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How important are textbooks in learning?

  1. Jul 9, 2009 #1
    I am going to be joining an Electrical Engineering course this month. I just checked out the syllabus and all the courses had some recommended textbooks along with some reference books. Now this got me wondering. I had some bad experiences with textbooks in high school, the textbooks in my course were not of the same standard as some other ones I went through, usually because the textbooks were usually written to enable a student to maximize his or her score in an examination.

    Does something of the sort apply for engineering? Are some textbooks better than others? I am from India, and most of the books in the course were written by Indian authors, and I mean no disrespect to any of them, not knowing anything at all about their works, but I was wondering if there is any international standard in textbooks used all over the globe, or do universities in different countries and regions use different textbooks like mine does? Is there any discernible difference in the quality of authors around the globe?

    Simply put, does it really matter which textbook I use to study a course?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 9, 2009 #2


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    It depends. US universities in particular the courses are based around a single textbook. This is generally bad since the lecturer is often teaching the course for only one year (especially introduction courses) and is simply one chapter ahead of the students. The books come with prepared lecture slides and questions / exams so there is very little work for the lecturer/college - but the books are very expensive and are changed slightly each year to force each set of students to buy the new edition.

    There are also classic textbooks in each field (some better than others) that are used for years.
    A good lectue course will be taught by the lecturer for many years who has developed their own lectures, they will recommend one or two textbooks that might help you with further explantions.
  4. Jul 9, 2009 #3


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    Also note that in some fields, the notation and mathematical conventions can be significantly different in different textbooks. If you're taking (for example) an electromagnetism course from a professor who uses Gaussian units, it would be consfusing to use a textbook that uses MKS units because constants like c are in different places.
  5. Jul 9, 2009 #4


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    I think it depends on the book and the person some people are good at learning from textbooks and some are not and some people believe that some textbooks are good and others dont.
  6. Jul 9, 2009 #5
    I have always been a strong textbook learner (to be honest I rarely went to lectures in my undergrad) so I'd have to say they're incredibly important. However, as you pointed out, there are those who learn much better by listening to a professor (even if their english is really poor and they have an impenetrable accent as many of my profs did) and taking notes. As has previously been mentioned many profs only teach a given course once so often very little effort is put into actually presenting the material well or enriching their lectures (especially in upper year courses).
  7. Jul 9, 2009 #6


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    In my opinion there should be some balance to the textbook approach.

    I.e. one should not rely 100% on lectures, or 100% on textbooks. I think its suffice to study thoroughly with reference to both as occasionally pieces of information get left out of one or the other which may be the key to you understanding a particular topic or even the entire subject.

    However if one or the other suits you by all means...
  8. Jul 9, 2009 #7


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    It depends on the course and the professor. Some professors you can do great by just studying the notes they sell at the beginning of the semester. Others, you'd have to crack the book but you will generally always have to do more then what the professor presents in class.
  9. Jul 9, 2009 #8
    no such standards of which I'm aware....many schools use the texts written by their own professors and some likely use texbooks written by friends, associates,s choolomates or collaborators....

    often you may get a good text and a poor lecturer, or vice versa....nirvana is getting both topnotch!! If you find you are having problems with interpretation, you can try getting some help from an upperclassman, or borrowing their notes and/or reading a different text....specific questions might even get a good answer on this forum...
  10. Jul 9, 2009 #9

    George Jones

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    In North America these days, there a lot of complaints by lecturers that students refuse to spend time reading texts. A few years ago, I even got an Addison Wesley physics rep to admit to me that reading a text is well down on students' lists of actions they consider necessary to do well in a course.
    While I think this is very true, I think that most students would benefit from systematically working through decent texts as lectures in a course progress.
  11. Jul 9, 2009 #10
    Well for me the biggest problem was that ONE question. There was always that ONE really difficult question that would be basically impossible to do if it wasn't for the fact that the prof covered that exact example in class (which I always seemed to miss THAT class) and then that question was always on the final and made up like 30% of the mark. But other then that just learning from textbooks treated me fine.
  12. Jul 10, 2009 #11
    Firstly and foremostly, the professor is going to decide how important the textbook is. Some classes may be based more around general problem solving skills, while something like a math or physics course is based around SPECIFIC working knowledge of the concepts. Secondly, some students need the textbook more than others. If you can demonstrate to yourself that you actually do know it all, then what more can you do? But if you don't demonstrate to yourself that you know it all, then you will have no reason to expect to do well in the course, or in a career for that matter. And honestly, if you don't work every problem in the book that's just lazy.
  13. Jul 10, 2009 #12
    Thank you for the replies. I am more of a self study person, that is why I posed the question, although I don't think I can continue that in college.
  14. Jul 11, 2009 #13
    Um, but then it's not really that difficult of a question by the virtue that the professor always did the same example in class? I shared a similar experience in my honors calculus course, but I don't think going to class would have ever helped me on the single difficulty/tricky problem on each exam. I actually attended most of the classes, even though by the end I realized I could learn much more from reading Spivak, Wikipedia, and random websites on my own.
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