Posted in Features

Fuck textbooks

Everything wrong with our textbook system


Why are textbooks so damn expensive?

Textbooks, and their ridiculous price tags, are a complicated mess that takes some explaining. The main reason textbooks are so expensive is they aren’t in a free market: students don’t have options when purchasing textbooks because the book is required for the class. Not any psychology text will do — it has to be the one assigned by the prof. This forced choice allows publishers and bookstores to put crazy high price tags on books because their clientele is guaranteed.

What’s the deal with new editions?

Sometimes authors will make extreme changes to a text. This can be because of new research, but it’s not uncommon for new editions to be released that correct nothing more than typos.

It makes perfect sense that, as new developments in your topic of study unfold, that you want them to be included in your curriculum. You want your education to be current, not lagging behind and becoming outdated.

However, if all that has changed is an added section and some typo fixes, there’s nothing in this world that can convince me that purchasing a new $130-textbook instead of the earlier edition for $50 is the better call.

I’d rather scan the pages from a friend’s book. Better yet, if you could just buy the missing section for $10 or $20, you’d still come out ahead instead of buying the new text.

Why do textbooks have to come bundled with access codes, study guides, etc.?

Because the universe hates us. Or at least, it feels that way.

Honestly, this is what I hate the most about buying textbooks. The textbook comes automatically bundled with a study guide you don’t need and won’t use, and you have to pay for it because that’s the only way to get the textbook.

My favourite bundle is the textbook and the access code. Why? Part of the problem concerns Canvas. If we could make the best possible use of that tool then we could end the bundling that increases our total at the checkout line.

What is the Open Textbook Project?

The Open Textbook Project is an initiative led by BCcampus and supported by the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS). It pushes for professors to adopt open educational resources: freely accessible textbooks and other learning materials.

VP university relations Arr Farah said they’re channeling their efforts into “advancing the cause.”

Farah pointed to the five library grants which were given out to faculty to aid in the creation of the open resources as evidence that the SFSS is moving in the right direction. He also noted that in the coming year, a course using an open textbook — Canadian History Pre-Confederation — will become available.

The SFSS’ lofty goal is to have as many textbooks as possible be offered as an open resource, but the world of policy moves slowly. Their goal for this year is to talk to the SFU Faculty Association and collect data on students’ use of textbooks.

Are textbooks even necessary?

It really depends on which faculty you’re in. For courses in the sciences, business, and social sciences, textbooks can be crucial because of the techniques and memorization required by those kinds of courses.

However, with courses in the arts, philosophy, English, and the like, you can probably skate by without buying textbooks. Most works and essays by old white guys are freely available in PDF form on the Internet. For novels and other books, libraries are a great resource.

But it also comes down to what kind a student you are. If you’re really gung-ho and it’s easier to have all your reading material in one place, then textbooks are probably necessary for your success. If you just need to pass — or know you aren’t going to do the homework or readings even when the material is right in front of you — you can probably forego the shopping trip.

So what can we do?

Not a whole lot that will bring about immediate change. Ask your professors if the latest edition is really necessary, or if the access code will be used (I’ve been burned before). Ask your instructors if there are cheaper alternatives to buying the textbooks. Help professors seriously consider moving to open resources.

Remember, you’re not limited to the bookstore. Try other suppliers like Better World Books, Amazon, and second-hand bookstores.

There is no obvious answer to this problem, but we need to come together as students and start demanding better and more affordable options.

  • Fostering a culture, among instructors and departments, of OER adoption and management is definitely something students can be a big influence on. Make it cool to be the teacher who uses OER!

  • Farhad Dastur

    I am an educator at Kwantlen Polytechnic University who teaches with open textbooks, does research on the efficacy of open textbooks, and works with provincial, non-profit, and international groups to advocate for more open education. Here are 4 things students can do to create a more “open” culture at their college, institute, or university:
    1) Educate yourself about what open education is in terms of its philosophy, resources, and practices. Ground your conversations in theory and research findings.
    2) Collaborate with like-minded students and groups who want more open education. Launch social media campaigns, sign petitions, talk to the media.
    3) Identify key institutional decision makers, recommenders, and influencers and ask them what they are doing to advance the project of open education. This group includes the president, the VPs, Deans, Directors, Department chairs, faculty leaders, student groups, parents, and others.
    4) Frame open education as an “expansion of the pie” where many can win. Furthering open education can a) align with institutional priorities; b) address student concerns about cost, access, and quality; and c) afford faculty increased opportunities for sharing, modifying, and remixing content without sacrificing quality or intellectual property.

    If the future is open, then that future is already here. It’s just not widely distributed.
    Dr. Farhad Dastur
    Dept. of Psychology
    Kwantlen Polytechnic University

  • Don Gorges

    __The best Faculty syllabi help students seeking
    savings by offering a comprehensive list of recommended alternative textbook
    editions or OER.
    Consider the ways that Students
    and TA’s can help their Faculty by doing the research throughout the course of the semester
    to discover these educational resources alternatives so they can be vetted and incorporated as
    options within the Faculty Syllabus list of recommendations.
    Faculty who engage their Students in this ‘renewable assignment’ would be able to
    recommend a broader range of resources, offering selections that best suit
    everyone’s’ needs and expectations

    PS _ “Fuck textbooks”. . . Everything wrong with our
    textbook system _ is nominated for top 10 list of memorable headlines on the topic – I imagine Nicole Allen wishes she could have used it first!