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Reimagining the textbook

The hallmark of many great teachers is an ability to tell incredible stories that engage students in ways textbooks can’t. The problem, according to Marketing instructor James Sprenger, is that those great storytellers aren’t in every classroom and those great stories are locked down with the teachers who tell them.

So Sprenger decided to try something new — creating a digital graphic novel to replace standard textbook readings.

“This isn’t incremental change, this is about looking at teaching in a new way,” he says. Sprenger is one of four recipients of the 2014/15 Cisco Chair in e-Learning, which supports teaching excellence at SAIT in e-learning and technology innovation.“Modern classrooms have their own challenges — students are easily distracted by mobile devices and they tend not to read textbooks unless there is assessment tied to it. We need to find a different way to get students to come into the classroom prepared for deeper learning. Digital graphic novels may not be the answer, but they are one possible answer.”

Working with a comic book writer and an illustrator, Sprenger is creating a 22-page digital comic book that embeds marketing language and key terms within the story. Click on the superhero’s credo, “Be the guiding light for this world, when darkness inevitably tries to consume it,” and you’ll discover parallels between it and typical corporate mission statements.

“This is about tying context to real-life terms in the reading students do before they come to class. Students don’t need to arrive in classroom knowing everything, but when they come with a basic understanding of key terminology, we can spend time getting into the deeper learning.”

Sprenger stresses that while his approach to pre-reading may take the form of a comic book, it doesn’t dumb anything down.

“This is really a proof of concept piece that is about providing context, not about teaching big ideas. We know that when we engage students and immerse knowledge in context, it sticks.”

And while there is much more development to be done before digital graphic novels find their way into SAIT classrooms, Sprenger says the approach has a lot of potential. “This goes far beyond marketing courses — it’s a tool that could be used in any introductory course, in any subject, at any institution.”

Written by Michelle Woodard