ISSUES IN EDUCATION

Long path from writing textbooks to blogging

Barry Render

It’s all the fault of David Anderson, Dennis Sweeney and Tom Williams. As an innocent Ph.D. student at the University of Cincinnati in the early 1970s, my three professors conveyed life lessons that have stayed with me for my 40 years as a professor. They taught me that writing textbooks (they are co-authors of a very successful series of management science and statistics books) is worthwhile, exciting and satisfying – but at the same time is extremely demanding, requiring tremendous discipline and sacrifice.

So in 1974, joining the University of New Orleans and meeting my new best friend – a freshly minted Ph.D. from the University of Oregon – Ralph Stair, I proposed we write a book together. Ralph, not under the Svengali influence of the fanatic workers I had observed for three years at U.C., was not so sure. (He owned a sailboat, and we all know how carefree sailors tend to be. Plus, life in New Orleans certainly had its cultural distractions!) But, in the end, Ralph and I drafted a proposal for a management science book and convinced Allyn & Bacon (now Pearson) to publish it, copyright 1976.

What a wonderful partnership – the first of several I developed over the years with co-authors. Our “Quantitative Analysis for Management” text is in its 13th edition (with the help now of Mike Hanna and Trevor Hale at the University of Houston). Ralph and I published five other texts over the next 15 years, including “Managerial Decision Modeling with Spreadsheets” (with Raju Balakrishnan, the dean at Michigan-Dearborn). Cengiz Haksever, at Rider University, became my co-author on “Service Management”(now in its 3rd edition). And in 1983, Jay Heizer and I teamed up to create “Operations Management” (now in 12th ed.) and “Principles of Operations Management” (in 10th ed.). The tally since 1976 is about 10 texts in roughly 56 editions. It starts to add up!

So I ask, why would any professor in his or her right mind forgo vacation after vacation to meet 56 publisher deadlines? How could anyone raise kids to sit on his lap while creating a new case study or homework problem? Why would anyone spend tens of thousands of hours proofing page after page and table after table? Did we not enter this profession for a lifestyle of freedom and flexibility?

The answer, in my case, is complex and has four parts. First, I think that growing up somewhat poor was a drawing factor in wanting to reach financial security. (I have to admit I was both impressed and influenced by my Cincinnati profs who showed the discipline to invest their royalties in apartment buildings).

Second, I know that writing has made me a better teacher. If I could explain a difficult concept in words in the book in a way that a 20-year-old could understand and appreciate it, I could convey it to my own students as well.

Third, I was obsessed with teaching from an error-free text. In our rigorous discipline, examples or problems with wrong answers, or test banks and PowerPoints that are unclear, drove me and my students crazy. It was tough, but I wanted my books to have, as quality control expert Phil Crosby would say, “zero defects.”

And fourth, I discovered that I really, really enjoyed writing. For me, it is not a burden at all. It is a chance to stay current, to share knowledge and to help explain our field in a way that excites and motivates. I truly believe that operations management is the most critical and dynamic part of the worlds of business and government.

Because our texts are on three-year revision cycles, I found a way to keep our adopters/colleagues current every day. Four years ago, Jay Heizer and I started Jay and Barry’s OM Blog (www.heizerrenderom.wordpress.com) for instructors teaching from our texts. I tend to create three to four new postings a week – 300-word summaries of exciting events in the news. (Why 300 words? Because our editors at Pearson posit that profs, like students, have short attention spans and lose interest after three short paragraphs). Now in “retirement,” I read the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Financial Times daily, and Businessweek, Forbes, Fortune and other magazines weekly/monthly.

Readership of our blog has grown and grown, with more than 400,000 visitors – plus about 500 daily subscribers – to date. The blog also has teaching tips, video tips, guest posts and sample syllabi from schools around the world.

Blogging is not for everyone. I have encouraged colleagues and other Pearson authors to use blogging as a way of communicating with students and adopters. But it requires time and effort to keep adding new content on a regular and timely basis. And most professors face more immediate deadlines in grading and research output.

For me, writing and blogging are fun, and I have never been happier. My advice: Whatever your path as an academic, I hope you also find your own personal joy.

Barry Render is the Harwood Professor of Operations Management Emeritus at Rollins College in Orlando, Fla.