What is a micro-textbook?
A micro-textbook is a substantial work of instructional writing. It's bigger than a tutorial, but much smaller than an actual textbook. On the low end, it could be about 2000 words, and on the high end could get up to about 20,000. Here are a few examples of writings that I think qualify as micro-textbooks:
This course will help you produce a micro-textbook consisting of:
- Three chapters, each designed to supplement something like a 90-minute lesson.
- Reference material, such as a glossary, cheatsheets, templates, or checklists.
What will I do in this course?
- Write a first draft of a micro-textbook on a topic of your choice.
- Sharpen your understanding of your topic by developing a set of conceptual frameworks for it.
- Learn repeatable processes for designing effective explanations, exercises, and reference material.
Length & time commitment
- 5 weeks + 1 day. The first week focuses on planning and outlining; the middle three weeks focus on writing the main chapters; the last week focuses on creating supplementary material and publishing your work.
- ~10 hours of work per week. I recommend that you plan for this to be your primary side project throughout the duration of the course.
- 6 group calls, once per week, 90 minutes each.
How will this course help me write a micro-textbook?
- By improving your understanding of instructional design and writing strategies.
- By giving you a series of milestones that you will hit alongside a group.
- By offering you feedback along the way, and on your finished product.
- By providing templates and frameworks for efficiently creating effective explanations and exercises.
What will be expected of me?
- Attend the weekly group calls.
- Share frequent updates on your work with the group.
- Devote roughly 40-50 hours of your time, spread evenly across five weeks.
- Offer light but regular feedback and encouragement to other participants.
Who is the facilitator?
Hi! I'm David Laing. I am a data scientist who specializes in learning analytics and game-based cognitive assessments. I teach communication and argumentation in the Master of Data Science program at the University of British Columbia, and have also taught technical writing at Niagara College. I love to explore ideas at the intersection of writing, education, and the internet.
- Assignment: Why a micro-textbook? (~1 hour)
- Live Call #1 (1.5 hours)
- Assignment: Create reader personas (~1.5 hours)
- Assignment: Create learning objectives (~1.5 hours)
- Assignment: Outline your micro-textbook (~2 hours)
- Live Call #2 (1.5 hours)
- Assignment: Outline part 1 (~1 hour)
- Assignment: Write part 1 (~7 hours)
- Live Call #3 (1.5 hours)
- Assignment: Outline part 2 (~1 hour)
- Assignment: Write part 2 (~7 hours)
- Live Call #4 (1.5 hours)
- Assignment: Outline part 3 (~1.5 hours)
- Assignment: Write part 3 (~7 hours)
- Live Call #5 (1.5 hours)
- Assignment: Create supplementary material (~4 hours)
- Assignment: Publish your micro-textbook (~3 hours)
- Live Call #6 (1.5 hours)
Who is this course for?
This course is for people like these:
- Naomi is a senior data scientist at a fast-growing startup. She is mentoring several junior data scientists who recently joined the team, and she has noticed that they are unaware of best practices for collaborative software development. She wants to write a micro-textbook for them (and future hires) that explains concepts like unit tests, continuous integration, virtual environments, git branching models, and code review etiquette.
- Brendan has been blogging for several years about the art of curating one’s reading list. He has developed a set of tacit principles, and wants to codify them by writing a definitive guide that will help people enjoy their reading more. He plans to publish his micro-textbook on his blog.
- Shelby is an undergraduate physics student who has been running her own tutoring business for the past two years. She now has more interested customers than she can handle, and wants to start scaling her business by writing a micro-textbook that she can sell through her website. She knows her audience well, but has never written any polished material for them before, and has had no formal training as a teacher.
- Sam teaches a university course on the philosophy of aesthetics. They have taught it many times as a series of lectures, but they want to try a ‘flipped classroom’ approach, in which students consume all the expository content at home and then come to class for activities and discussions. Sam wants to polish their existing lecture notes and turn them into a micro-textbook that their students can read independently rather than attending lectures.
These people have a variety of backgrounds in writing and teaching, but none have formal training in pedagogy or have published anything like a micro-textbook before. They plan to write for teens or adults. They are at least competent practitioners, and in some cases experts, in the subjects they will write about.
- Can I use this course as an opportunity to learn about a topic I don't yet understand?
- Yes, but I recommend that you choose a subject you already do understand. The course will focus on helping you figure out how to teach that subject through writing, which is a substantial challenge on its own. (Throughout the process, you may discover that you don't currently understand your topic quite as well as you think you do!)
- Are there word count requirements?
- No. The goal of this course is simply to help you complete a project that is more ambitious than what you could achieve on your own.
- Do I have to stick to a three-part structure for my micro-textbook?
- No, but you should divide up your work into three parts so that you can hit weekly milestones alongside the group.
- Can I collaborate on my micro-textbook with another person?
- Yes. In fact, this would be a great way to get direct feedback on the content of your writing from someone who knows your subject roughly as well as you do.
- Does my micro-textbook need to include novel or original ideas?
- No. It should just be valuable to its intended audience.
- Will you give me feedback on my work?
- Yes. Depending on your topic, I will of course be limited in what I can comment on authoritatively. But I will give feedback that draws on my knowledge of writing and pedagogy.
- Will this course cover how to market or sell my work?
- No. But it will help you think about how to make your writing as valuable as possible to a specific audience.