Famous for 15 copies

19th January 2001 at 00:00
Teachers fantasise about writing a textbook. For John Bateman and a team of colleagues it came true.

Sexier electronic rivals mean the textbook will never again be a monopoly provider of academic knowledge.

But it is still held in a certain reverence, and most of us look to the book for factual certainty and answers to our questions. Students, too, like the reassurance of having a book to hand. It can be a comfort blanket. And, as a teacher, you daren't assert something contrary to the received knowledge of the textbook.

For those of us in "the business" of learning, the textbook is special. How many of us have conducted our careers on the "one chapter ahead of the students" model (at times, one page ahead)? A good text is like a friend - always there, reliable and the giver of good advice.

And how many of us have enjoyed the fantasy of seeing our own name in print? Of thinking that at any given moment someone might be dipping into our wise words - even quoting us? Not to mention the career-enhancing benefits of "being published". What a nice way to fill in any gaps in your CV, when your only previous venture into the world of print was that letter to the local newspaper on dog-fouling.

But there are always good reasons not to do something: time, lack of confidence, and silly little things such as having a family. Plus the perception that there's no money in it. Time to come clean. I have dipped my toe in the water of the published word. The finished text arrived not long ago. It was, to be honest, something of an anti-climax. But it's my baby. Well, not quite.

It is, in fact, the fruit of a collective labour, with collective labour pains. A group of us - FE college lecturers - came up with the idea of putting together a pack of new materials for a business studies course which had recently changed. The logic was simple: we've got to generate new ideas and lesson plans, as will other colleges, so why not get in early and publish?

Good ideas like this are usually agreed and then forgotten. But this time one of our number phoned up a likely publisher and within a week the deal was more or less done.

Now it was "get real" time. We had to generate material fit for publication and we had to enlist the support of the college. We got a positive response here as the college would gain in a vicarious way - it "looks good" to inspectors.

Over the next few months we duly delivered the materials to the publishers, and sat back awaiting their red pen. We heard very little. Something must have gone dreadfully wrong.

In fact, it was a case of no news is good news. With a few minor alterations, the thing made it into print much as despatched by us.

So what does this modest experience show? That collaborative publishing can produce a number of winners: the team that produces the materials, the institution that employs them, and the publisher. And, who knows, perhaps the readers too. The venture also showed that these things are often just a matter of confidence. We all have much more expertise than we sometimes realise. The sector below universities is not renowned for its ability to blow its own trumpet. But there is a wealth of good practice and we can learn much from each other.

Again, producing the text as a team both allows a range of expertise to be employed and shares the burden. While writing the whole of something alone might be intimidating, writing part of a collective product is less daunting, even if the struggle for a mutually agreed style can be painful at times.

This is, of course, no big deal. The book has a limited shelf life and a print run which will probably be in the region of an English Test cricketer's batting average. It won't displace the bonkbusters in airport lounges. It is at the very humblest end of the market. And, as for egos, well it doesn't even bear our names. We are just a "team of lecturers" from a named college. But it does show that with just a tad of determination, a following wind and a phone call to a friendly publisher, practitioners can produce something. Tempted?

John Bateman is a business studies lecturer at Northbrook college, West Sussex. The book he co-wrote with fellow staff, HNCHND Business: new guidelines workbook, is published by BPP at pound;9.95

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