Guidelines for Adopting a New Textbook for an Online Course (or Expecting the Unexpected)

Typically, I write things like this for work where they become part of the standard documentation that we use internally.  But this is a topic so universally applicable, I thought I’d share it with the rest of the distance learning world and hopefully get some feedback on best practices used by others as well.

I’m not a faculty member, nor do I play one on TV.  I am, however, an instructional technology geek and Blackboard administrator, so I’ve gone through more textbook changes in my tenure as an LMS administrator than most folks endure over the course of their careers.

The proliferation of publisher resources makes changing a textbook a much trickier proposition in an online course because, quite often, much of the course content relies upon a connection to some publisher resource.  These guidelines are designed to help ease the transition from one textbook to another and minimize (hopefully eliminate) student frustration.

STAGE I – Evaluating Textbooks

As you review textbooks and consider adopting new texts, invite your LMS administrator to be a partner in the review process.  In most cases, your LMS admin will not be an expert in your particular subject, but they will have an understanding of how publisher components integrate and work with the LMS at your school.    We all know that publisher sales reps are honest, upstanding folks who desire nothing more than student success.  However, in spite of their intentions, publisher sales reps don’t fully understand the technical details of their offerings and the true compatibility of their materials with various learning management systems.

As you evaluate textbooks, ask your publisher rep for 2 accounts to their online resources.  The first account is yours, as the instructor, to use as you see fit.  The second account is for the LMS admin.  This will enable them to test the various publisher resources and verify that these resources will will function as expected in the LMS.

Consider what will be involved in adopting a new textbook. These are just a few questions to consider.  These aren’t all the things, but they are a few that I’ve encountered over the years.

  • How will the structure of the online course change?
  • Will the online course need to be re-designed from the ground up to accommodate the new text?
  • Will the test banks need to be revised or recreated?
  • How will the change in text alter the manner in which students meet the learning objectives of the course?
  • How will it change the way students meet unit-level objectives?
  • Will any of your lectures/presentations need revision or recreation?

As you consider each of these factors, remember that each change involves time, and the bigger the change, the more time it will take to make the change, especially if these changes involve major adjustments from the LMS administrator.  So plan accordingly.

It looks like magic, but it’s not.  LMS admins do a lot of research and back-end work to accommodate textbook changes, and the more information and time we have, the more smoothly the transition will be.

STAGE II – Implementing the Change

So you’ve worked with your LMS admin and your publisher rep and you’ve found the textbook that you want to adopt.  Congratulations!!!  Here’s where the work really begins.  Regardless of how well you’ve planned for the shift, there will be unanticipated bumps in the road.  This is where you and your LMS admin need to work together to make sure everything functions as it should.  At this point, you’ll want to get together with your LMS admin and set everything up.

Create a single complete module.  Sit down with your LMS admin and work out a plan of attack, starting with one module (or unit) of material.  Break the unit down into smaller pieces (“chunk” it!) and build each element in your LMS. My recommendation is to begin with a list of learning objectives (written from a student’s perspective), followed by an assignment checklist.

The assignment checklist should contain everything the students should complete in the order it should be completed.  My personal preference is to start each entry with an active verb in bold type, followed by a thorough explanation of the task. (EXAMPLE:  Read Chapter 6 “Analytical Perspectives” from the textbook, paying special attention to the section on Data Modeling  (45 min))  When possible, each entry on the assignment checklist should include an estimate of how long the task should take.

Assemble the module, taking care to put the components in the order in which they should be completed.  Anything that will be done outside the framework of the LMS should be clearly noted, and this is where the partnership with the LMS Admin comes in to play.   Work with the LMS Admin to test the components and make sure that they work.

Test every element the first module (including gradebook functionality) from a student perspective before moving on.

Repeat for the remaining modules.

STAGE III – Launch

Before the course is open, make sure you provide clear step-by-step instructions for the students, outlining, in detail, exactly what they are supposed to do to get started with the course.  One of the biggest mistakes instructional designers, instructional technologists, and faculty make is in overestimating the technical skills of their students.  Never assume that students will intuitively know how to perform any tasks within the course.  While it may seem simple to you (the instructor), for students, the LMS is a brand new world, and the idea of jumping from the LMS into a publisher site and back can seem incredibly daunting.  So take the time to provide clear instructions.  Provide the instructions in both static (PDF with text and screenshots) and video formats.


Students enroll in courses to learn the curriculum.  They don’t enroll in courses to learn how to use an LMS and a publisher platform.  Any time students spend learning the technologies of the course is time they aren’t spending learning the course material.  Frustration with course technology translates into frustration with the course.  If students don’t feel comfortable in a course from the gate, they will be less likely to succeed.  (No, I don’t have data to back that up…. yet).  But the goal is, and always should be, student success.

So the point of this whole babbling post is this… if there is a change in the text and publisher resources are being brought into the mix, do the work up front to make sure that the course is solid and ready to go for the launch of class.  Reach out to your LMS admin and ask for assistance before, during, and after the migration to a new text.  It will improve the quality of everyone’s experience in the long run.

If you have anything to add or any other suggestions, please, hit me up in the comments, and as always, if you have any questions, comments, concerns or (gentle) criticisms, please feel free to reach out to me.



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