College textbook reinvented as graphic novel

College textbook reinvented as graphic novelIt's a bird! It's a plane! It's ... a graphic novel coming to the rescue of cash-strapped college students? According to one business school professor, textbooks that look more like comic books could revolutionize the way students are taught -- and save them a bundle in the process.

Jeremy Short, a management professor at Rawls College of Business at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Tex., is the developer and lead author of a pair of management textbooks written in graphic novel format. The books -- which are priced at an amazingly low $15 a pop -- chronicle the adventures of business school slacker-student-turned-entrepreneur Atlas Black as he learns how to apply his classroom lessons to real-life business situations.

In a phone interview with WalletPop, Short told us that the graphic novel format has been hugely popular with students: The visual style is engaging, while the narrative format helps them better retain the information. "There's a stigma associated with comics for a lot of people," Short acknowledges, but he points out the format has a lot going for it.

"We know that people will remember a story and will tend to memorize or remember scenes or lines from a movie. We want that level of recall," he says. Typical business texts will mention numerous company names and examples without offering much context, which can make them difficult to remember. By framing examples within a narrative, it's more likely readers will remember the details instead of suffering from information overload.

"In terms of students, the feedback has been extremely positive," says Short. Administrators at Texas Tech were also supportive, he adds. While Short says he's experienced little in the way of negative feedback, some people are clearly suspicious of lessons being delivered via graphic novel. The comment thread on this USA Today article includes expressions of suspicion and outright hostility in response to the idea of a comic-like textbook. Short says the bias doesn't bother him, pointing out that students Texas Tech has evaluated overwhelmingly prefer Atlas Black to traditional management textbooks.

The non-traditional format of the books makes them appealing even to non-business school types, Short adds. In other words, you don't need to have the goal "become management guru" on your to-do list in order to learn something from the books. And, at these prices, you can afford to pick them up.

Short says he understands students' frustrations about the astronomical price of textbooks these days, a challenge he tried to address by pricing his Atlas Black books so low. "It's tons cheaper than a textbook," Short says. (A few other companies have tried to tackle the perennial headache of pricey textbooks; we told you about a Netflix-type rental subscription earlier this year.)

Short and his co-authors are working on a third Atlas Black story that will be published late this year or in early 2011. Readers, what do you think about this? If you're curious, you can read the first chapter of the first Atlas Black book for free (really!) at this link. Is it fun to read? Do you feel like you learned something? Do you think tools like this will help B-school grads succeed in today's cutthroat economy?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
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