Published on November 24th, 2011 | by Sonam Cheema0
BLOG: Another Year, Another Grand on Textbooks
Every year, I come back to Western with one very ambitious goal and no, it isn’t to actually complete my “Beers of the World” passport at the Spoke (side note: how awesome is the programming at the Spoke this year? ROCKARAOKE has to be there to get people to complete their passports, right?!). Every year, I decide that I will no longer fork over more than one thousand of my hard-earned dollars on textbooks, and will actually go to Weldon weeks in advance of exams and read the textbooks available on course reserve.
I carry on in this manner for September, and then some of October, and suddenly, it’s Thursday and I have an exam on Monday, and I’ve obviously done none of the readings! At this point, I realize that it will probably be a case of Man vs. Wild in trying to get the 10 or so hours I would need with the 2 available textbooks on campus to finish my readings, especially in courses that have more than a hundred students.
So I begrudgingly find myself at the Bookstore, forking over $150 for that textbook I had so naively vowed to never buy. And this happens every single year. And rather than work out my ridiculous addiction to extreme procrastination, I instead have thought about alternatives to delivery… Because the problem is not with me, it’s with the system, you know?
Students spend an average of $900 each year on textbooks and more often than not, what they have to show for it are really heavy textbooks that they have to lug around between campus and home while contributing to their carbon footprints and personal debt. Oh, sometimes you might even get a bundled reference guide and accompanying DVD that is never used in your course, but somehow calls for an additional $30. And if you, like me, make the pledge to use the course reserves at the libraries on campus, two hours is rarely enough to make a dent in any reading, and with only 1 or 2 textbooks available, you have to plan to your schedule around the library (and get the readings done weeks in advance before other students start accessing the reserve). The problem with this is that I have a lot of commitments in my life: I have 4 other courses that all have exams and assignments due, I have work commitments, I have extracurricular commitments and ideally, I would like to have an hour or two a week for my social life. So wouldn’t it be awesome if the University were to offer textbooks “on reserve” through the online database, accessible by proxy from the comfort of your sofa and Snuggie? And at any hour of the day, without having to wait half an hour after your two hours are up, in case somebody else needs the textbook?
I have flirted a bit with e-textbooks this year, and have found them very convenient. I am attached at the hip with my beloved Macbook and since we go everywhere together, my textbooks are never too far. If I have an hour to kill on campus between lectures, I can open up the e-reader program and try to attack some of my readings. And the textbooks that I have bought so far have been substantially cheaper than what the hard copy would have cost me. In fact, a study evaluating a campus-wide e-textbook initiative at Northwestern Missouri State University found that e-textbooks cost students about 50% less than traditional books and accelerate learning with interactive resources.
I suspect that such an arrangement would probably work to the advantage of many students at UWO, but there are a few obstacles. The first is of course the monopoly that publishers have on the market, which allows them to control the delivery of textbooks as well as keep the prices high. Students have no choice but to go along with the publishers’ demands, because we need those textbooks. The second would be receiving an open-source license for the University to distribute these e-textbooks for student use.
For a textbook to be available online, it would have to be open, meaning the university needs a license to allow students to use it. Such texts are free to read online, and are very affordable to print (most fall between the $20 to $40 range), and the licenses are flexible. Faculty can help students lower costs by replacing traditional textbooks with open textbooks that cover the same material and help to achieve the same learning objectives as the conventional one, while we, as students and paying customers of courses, can advocate and make our professors aware of our desire for open-sourced material. We can also encourage professors to contribute to the “open movement” by publishing high quality research and textbooks through pioneering publishers like Flat World Knowledge.
The more popular option is using traditional bookstores like Amazon and Barnes & Noble to purchase or rent e-textbooks. A quick search for the current edition of an anatomy textbook that I am using for a course shows that I can buy the electronic version for $98, whereas the hardcover copy (packaged with a guide that I will never use) from the UWO bookstore would cost me $179.95. Alternatively, you can “rent” the book from the website for $64 for 130 days (a bit over 4 months, or a semester), a price that is probably lower than what you would “lose” after selling the conventional textbook to another financially-strapped undergrad.
Technology has advanced to a point where conventional textbooks will soon be archaic, but we need to fight for these changes and make sure that those who make relevant decisions know that students are aware of their options and are passionate in making sure that they receive the ones that are in their best interest.
Visit http://www.flatworldknowledge.com/# to browse through some open textbooks that are currently available and to learn more about the movement.