College students don’t need coffee table books.
But that’s just what many of the colorful, glossy and thick textbooks have become. They dilute content and are a waste of money, says Dork Sahagian, Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Lehigh University.
Sahagian has written a textbook suitable for introductory environmental science courses that cuts out the gloss and sticks to the science.
The book is slimmer than a traditional textbook, with a soft cover, black and white interior and no “storytelling” – Sahagian’s word for the entertaining but pointless anecdotes that pepper most environmental science textbooks, he says. Perhaps they had value in the days before the Internet, since they enlightened readers through describing events or places. But nowadays, readers can find stories about hurricanes, oil spills, and all sorts of natural catastrophes online and elsewhere. “With the internet in every student’s pocket, there is no need to dilute a textbook with all that, and at great cost,” he says.
A big draw for Sahagian’s book is that it’s only $56.
“Traditional books on this subject are on the order of $150 to $200. It’s an unfortunate situation, because our field is changing so rapidly, that by the middle of the semester, those books are out of date. So that was my original driving force for writing a textbook. Normally, publishers don't allow authors to have a say in the final price, but I argued successfully that the value of the book is that it's simple, cheap, and to the scientific point,” Sahagian says.
The book is ideal for freshman-level students looking for an inexpensive book that gives them a solid foundation in environmental science.
"And when it's out of date, you can recycle it," Sahagian says with a smile.
The publisher, Cognella, is also releasing a digital copy that costs about $15 less. Buying them together is a bargain. And Sahagian supplements the book with a series of PowerPoint lecture detailing more facts, figures, and data that changes often, as well as a teacher’s guide with exam questions. The supplements come at no charge to an environmental science professor.
Sahagian also keeps updating the book “in real time” as scientists’ information about the state of the planet keeps changing, he says. The book will print on demand.
Since it was published just before the start of the Fall 2013 semester, A User’s Guide to Planet Earth hasn’t yet seen much play.
Still, aside from Lehigh, The University of New Hampshire in Durham, Brooklyn College in New York, and Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan are already using the textbook this semester. Sahagian believes the book will draw more interest from institutions throughout the United States for the Spring 2014 semester, now that professors have enough time to learn about it and choose it for their classes.
"Of course I want my book to be picked up. I wrote it to be a useful tool in everyone’s classroom. But I really hope this kind of textbook will become a trend in the future,” he says.
Sahagian is conducting a webinar on Oct. 9
surrounding the philosophy of teaching in the 21st century, including the use of textbooks such as A User’s Guide to Planet Earth. The session will be hosted by the national Council of Environmental Deans and Directors in D.C. Anyone can participate by registering here
Professor Dork Sahagian is an internationally recognized Earth and environmental scientist and shared Nobel Peace Prize winner as a scientist who contributed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports. He earned his B.S. in Physics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, his M.S. in Geosciences at Rutgers, and his Ph.D. in Geophysics from the University of Chicago. He served as a NORDA Oceanographer at Dartmouth College; an Associate Research Scientist at Lamont-Doherty, Columbia University; and a Research Scientist at the Byrd Polar Research Center, Ohio State University. He was the Executive Director of The Global Analysis, Integration, and Modeling Task Force of the International Geosphere Biosphere Program at the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space at the University of New Hampshire before moving to Lehigh University to direct the Environmental Initiative, as well as develop and teach the introductory course in Environmental Science. Part of his research led him to coauthor the pivotal reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was jointly awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former vice president Al Gore. Professor Sahagian's areas of research include paleoclimatology, volcanology, global change, stratigraphy, geo-dynamics and tectonics, global hydrology, and sea level.