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Gray Matter in this Book

An innovative feature in this book is the existence of two levels of material, one with a white background, the other with a gray background. (Apologies if you are accus­tomed to the British spelling: "grey.")

The labels white matter and gray matter are shameless puns based on the two types of brain tissue called white matter and gray matter. Initially I thought the gray matter would be only for the brainier students, but it turned out to be helpful for average students as well.

Why have the gray matter? During my original experiment in Fall term, 2000, the gray matter was intended to be more difficult material. Student could take a quiz on this material for extra credit.

Perhaps you can anticipate the flaw with this approach. Students who needed extra credit tended to be those doing worst in the course. More difficult material was not what they wanted or needed.

The next term, Winter 2001, I did not use the gray matter for extra credit. I just left it optional. There were no study questions for it. On a questionnaire, only about 12% of the students said they always read it.

During a summer 2001 course on Personality Theories, I tried another approach. This time (in a different book project) I used gray matter for com­mentaries and extra information. It was not optional; it was just extra. The students liked it.

The next time I revised the intro text, I did the same thing. Now gray matter was not especially difficult; it was just supplementary. It added opinions, observations, stories, or elaborations. If there was an essential point in danger of getting lost, I wrote a study question to draw attention to it.

That worked. Students said they enjoyed getting stories and asides in a textbook just like they normally did in lectures. So that became the template for the book in its last printing (2004) and online starting in 2007 to the present day.

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