UMD professors-gone-authors

When Ken Gilbertson, a UMD outdoor education professor, needed to combine theory and strategy into an outdoor methods course, he ran into a roadblock: there was neither an updated nor complete textbook targeting his student audience. So, he decided to write one himself with the help of two other colleagues.

“We weren’t writing it for our egos,” Gilbertson said. “We were writing it because students needed to learn this stuff.”

Gilbertson is one of a handful of UMD professors who have written textbooks for their classrooms. There are several reasons a professor might write their own textbook. Professors interviewed at UMD addressed reasons such as teaching a unique course for which an appropriate book does not exist or self-publishing additional material for a class.

Joseph Gallian, a UMD Math professor, felt there were too many shortcomings in previous textbooks. He had accumulated a 3-inch stack of additional examples for his students throughout his years of teaching, which led him to write his own textbook in 1972. Within the overall process of writing, editing, and publishing the book, four years had gone by. However, that didn’t discourage him, and he’s been updating it ever since.

“I knew at the outset that my book was a gamble in the sense that it may crash and burn, said Gallian. “It may not sell much.”

Another professor who is a veteran textbook writer at UMD is Frank Guldbrandsen. He has taught the Education and Modern Society course for the past 40 years. As this class is a liberal education course, he said that over half of the students that sign up aren’t Education majors. He put together a book that applies to the array of majors.

“I’ve used multiple people’s books through the years, but I have been dissatisfied with what a number of other people have put together,” Guldbrandsen said. “I thought I could do a better job.”

A common misconception students have is that professors are making a large secondary income off of their textbooks. According to the National Association of College Stores, the publisher costs represent 78 percent of what students pay for a textbook, and only 11.7 percent represents the author’s income. So when students buy a $100 book for a course, the author is making less than $12 on the sale. “It’s a lottery, because most books don’t make much money at all,” Gallian said. “A few do well.” Professor Chongwon Park said he knows this feeling firsthand. He wrote his first linguistics textbook in 2011.

“They sell my book for $70-something in the bookstore,” Park said. “I get $4 per book if I’m lucky.” It has never been about the money for Park. He used to give free manuscripts to his students, but was in a dilemma because he wouldn’t receive credit for his work. UMD is a public research university and professors need publication to receive promotions and develop the field.

Guldbrandsen wrote his textbook for that reason as well.

“There is an expectation for professors at UMD to produce scholarship,” Guldbrandsen said. “In a modest way, this is something that I’m doing and have done in an attempt to expand the field a bit.”

Whether professors provide additional examples to their students, or create a textbook out of those examples, Ken Gilbertson is glad he wrote his outdoor education textbook.

“We wrote it to benefit the student,” Gilbertson said. “If there was a better textbook than ours, we would use that in our class.”


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