At first, that might seem like an incredibly dumb question. If you’re in a salty mood, you might snarl, “Buy them and learn or fail the damn course.” For most of us, I suspect the thought of not buying the additional materials required (or even recommended) for a class might seem utterly absurd. When I was an undergraduate, I remember being warned not to buy used books because they would likely have someone else’s notes in the margins, leaving no room for me to write my own (ok, maybe not the most convincing argument). Nonetheless, I definitely remember feeling like a slacker if I didn’t show up to the first day of class with a shiny new version of each required text.
Fast forward 30-odd years and things couldn’t be more different. The cost of textbooks has risen even faster than the cost of college tuition (have a look at this graphic from the Bureau of Labor Statistics), even as the cost of recreational books has gone down.
More and more, it appears that students are renting textbooks, borrowing from friends, or just foregoing some books altogether. The Chronicle of Higher Ed highlighted a study in 2011 suggesting that 7 of 10 students have skipped buying a textbook because of cost. More recent online columns and blogs seem to perpetuate the notion, if not brag outright, that a student can succeed in college without buying books. In January, the Atlantic published a longer piece examining the reality that, despite the surge in online and other edtech resources, the cost of textbooks and/or their online equivalent remains exorbitantly high. And in the context of the financial pressures that many students experience just paying tuition, room, and board, I guess it shouldn’t surprise us much when already financially-strapped students take advantage of any alternative that might save them some money.
A few weeks ago, about forty faculty and staff gathered in the library to kickstart a conversation about Augustana students and textbooks. After discussing the financial realities of textbook costs, the conversation turned toward the ways in which we choose the textbooks and additional materials that we assign. Although this is something that we might take for granted at times (especially if one might be scrambling to put a course together), it’s an issue that more and more folks are trying to address. I’m sure there are plenty of examples, but three impressive efforts include the Open Textbook Library, College Open Textbooks, and the Open Educational Resources Commons. Most recently, 40 colleges have made the move to simply go without textbooks and only use freely available learning resources (see here and here).
At the end of the meeting, it seemed clear that we really need to know more about our student’s engagement with the textbooks and additional materials assigned in our courses. One person posed an exceedingly logical suggestion: could we add a couple of questions to the end of every IDEA course feedback survey at the end of spring term asking about:
- The amount that students spent on textbooks for a given class
- How often they used the textbooks and additional materials they bought for that class
- How effective those materials were in helping the student learn in that class
It seems like this would be particularly useful information. But before acting on any of these ideas, I think it’s important to know what you all think about gathering this information, what questions you might have about what is done with this information, and any other concerns you might have about this project.
So . . . . what do you think? Should we ask these questions? What should we do with the data? If we ask these questions, how do we need to be careful and transparent so that whatever we find, 1) gives us a deeper understanding of our students’ engagement with textbooks and additional materials, and 2) genuinely spurs our perpetual effort to improve in a way that fosters inclusiveness and understanding.
Please – send me your thoughts. If you know my email, you can send them there. If you’d rather post in the comments section below, please post away.
Make it a good day,