The SF author Ben Bova likes to write editorials for his local paper, the Naples News. Last week he wrote a politely worded diatribe against graphic novels and how they're a sign of declining literacy. Even though I think he's wrong, it's still worth a read.
I've been thinking about his column for a week now. I was trying to find the best way to present a counter argument. I found a new article today in Inside Higher Ed about a business professor who co-wrote a pair of graphic novels that he is using instead of textbooks. (Nothing wins an argument like empirical evidence.)
Jeremy Short’s students read comic books in class. Then they take exams, do well, and finish the semester with an understanding of the fundamentals of business management. In an effort to make dry content more interesting, Short co-wrote a set of two graphic novels together with Talya Bauer, professor of management at Portland State University, and Dave Ketchen, professor of management at Auburn University. The second of their books was released this summer.
It shouldn't surprise you that the students preferred the graphic novel over the regular textbook:
Formal evaluations showed that 86 percent of his students that used the book said they agreed or strongly agreed that it “compares favorably” to other management textbooks they’ve had, Short said. He added that the most rewarding part of the process teaching with Atlas Black is having students wonder what happens in the story when the book ends. “The idea of a student asking what comes next in a textbook is really just unfathomable,” he said.
Before I found this article, I'd been planning to point out the popularity of manga (graphic novels) in Japan. Japan has one of the highest literacy rates in the world, and they've maintained that rate alongside a very successful manga publishing industry.
P.S. The graphic novel was published by indie textbook publisher Flat World Knowledge, and will be used be used by 25 professors this fall.