Is it still a bad idea for psychology majors to rent their intro textbook?

Inside Higher Ed reports that the number of students who rent textbooks is increasing. Interestingly, e-books have not caught on — most students are still using printed textbooks (though iPads might change that).

When I teach intro, I have always suggested to my students that if they are going to major in psychology, it is a good idea to purchase and keep their intro textbook. My argument has been that it will be a good reference for their upper-division classes, which might assume that they already know certain concepts. For example, when I teach an upper-division class in motivation and emotion, I assume that my students understand classical and operant conditioning (and I tell them in the syllabus that they should go back to their intro textbook and review the relevant sections).

A downside of this advice is that textbooks are very expensive. Renting a book, or selling one on the used market after the term ends, is a way for students to reduce costs.

Anyway, what this got me wondering is whether it’s still helpful or necessary for students to keep their intro textbooks. Is there enough good info on the internet now that they could just google whatever topics they need to review? A few years ago I looked around on the web for a well-written, introductory-level account of classical conditioning and wasn’t impressed with what I found. I still don’t think I’d assign the current entry for classical conditioning as a review. But with the APS Wikipedia project, for example, maybe things will get better soon.

I remember finding my intro textbook especially helpful when I studied for the psychology GRE, but not many undergrads will go on to do that. Next time I teach an upper-division class I’ll probably ask my students how much use they’ve gotten out of their intro text afterward.

Adventures in Wikipedia editing

The Association for Psychological Science is on a quest to get psychologists to start contributing to Wikipedia. When I first heard about it, I started to write up the story about the one time I decided to wade into Wikipedia a few years ago. It wasn’t pretty: it involved an edit war over the spelling of the word “extraversion,” and although I ultimately prevailed (woohoo!), the effort it required has kept me from going back. But Zick Rubin’s got me beat by a mile:

WHEN I Googled myself last month, I was alarmed to find the following item, from a site on psychology, ranked fourth among the results:

“Zick Rubin (1944-1997) was an American social psychologist.”

This was a little disconcerting. I really was born in 1944 and I really was an American social psychologist. Before I entered law school in midlife, I was a professor of psychology at Harvard and Brandeis and had written books in the field. But, to the very best of my knowledge, I wasn’t dead.

I knew that the report of my death could be bad for business, so I logged into and removed the “1997.” But when I checked a while later, I found the post had reverted to its prior form. I changed it again; again someone changed it back. Apparently the site had its doubts about some lawyer in Boston tinkering with the facts about American psychologists.

In spite of these kinds of episodes, I think it’s probably worth it for us academic psychologists to spend more time on Wikipedia. My impression has been that psychology is not nearly as well represented as more technical disciplines, but given the popularity of the topics we study I bet there are lots of people looking up our stuff. Maybe it’ll even help us recognize when some of our lazier (or less wealthy) students are plagiarizing.

Plus, hey, it’ll keep us from going the way of Abe Vigoda.