Tsujita, Hicock deliver a rock solid textbook

By Mitchell Zimmer
March 24, 2011


 Tsujita, Hicock

In the 1980s, Cameron Tsujita, right, mentioned the lack of Canadian-based geology textbook this to his mentor, Stephen Hicock, who offered a simple remedy: “Maybe it’s your responsibility to write it.” Today, the pair have done just that. Earth: An Introduction to Physical Geography is in its third edition.

In the 1980s when Cameron Tsujita was an undergraduate student at The University of Western Ontario, there was no geology above the 49th parallel. At least according to his textbook.

For introductory courses, Earth Science, now in its 12th edition, is the iconic text. Authored by Edward Tarbuck and Frederick Lutgens, with illustrations by Dennis Tasa, the book offers a user-friendly overview of the physical environment for the undergraduate student with little background in science. But at the time, it sorely lacked relevant Canadian content.

Tsujita mentioned this to his mentor, Stephen Hicock, who offered a simple remedy: “Maybe it’s your responsibility to write it.”

Tsujita, now a professor in Western’s Earth Sciences Department himself, did just that. Today, Earth: An Introduction to Physical Geography is in its third edition.

The impetus to work on a Canadian textbook came from Paul McInnis of textbook publishers Pearson Science Education.

 “They had asked first-year professors in various universities if they thought it would be worth doing a first-year Canadian edition of a geology textbook,” Tsujita says. “I think that for anybody who teaches it is to some extent a dream to be directly involved in producing something that will be used by several people, so I took that on. I am not sure exactly why it was me that was targeted … but I said more than anything else, it was needed.”

After reviewing the original American edition of the textbook, Tsujita submitted a proposal to Pearson suggesting a number of additions and changes.

“Cam felt that Canadian students deserved a text that included Canadian content,” says Cathleen Sullivan, Pearson executive acquisitions editor. “So Cam approached us and convinced us of the need for the Canadian edition and, of course, Cam was right. The market has responded incredibly well to the Canadian editions.”

Pearson initially gave Tsujita a year and a half to complete the Canadian edition, but those plans changed. “It ended up being six months to basically do all of the content because we ended up being scooped by McGraw Hill,” Tsujita says.

With the pressure on, he asked for assistance from colleagues. Hicock agreed to tackle the glacial chapters, where his expertise rested. “I basically rewrote that and that’s how it started,” Hicock says.

During that time, Hicock was only helping edit. Only after Tsujita contemplated the enormity of the task did he approach Pearson about bringing Hicock on board as a second co-author. “Cam knew that the project would benefit from Steve’s perspective would compliment his own,” Sullivan says.

The first edition was quite thick. The authors say subsequent editions have been trimmed down to give students what they need.

“(Most textbooks are written) from the professor’s point of view. We’re taking it from the complete opposite end and saying that it is for the students to use,” Tsujita says. “So as a geology professor you want more content, but that’s something, at least at the introductory level, that’s not what students need.

“Some of them may like it, but the majority won’t.”

What sets the latest edition apart is the inclusion of ‘Geology and Popular Media’ boxes. This feature takes popular culture and places it in a geological context.

“These were new to the (third) edition, and only to the Canadian edition. While (those in) the U.S. thought they were a great idea, they could never get the American authors to contribute to the boxes nor to provide any feedback,” says Carolin Sweig, sponsoring editor. “This means our authors took this on as their own and they did so brilliantly.”

For example, one of the boxes mentions the discovery of the Rio Tinto Group, who found a new mineral species composed of sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide, which closely resembles the composition of kryptonite in the 2006 movie Superman Returns.

“As you know, it’s hard to take what is a vague idea of someone else’s creation and make it reality and they have done just that,” Sweig adds. “They have made Superman cool again and relevant to those studying geology. I wouldn’t be surprised to find ‘Geology and Popular Media’ boxes in the next U.S. edition or similar boxes popping up in the competitors’ texts.”

Part of the success of the new feature was knowing when to draw the line.

“We inject just enough lightness into it, but keeping it first and foremost as a learning tool,” Tsujita says. Hicock adds, “We’re very careful that we don’t get corny or silly about these things and we still want the science to be there but in an entertaining way.”

The success of the textbook speaks for itself; it is now used by 16 institutions from coast to coast.

Compared to 15 years ago, a textbook would be a student’s prime source of information, now with the resources available online, textbooks can be seen as a jumping-off point.

“We have online resources. In this edition students are prompted to go on a website to see a clip or an animation or the backstory. It is a truly a much more integrated system where you have the textbook and the memory in the Internet where you incorporate the media,” Tsujita says.

The next edition takes it even a step further. The third edition will be the last paper edition; it will be an e-book from now on. Students will log on and pay for the rights to use the material. They can download only what they want when they want it all in a more cost-effective manner.

“It’s remarkable to be able to think that we’re able to positively influence someone in first year. That’s a big thing,” Tsujita says. “Western is influencing the teaching of geology nationwide.”  Hicock agrees. “That is how I look at this and in the third edition even more,” he says. “This is how I reach out to the whole country, not just my class that I’m lecturing to.”


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