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Would it make sense to make book reviews on topic? I've read some books of interest to the CS educator community but don't know anywhere good to share my thoughts on them. The SIGCSE publication Inroads doesn't publish reviews. I know it doesn't fit with the normal Q&A format ("What did Ellen think of book X?") but thought I'd run it up the flagpole anyway.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think this sort of discussion is needed somewhere $\endgroup$ – nova Jul 20 '17 at 21:31
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    $\begingroup$ Reviews tend to be highly opinion-based, which makes them a poor fit for Q&A as originally imagined for StackExchange sites. Still, to say that something's "impossible" just because the right way to do it isn't immediately obvious would seem crass. Seems like we'd instead want to find some way to reduce the scope of what a "review" typically is to a fact-based analysis. $\endgroup$ – Nat Jul 20 '17 at 22:43
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I'm not sure whether book reviews themselves really fit this format very well. However, that's not to say there aren't aspects of books that you could ask about in questions and provide self-answers for.

For example, something I think might work:

Should I foo the bar when teaching as suggested by < author >?

I recently read < insert book here >, which suggested that instead of barring the foo, I should foo the bar instead when teaching my students. This goes against what I thought to be true, but there are some compelling reasons for doing this according to the book.

< insert optional relevant quote for people who haven't read the book >

Is this an effective strategy?

In other words, a Q&A site isn't really suited to reviews and opinions, but Stack Exchange is great at challenging and working with new ideas, so—in a way—you can still turn a mini-book review into a question for others to answer. Stack Exchange is about ideas and facts, but it's not great with opinions and reviews. If you can write something that can be more like the former, then you're essentially getting the same thing as a book review (sharing your thoughts on a book's ideas to a larger community) without it just being your ideas.

If you just want to share a review, maybe you could post these in a chat room, or gauge interest in something like a community blog to post these kinds of reviews in a more traditional format.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. What would you think of: "Is <insert book here> useful for a class on X?" $\endgroup$ – Ellen Spertus Jul 20 '17 at 19:12
  • $\begingroup$ @EllenSpertus I think it'd probably be okay. Not much different to the typical lesson-review, which seems to be accepted on this site, so I think that'd be a totally valid question to ask. $\endgroup$ – Aurora0001 Jul 20 '17 at 19:13
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    $\begingroup$ @EllenSpertus That ... useful for a class on X? type question looks to me to have either on of two possibilites: a) Yes/No type answers, b) subjective answers. In both cases how do I vote good/bad answer to the question? Asking for "longer answers" only makes type-a look like type-b answers, without truly changing what the results really are. $\endgroup$ – Gypsy Spellweaver Jul 20 '17 at 23:21
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My instinct: yes. Here is why.

I perused the ME.SE site to see what we could glean from arguably our closest-in-spirit fellow SE community. They have two tags that speak to the potential usefulness of questions focused on books: and . I see no reason why we couldn't do the same.

I'll give two precise examples.

Consider this sample question: "I am looking for a beginner-friendly CS book to assign AP Computer Science Principles students as a summer reading assignment. What book can I use that would introduce them to the big ideas of how computers work? An ideal selection would cover the basics of software and hardware, introduce binary, and give an overview of how a CPU works. Bonus for including an introduction to the concepts of programming languages, including algorithms.

In my mind, said question is perfectly on-topic and precise enough to be an acceptable list question since it provides specific criteria for evaluation. Whether posted as a self-answer or not, this would be a great question to have within our community.

To get closer to an actual review, consider this alternative: "I'm looking at developing an independent study CS class for 1 student (or maybe a small group). I've looked into the Nand 2 Tetris material and find it compelling. However, I am wondering about the quality of the companion book. Is it a sufficient resource for students in terms of explaining all they need to know in order to complete all 12 assignments? At what level is it written?"

This, too, could be a question for the community or an opportunity for self-answer. A valuable enough question in either respect will gain up-votes and be perfectly on topic for a community of CS educators.

Choosing/reviewing books is an important aspect of teaching (even the choice to intentionally forgo a textbook altogether). In that respect I think it would be a disservice to this community (and to Googlers who stumble upon us) to not find a clear way of including some sort of book review process.

At the end of the day, as long the question both adds value and contains specific criteria by which answers can merit deserving votes, then I am all for it.

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Unfortunately this creates an ethical dilemma for any authors on the site. I'm pretty prolific and (of course) think my books are very good (the best). But I'm also anonymous. So, either I reveal my identity or have a conflict of interest in promoting my own work.

I also think that some other competing books say and do terrible destructive things that students will need to un-learn. In a public arena I'm happy to say that and have communicated with authors on such things. But here, I again think I have a conflict of interest, unless I reveal my identity.

You could, of course have a gag rule for authors, but it is unenforceable. And if it applies only to pseudonymous authors it is even worse.

Even given that I'm happy to be objective about my own work, the ethical issue doesn't go away.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm not worried about pseudonymous reviews by authors, which would likely be rare. A review on Amazon would likely have a bigger effect than here. $\endgroup$ – Ellen Spertus Jul 20 '17 at 22:42
  • $\begingroup$ I'm worried about honesty and transparency, not the effect on sales. $\endgroup$ – Buffy Jul 20 '17 at 23:58
  • $\begingroup$ I don't see this as differing significantly from other dishonest things one could do with a pseudonym, such as recommending one's own teaching resources. $\endgroup$ – Ellen Spertus Jul 21 '17 at 0:27
  • $\begingroup$ I think there is a difference. If I'm anonymous and recommend a resource I have to give its pros and cons (mostly pros, probably). My real life reputation gives it no credence since people don't know who I am. If I'm selling a resource I recommend I'd consider it exactly the same as recommending my own book anonymously. Recommending something and then giving it away anonymously gives me back nothing, not even rep. Sorry if this comment is a bit of a muddle. Tired. $\endgroup$ – Buffy Jul 21 '17 at 0:52

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