I am in Boston this morning for a meeting with Bedford/St. Martin’s press. They’ve recruited ten graduate students from all around the country to serve on a TA advisory board.
I think in most cases I would be leery of this sort of endeavor—by that I mean for-profit entities getting involved with higher education. Although I don’t have anything against publishers, per se, I think it would have been easy for me to lump them in with profiteering entities like Microsoft or Turnitin.com, both of whose products have their ups and downs, but whose business practices are abominable. But I just can’t put Bedford in that same category. I mean, yes, I’m sure they make a profit, but I really appreciate how they conduct themselves as a business and as individuals within our discipline.
At what has to be a financial loss, they publish all sorts of teaching guides and bibliographies for composition instructors. Furthermore, I think some of their books have real value for both students and instructors.
While we’re here, we’ll be meeting with Leasa Burton, who heads the English division of the company, and several other key people within the company. The way I see it, we get something out of this, and they do, too. We get some exposure to the publication process that would be really hard to get in another way. We also get to meet a small, intimate group of fellow graduate students from around the country and engage each other in conversations about student assignments, classroom texts, and possible directions for the field. We also get to start a genuine relationship with one of the most important publishers in our field. And of course, there’s a small (but very appropriate) stipend for participating.
From their perspective, I am assuming that they have two primary goals. The first, in keeping with many of their practices, is to serve as outreach/communication with their customers. It just so happens that we have experience and some expertise to boot. I’m sure their other goal is for us to help them sell more textbooks. In this regard, I think we’ll have to be careful about our suggestions. I hope to see our discussions focusing on student-centered goals and innovative practices.
In a nutshell, my suggestions within the discussions will fall into three categories: a) readings that reflect student concerns with language and writing; b) practices that take advantage of emerging technologies; c) flexibility for instructors who would like more freedom to design their own text/readings.
Okay, our meeting starts in twenty minutes, so I’ve got to go. I’ll post more as soon as I can get away.