Traditional textbook publishers are now rushing headlong into the Information Age. Familiar names such as McGraw-Hill, Pearson, Prentice-Hall, and Thompson are adjusting to the new ways of packaging and delivering academic information. One of these new publishing features is the Companion Website. Nearly every textbook on the market today has a web page, mostly for marketing purposes. But publishers take matters a step farther with their featured titles, and develop a site that is enriched with supplementary material, including images, interactive video, quizzes, and extended notes and outlines. Until recently, the publishers kept these special features under lock-and-key with password protection. You had to be using the textbook, itself, in order to get access to all the cool online stuff. But these publishers have recently realized that open access to the special features can work in their favor — getting a lot of people to use their website yields some sales and, better yet, possible classroom adoptions.
Free-Ed.Net is continually scouring the publishers' companion websites, looking for titles that offer sufficient resources for building a study guide that you can use. Of course you can buy the textbook, itself — the publisher would love that — but that isn't absolutely necessary, once you see how you can get the most from the material that is freely available on those sites. Free-Ed.Net helps you at this point in the process by selecting and organizing the publisher's information into meaningful sets of lessons.
Chapter Objectives. Virtually all companion websites used by Free-Ed.Net have a set of learning objectives for each chapter in the text. These do not normally convey much information about the topic, but rather they tell you what you can expect to learn through the current chapter.
The objectives give you a good idea where you are going with the lesson. For more mature learners, these objectives could be sufficient for launching a week or two of serious research, learning, and reflection. Most of us, however, need more input. So we describe Chapter Outlines next.
(From McGraw-Hill, Window on Humanity: A Concise Introduction to Anthropology)
Chapter Outlines. Free-Ed.Net only selects companion websites that have significant chapter outlines. These are the author's notes for each chapter. Some can be quite extensive — almost a paragraph-by-paragraph summary the textbook, itself. This is where most of our learners spend the majority of their study time. Check this example.
(From McGraw-Hill, Traditions Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past)
Do not simply read the chapter outline and assume you have completed the lesson. No. You are just getting started. The chapter outline is the launch pad for your real study of the topic. About the second time your work your way through the outline, you should begin feeling that you have more questions than answers. Jot them down in your Learning Journal. Find your Google search box and start researching the topics. Expand the definitions of new terms, try linking together ideas and coming up with concepts that span huge chunks of the topic. In a traditional learning environment, we were lead to believe that everything we need to know is in the textbook; and all we need to do is somehow transfer all that knowledge from the pages and into our heads. Not so. Not anymore. Not in this new global economy that is being driven faster and faster by high-octane fuel know as "information." Our minds have to be fluid, and not locked down on the content of a textbook. The Internet is your lifelong source, not the textbook. The book — the stuff we show you at Free-Ed.Net — is just a guide.
Quizzes and Exams. Traditional impressions of quizzes and exams must be set aside here. Many learners come to Free-Ed.Net assuming the purpose of quizzes and exams is to evaluate their knowledge and understanding of the textbook material ... with a number. There is, of course, a positive correlation between understanding and test scores. But if that correlation was as close as many imagine it to be, we would never let physicians operate on us if they graduated with any thing less than a 4.0 average. A lesser score would indicate they didn't know something they should know. It is important you understand that slicing and dicing test scores is a waste of time.
So what good are the quizzes and exams on these textbook companion websites? Like the chapter objectives and outlines, the quizzes and exams are guides for exploring ideas on the Web and a means for settling ideas in your mind. Do not use them only for getting some artificial score. You can get a 100% on a multiple-choice exam and know virtually nothing significant about the topic. Some people simply have a knack for passing multiple-choice and true-false exams. From our perspective, these exams aren't mainly for assessing your knowledge, but springboards for exploring new ideas.
Sometimes you will find a question that refers to a specific figure or page in the textbook. Obviously, if you don't have a copy of the book, you can't answer the question. But don't obsess over it. Remember, you aren't doing this for a grade. Just skip it.
The essay exams can be useful, too. They give you a chance work on your organizational skills, grammar and composition. It's especially good if you have someone to read and critique your work. If you don't know where to send your work, simply start a new blog where you can post your stuff for the whole world to see.
Interactives, PowerPoint Presentations, and Videos. Free-Ed.Net selects textbook companion websites largely on the amount of information included in the Chapter Outline. But there are sometimes other features that can supplement the outline and even make up for a scanty outline. Not all companion websites feature a lot of multimedia materials, but when they are on the site, they can be terrific sources of information and inspiration.
Premium Content on Companion Websites. The study guides at Free-Ed.Net lead you directly to the most useful, free information on the textbook site. But if you decide to wander around the textbook site on your own, you are likely to come across premium features where you are asked for a password or credit-card number. Remember, we didn't point you to that. The publisher, however, is certainly justified in trying to make some money to cover the cost of the presentations. The premium features are never, ever required for completing the Free-Ed.Net study guide; whether you opt for the premium features is strictly your own call.