As any professor knows, the decision to change to new textbook is one that we don’t take lightly. Often, we have used a single book for several years and have a good handle on how to spread that text out throughout a semester efficiently. Maybe we have assignments and exams tailored to a specific text and switching textbooks would mean reinventing the wheel, so to speak, with no guarantee for improved student outcomes. Maybe we are using a version of the textbook we learned organic chemistry from, and are so comfortable with that book’s approach we get tunnel vision as to whether or not it achieves the results we desire to see in our students. And then, of course there’s question of the cost to our students. Even when a new edition comes out, we question whether updates are really substantial enough to justify the cost. In this post, I am going to go through my experience in overhauling my organic chemistry course and switching to the Karty textbook.

As a bit of background, when I joined Maryville College as a visiting professor in the fall of 2012, it was my first full-time teaching job. I was stepping into the shoes of the retiring organic chemistry professor who had taught at the school for 35 years. In that first year, I basically formatted my class by what my predecessor had done, same textbook, similar style assignments, same approach. I spent the next two years writing powerpoint slides for an out of print textbook that could be had for as little as $3 from a used bookstore. I got feedback from students who said they wanted a more modern approach with more up to date learning materials; textbooks with digital content, online homework, supplements and up to date references. Toward the end of my second year teaching, I decided it was time to investigate switching books.

I evaluated every option on the market at the time, every traditional organic textbook, online open-source texts, and thanks to my W. W. Norton rep, Joel Karty’s new textbook. What I wanted more than anything was a textbook that would engage students and get them to use it regularly. I wanted a textbook that my students would read. I wanted a textbook that encouraged my students to understand organic chemistry, rather than try to memorize all of the reactions. I took my collection of instructor’s evaluation copies of organic textbooks and rounded up the upper level students who had completed organic chemistry and the students who were currently taking the course to look at all of the options that were available.

The response was overwhelming. All of the students that participated in my mini focus group were in agreement that they would prefer to use the Karty text over the other options. They liked how readable the text was, they liked the visual aids, and the fact that the Karty text had online homework options (Smartwork5). Because Maryville College has a diverse student body from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, we also discussed cost. We looked at the average cost of these options from online book sellers and the availability of used and older editions. We also looked at open-source online textbooks.

Most telling to me was that despite students initially requesting free or very low cost options, such as online open-source texts or utilizing old editions that can be bought used at low cost, the students chose the Karty book (just released in the 1st edition at the time) and said that they saw the investment as worth the cost because they could read and understand the Karty approach better than the other options. Students see that you get what you pay for in education and that free or cheap isn’t the most important factor to them.

I have addressed the outcomes of this switch in previous posts, but I’ll say again that I have been very pleased with the overall increase in student understanding and aptitude. I now have a textbook that my students read and are able to understand. If you are considering a switch to new textbook, I would tell you that overhauling your course is worth the change and while there may be more options out there that boast to be better suited to today’s students by being 100% electronic, interactive, and low cost, my own experience taught me that even the most price conscious students will invest in a book they feel is going to give them the best chance for success. I’ve seen my student success-rate improve with my switch to the Karty text, and I bet you will too.
-Nathan Duncan, Maryville College

*Cover image source: State University of New York at Genesco (

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