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Durham University

Department of Physics

Teaching from textbooks

The Physics Department has a policy of defining lecture courses in terms of textbooks. This web page is intended to clarify the implications of this.

The Aim

The syllabus for all courses will be defined in terms of chapters from book(s). There are a number of advantages of this.

  1. The students will have an unambiguous set of notes for the course (before attending any lectures).
  2. The lecturer is freed to (although not required to) spend more time on other activities such as problem solving, or on discussing the key issues.
  3. Other lecturers will be able easily to determine the content of courses, to see what the students should know.
  4. It will be easier to transfer courses between lecturers, and staff will spend less time building up courses.
  5. Students can be encouraged to read material in advance of the lectures.
  6. It will aid the tutorials/workshops/example classes as other staff can also easily see what the students should and shouldn’t know.
  7. We also note that (especially for Level 3 and Level 4 courses) it is not always possible to recommend a single textbook – or even several textbooks. In these situations we note that single chapters from a textbook can be put on duo and distributed to the students at no cost.


  1. The precise format of lectures should still be very much the prerogative of the individual lecturer. The Department definitely does not want to define a “standard” method of giving lectures and, indeed, a variety of styles should be encouraged.
  2. In practice, this means that staff can follow the book in a number of ways. At one extreme they can just follow the same topics as the textbook – but with virtually no reference to the book. At the other extreme they can slavishly repeat the book verbatim. We would suggest that neither of these approaches is to be recommended – but rather a balance between the two is sensible. We would suggest that the book is used to provide a framework for the course – and the students should be encouraged to read it – but the lectures should augment the book by bringing out the key points and explaining critical concepts, etc. To reiterate, the main point here is that what actually happens is down to the lecturer.
  3. Clearly the choice of books can not be set in perpetuity, but neither can it change at the whim of individual staff without referring to others (especially for Level 1 and Level 2 Foundations courses). The mechanism for changing books is via discussion with the Course Directors (who report to the departmental Education Committee) who will also need to consider the possilbe impact of the changes on other courses.
  4. Lecturers can also recommend other textbooks to the students – indeed students should be encouraged to read a variety of sources.
  5. The syllabus is defined by the textbook but it should be left to each lecturer to decide if certain parts of the book associated with his/her course will not be examined; in which case the lecturer is responsible for making a clear statement to the students.
  6. It is the responsibility of individual lecturers to ensure that a book is still in print at the beginning of the year. The booklists are sent centrally by the Department to the University Library who will buy a number of copies.
  7. It is acceptable for the lecturer to assume that all students will have access to the recommended book.