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Max. Classroom Capacity

Marcus W. Dickson
Wayne State University

I have to tell you… this is hard for me. Writing words that I know will be printed with ink and then sit on a shelf where they can be taken down and held for years to come is a different emotional experience for me than writing words that will forever remain digital. For me, it just is.

I do understand why TIP is making the change to a digital format. The other day, my wife was talking to my 15-year-old son, who carries a massive backpack full of his schoolbooks back and forth to school every day. She asked him “What would you think if you could have all of your textbooks on an iPad, so that that was all you had to carry?” His eyes got wide, and he said “They could do that?” The idea was entrancing to him.  And not long ago, there was a point in a conversation where I realized that a recent TIP article would be useful to a newly met colleague at a conference I was attending. I jumped online, found the article, snagged the pdf, and sent it on to my colleague—and realized that that’s pretty much how I interact with my resources most of the time now. In fact, I was delighted that I didn’t have to say “Oh, there’s this great article—when I get home, I’ll find it and send it to you.” In short, the online technology allowed me to better meet my goal of sharing a resource with a colleague.

I understand all of that that. But I have on my shelves Donald Laird’s The Psychology of Selecting Men (1927), Henry Link’s Employment Psychology (1922), May Smith’s Handbook of Industrial Psychology (1944), a first edition of The Human Side of Enterprise, and several other wonderful old books from our field. I also have TIP going back to my days as a graduate student. So when I heard about TIP’s move to being an electronic publication, I at first wasn’t happy. I like my books, and I like having them around me. I believe (rightly or wrongly) that I write better in my office, surrounded by my books and journals (including TIP) than I do anywhere else. I just feel more comfortable that way.

I think people’s feelings about TIP going all-digital are similar to feelings about all-digital text “books.” And when I look out into my classroom, I see far more tablets and laptops with the ebook up on the screen than I see copies of the textbook—and I’m at an urban institution, with lots of students in lower SES. When I look at my 3-year-old goddaughter Sasha, I watch her pick up an iPhone, unlock it, scroll to her favorite app (a learning app that she simply calls “Monkey”), and away she goes. For Sasha, definitely, and for the students already in our classrooms, digital is what makes sense. It is the water in which they swim.

So what is our resistance to digital when it comes to textbooks and when it comes to TIP? Certainly it is true that not all of our students have any at-home Internet access, much less high-speed access. Certainly it is true that some of our students—especially those who are older, second-career, or who did not have much or any computer access while growing up—are less computer literate and struggle to master the technology when we’d rather they were struggling to master the concepts. But it seems to me that there are a few larger, and more personal, issues that keep many faculty from being as open to these shifts.

First, it just isn’t what we grew up with. I was mad when I realized that many doctoral students are not learning matrix algebra—I had to, so why don’t they? But then my more senior colleagues remind me that they were mad when they realized that many doctoral students were no longer required to learn two, or even one, foreign languages. So one piece of our resistance seems to simply be that it’s a different experience than what we’re used to.

The second concern, I think, is that many of us believe “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” There’s the old stereotype about the professor with the yellowed legal pad class notes, which makes it sound like the professor is just lazy and way out of date. But you know, those notes worked for that professor, and it’s sometimes hard to find something that works better, or perhaps more accurately, it’s hard to find something different that feels like it is working better than the thing I’ve been doing successfully for a long time.

Finally, most of the digital stuff many of us have seen just isn’t very exciting. Yes, we can get pdfs of articles, but they don’t take advantage of the digital format at all—they are just digital recreations of what we’d see if we had the journal in front of us. In fact, that was the advantage of this form of digital files, at first—they were identical, and thus just as good, as the journal. But just as good isn’t good enough, and it isn’t what it could be. Why can’t digital mean that video is embedded? Why can’t digital mean that graphs are rotatable (like polynomial regression or cusp catastrophe models—they’re three-dimensional models represented in two-dimensional space! Why can’t digital versions do more?)? Why can’t digital TIP include video clips from keynotes at the SIOP conferences? In short, what we’ve seen, and typically expected, of digital formats just isn’t very much. If the new TIP looks just like the old TIP but arrives in my email inbox instead of my mailbox, I’ll be greatly disappointed.

So yes, I will miss the printed TIP. I will miss having to shove the new issue into a bookshelf that is already crammed full. I will miss the feel of it, and the pleasure of adding yet another issue to a collection that links me back to my grad school days. I’m with you on that. But just as I’ve come to appreciate the possibilities of a fully digital course text, I’m eager to see what the new TIP will bring in terms of making the journal better than before—more dynamic, more interactive (voting from directly within TIP, anyone?), and ultimately, more useful (salary survey data that is downloadable from within TIP?).

And if we can get used to TIP being digital, and to getting our favorite columns online, then maybe, just maybe, more of us will explore the digital textbooks that our students are already ready for.