A people’s literature is the great textbook for real knowledge of them. The writings of the day show the quality of the people as no historical reconstruction can.
- Edith Hamilton
It’s been a while since I’ve bought a textbook.
For the online master’s, the textbooks were part of my scholarship. They showed up at my door, pre-paid and ordered for me.
All publications of Person or one of its imprints, the texts amounted to free books to gather dust on my nightstand as they were remarkably outdated when compared to the research I could find and access online.
This semester has turned that model on its head.
In an attempt to savvy it up, I tried to find as many workarounds as possible.
I made my way to the COOP, Harvard’s central student bookstore (a B&N-owned property) to see how deeply into my pockets I’d be reaching to study this semester.
With only three of my courses confirmed, the tab came in over $200, and I noted the likely fourth class called for 6 more texts. Altogether, books were about $300. That was minus the recommended texts for my stats class in which the professor advised us he’d be supplying us with all the handouts we could need. Had I acquired the recommended, we’re looking at a total of approximately $400.
But the fun doesn’t stop there.
Three of the four courses (stats is the winner, again) also require course packs of journal articles and selected chapters for the semester. Those three totaled $200.
If I’d purchased all the texts, my outlay for reading materials would have been around $600 for the semester.
I should stop here and note some things:
- I realize students in other disciplines are spending much more on many more texts.
- I appreciate and accept the need for reading materials for class. I’m not advocating a text-free approach to classes.
- I get that this is the way things are done, and thereby, part and parcel of higher education.
Since collecting all of these texts, I’ve been thinking of how we might shape a new model of for texts that might lower the materials cost of higher education and thereby make it more accessible who find it cost prohibitive.
Certainly, I realize tuition far out-paces course materials as an item on students’ higher ed budgets.
Still, every bit helps.
Some steps I took:
- I downloaded Amazon’s student app and used it in the COOP to scan course texts for their Amazon.com partners. Where the Amazon texts were less expensive, I added them to my cart. (This was the case in all but two instances.)
- When I got home, I compared the items in my Amazon cart with used versions available through amazon. Whenever possible, I chose the used version.
- I took advantage of amazon’s offer of 6 months of free Amazon Prime membership for students. This secures free 2-day shipping and other as of yet unknown “deals.” (When selecting used texts, I only purchased those qualifying for Amazon Prime.)
- When it was possible, I purchased the Kindle version of texts. I’ll be reading them on my iPad, but I’d take advantage of the new Kindle Cloud feature if I didn’t have a Kindle or iPad.
- I opted against texts that were recommended but not required (with the exception of the APA style guide).
As a result, my possible costs of $600 ended up at around $450. That’s a chunk of rent or more than a month’s worth of groceries.
Still, though, the course packs linger as a confounding problem. The readings are required and weeding through each course’s syllabus to find out which texts are in the course pack/available online would be a tremendous time suck. This is not to mention the fact that packs are purchased in all-or-nothing style.
I know the answer lies somewhere in movements like the Flat World Knowledge project and other open-source options, but they’re not quite there.
Teachers and professors know what they want their students reading, and I’d imagine the course packs are a result of culling the available scholarship for specific texts. As such, any project attempting to replace the usual way of doing things is going to struggle to reach critical mass until it can offer all or nearly all of what’s available to those with appropriately-sized budgets.
So, there’s the conundrum with which I’m dealing.
It seems to me there’s a better way, that the tools and channels already exist to cut this as a burden to students.
Someone have this million-dollar idea.