the latest revision or not! What about my collateral material? The stuff I have painstakingly collected and collated over the years? In Cultural Anthropology changing one ethnographic example could mean the tossing out of an ancillary article or rendering an exercise meaningless. What is a body to do?
I have arrived at a compromise, a series of re-vamps in steps, ranging from the micro-scale in terms of time and effort (skimming each new addition for landmines); to acts requiring a modicum of effort (deleting an activity here, substituting an article there); to the large, complete overhaul. The first I conduct immediately upon receipt of the newest edition, running through the text with a fresh, juicy highlighter pen, making sure all of my old friends (the Maya! the Ju/Hoansi! the Trobriand Islanders!) are all still in their places with bright shiny faces. I made need to make a correction or two on the fly (I had one overhead that I think I had to delete the prefix un- from every single class for years, because it was just so insignificant I never would remember it until it popped up in class) but little time is invested or wasted.
The next scale I have to rethink at the beginning of every term, as I write the schedule of readings for the syllabus. This one is hemmed about by the structure of the semester, how many days and hours, and even when the term is taking place (e.g. I can only offer the New World Thanksgiving extra credit in fall). Some readings fall by the wayside, because no matter how much I love them, they just do not fit with the pace or focus of the course. Others I may include as filler, knowing I am liable to drop them when I need some extra time. Sometimes they get dropped from the new edition, when my Talking About Peoplereader dropped a Sidney Mintz article, it was a body blow; taking a chunk of lecture and an in-class activity with it.
The largest task, the complete review and re-vamp, I do about every four to five years. This means pulling apart the sinews holding the class together; reviewing my entire philosophy on the subject, how it should be taught, and what students should learn. I check over recent literature on all of the main subjects: Are people still practicing polyandry? Have I mushed together Arnold Van Gennep and Victor Turner? How about Band/Tribe/Chiefdom/State, has that been superseded by new post-modern interpretations?
I throw away out of date articles, delete exercises that have served their purpose or are no longer being well-received. I edit my lecture notes, inserting all of those things I have been saving up (u- for example) and adding new pictures or graphs. I upload salient items to the latest online platform, writing new bits as appropriate. Then I stitch the entire edifice back together, dress it with a table of contents and a lesson plan overview, and pack it into a clean binder. Et voila! I am done. At least until the next course’s overhaul comes due, that is.