Old data: The technical textbook dilemma

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There's an increasingly limited shelf-life for technical textbooks that teach IT concepts and skills.In 1998 I co-authored a textbook titled IIS 4.0 MCSE Study Guide.(1) After spending countless hours with this writing effort, shortly after the book’s publication small royalty payments started to arrive in my mailbox. In December of 1999, Windows 2000 Server was “released to manufacturing” and included as IIS 5.0 as one of its component services.(2)

The time between publication of the textbook and release of IIS 5.0 was a little over a year. The lesson learned as a result of this effort was that making money as a textbook author, where the book’s subject matter is technology on a rapid pathway towards change, may not be the sort of activity worth pursuing.

In the two decades since that experience, I’ve avoided opportunities associated with textbook production. While I love to write, keeping up with the rapid pace of changes in operating systems and their related software components is tough enough as a product consumer — let alone having to update a textbook with the release of editions after new editions.

As an educator and trainer, based upon my experiences over the past couple of years, I’ve reached a conclusion that the traditional textbook may no longer be relevant for the courses I teach. This is best illustrated by way of example.

Last month I taught a class that related to issues involving disaster recovery and business continuity. The textbook recommended for the course was Principles of Incident Response and Disaster Recovery.(3) By way of comment, I’ve used this book in the past because I believe its authors did an excellent job in covering the subject matter as it was in 2014 when the book was published.

The problem, of course, is that 2014 was five years ago. That’s a lifetime in terms of what is going on, particularly where the rapid pace server-based networking is moving away from the traditional local premises-based hardware to virtualization and the cloud.

Fortunately for me as the instructor and my students, we had access to supplemental resources that included ITPro.TV(4) and LinkedIn Learning (Lynda.Com).(5) The entertainment value of the ITPro.TV videos has the added benefit of being “fun” while presenting information that might otherwise be characterized as dry.

For this and other courses, the collaborative efforts of faculty in identifying available videos that are recent (in terms of their release date), can serve as resources providing current course content as we continue to move down a “bleeding edge” path of instruction.

Other forms of content include resources that can be found on the Internet. Examples include white papers, magazine articles (e.g. Certification Magazine), and forum postings. I’ve also added podcasts to my list of educational resources. For example, I recommend that students subscribe to Steve Gibson’s “Security Now” podcast on the TWIT network.(6) Depending on the course, I have a list of around 20 podcasts that I recommend.(7)

One thing is for certain. As we move forward teaching technology-related courses, we as instructors and trainers need to adapt and be willing to utilize new resources and content delivery tools.


REFERENCES

1) See https://books.google.com/books/about/IIS_4_0_MCSE_Study_Guide.html?id=Kc4O-ie6rHsC&source=kp_cover
2) https://news.microsoft.com/1999/12/15/microsoft-releases-windows-2000-to-manufacturing/
3) https://www.cengage.com/c/principles-of-incident-response-and-disaster-recovery-2e-whitman
4) https://www.itpro.tv/
5) https://www.lynda.com/
6) https://twit.tv/shows/security-now
7) http://bit.ly/podcasts-list

 

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Steve Linthicum

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steve Linthicum taught cybersecurity courses for decades as a professor at the college and university level, and currently works with the California Community College Chancellor’s Office in a workforce development role. He holds an array of IT and cybersecurity industry certifications.

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