Sunday, February 12, 2012

Ditching the overpriced and underused textbook


College students may have turned up the volume of their discontent about college textbooks, but grumbling about them certainly isn't new. In all of my years in higher education, the most consistent complaint that crops up on course evaluations has been about textbooks. They're boring. They're expensive. And perhaps most surprising, they're barely used.

And it's not just students floundering below C-level who aren't cracking them open. Even "A" students skip the book.

I never quite understood how this could be possible until I discovered what detailed class notes many instructors were distributing to their students. Perhaps without even realizing it, faculty were creating an abridged version of the text highlighting only those things that would be on the exam.

Except for the most judicious or naive, who would bother to read the book?

Last year, Steven Bell, associate university librarian at Temple University offered small grants to 11 faculty members to design their own textbook. Most used resources available through the university's library along with their own notes, and online resources that are freely available. It appears as if the alt-textbook experiment was an overwhelming success. Students saved some money, were more engaged in the content, and faculty tapped the most current information.

Textbook publishers have tried to keep pace with the shrinking attention spans and price fatigue of the typical college student by developing digital assets and other "ancillaries" as they're known in the business. But whether a textbook is consumed in its dead-tree format or on an e-reader, it's still an arcane relic from a by-gone era. Temple University may be onto something.
Copyright © Deborah A. Ayers - All rights reserved.