Dr Julian Lee: from questioning current textbook practice to writing your own

Dr Julian Lee is Associate Professor in international studies at RMIT University and a program manager for the Bachelor of International Studies. He teaches foundational units on Globalization and Global Careers.

Monsters of Modernity book cover on the Kismet websiteHere are some excerpts from a conversation where Julian describes a gradual process that led him to publish “Monsters of Modernity” as an open textbook with Kismet Press. The book was written with other collaborators at RMIT, and is free online and to download as PDF or ebook format. It currently costs AU$17 to purchase a paperback version from the publisher and also can be bought from other online providers such as The Book Depository.

How did you get to the point of publishing your own open access textbook? “When I arrived in to RMIT, I taught a course in which the previous teachers had used a textbook that cost over a hundred dollars. And then as you do when you arrive in a new place with a new course a new class you often just roll over what the previous person did, which I did. But when I got to know the book and the course better, I realized I didn’t really use that much of it and it was too centred on North America and so I really felt bad for all the students who paid a hundred or more dollars for that book that we didn’t really utilize very well.”

How did you pick your publisher? “So the open access book I published is on monsters, and I tried to look for publishers who had published on related topics and then one of them that came up was one that I hadn’t heard of before but it was Kismet Press which does Open Access. Open Access aligned with some of my values and they had a series on monsters … so the fit just seemed really good. And the other thing was that from time to time, probably like yourself, I heard colleagues say things like ’oh I published my book and was really disappointed with how much the book cost in the end’. And then I’d look up their book and I thought, ‘oh it’s published with a publisher whose books are consistently really expensive. So yeah, of course, it’s going to cost like a hundred and fifty bucks.’” Julian wanted to make sure his book would be affordable for students.

Did you approach Kismet Press then? “Yes… I just looked up the guidelines for authors and checked them out a little bit. They were a new outfit at the time and they’re still a small outfit.  And then we just did what you do to get the contract in place.” Julian and his collaborators wrote the various chapters which were sent out for review, revised and eventually published.

How did the book get integrated into your teaching? “We don’t utilize every chapter of the book. It’s set in a globalization class and we use maybe three or four chapters from it (along with other set articles and chapters that students can access freely)… One of my main thoughts about Open Access publications is that it does give you the freedom to set a book, but without the obligation to feel as if you’re making full use of it. So it’s really one of the attractions for open access for me – that you can set a book, but not feel obliged to use every chapter because students paid for it.”

What about representation of diversity in the text? Within the book there are a couple of chapters that deal with like the impacts of colonialism on indigenous communities and cultures and so on. So, in that sense, it is attempting to address, I guess the (diversity) issues. And one of the authors writes about his experience essentially fleeing the former Yugoslavia Republic and… so… maybe not in every chapter but across the across the whole book, there is a recognition of migration and postcolonial issues. And that would I imagine make students who have migrant backgrounds for example feel seen, you know, that the challenges of their families (are seen)… and so that is a form of recognition for diversity.”



Category list: academic practice

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