Is textbook adoption immoral?

On Friday a higher ed newsletter headline caught my eye: “Outrage over university’s $999 online textbook.” It wasn’t a typo — the book for a 200 level accounting course at University of Louisiana at Lafayette costs that much.

A couple of weeks ago I attended my community college system’s annual summer symposium. The most compelling presentation I heard was from Robin DeRosa of Plymouth State University. She talked about a subject I’d spent a good bit of time thinking about this summer: OERs, or Open Educational Resources. If you haven’t heard of them, here is UNESCO’s definition: “Open Educational Resources (OERs) are any type of educational materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license. The nature of these open materials means that anyone can legally and freely copy, use, adapt and re-share them. OERs range from textbooks to curricula, syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, tests, projects, audio, video and animation.”

Like community colleges around the country, mine is concerned with making education as affordable as possible, and one of our system-wide efforts is to make OERs a priority. I put together a LibGuide for my campus so that faculty can see some choices and learn about how to adopt/adapt/create their own, and I have found some faculty are already doing this. So I was already an OER believer.

Novelist Paul Harding speaks of writing so readers will think “That’s true, and I’ve always known it but I’ve never seen someone put it into words like this before.” That was how I felt, listening to DeRosa. I already knew much of what she said — students often don’t have a plan for textbook costs like they do for tuition, 2/3 of students report either dropping a class because of expensive textbooks or not buying a textbook because of cost, students who can’t afford textbooks do worse in their classes, and textbook costs have risen more than healthcare.

But then she delivered the words I knew but hadn’t heard said that way before: we’re preventing access to knowledge by continuing to require traditional textbooks, and for those of us in “public” education (in NH, the university system where DeRosa works only receives 10% of its funds from state appropriations) this is a moral issue. She wondered aloud, how can educators require our students can’t afford, in good conscience? How can we support a system that is inhibiting the transmission of knowledge?

And then she went on to describe how she worked on an OER early American literature book collaboratively with her students. This work is known as open pedagogy, and really appeals to me as exactly what education should be about: students not as consumers, but agents of their own education, synthesizing what they learn in work that demonstrates not only mastery, but application of their new understanding to a real world problem or question. Our son was fortunate to have a professor, Patricia Siplon, who was ahead of the curve on this at St. Michael’s College and a few years ago, he was in her class on the politics of HIV/AIDS, where the final project was to write a chapter for a textbook she planned to use with future classes. That’s open pedagogy: learning, synthesizing and producing knowledge, collaboratively.

DeRosa’s class’s anthology is now a Rebus project and she predicts that by the time it is finished later this year, it will replace traditional print anthologies sold in college bookstores around the world. Rebus is a place where people come together to work on OERs. I am hopeful that this is the future of textbooks. Librarians’ role in OERs and open pedagogy is simple. We just need to do what we already do best: teach the research skills that help faculty and students seek, evaluate, and use information effectively and then collect, index, and make accessible the knowledge creation happening on our campuses.

 

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2013 Reading Resolutions

As both a librarian who loves readers’ advisory and a book review columnist (The Mindful Reader), I read a fair number of books. At our neighbors’ post holiday bonfire last weekend I was a little embarrassed when someone pointed out that I read around 2-3 books a week most of the time (which I blog about at bookconscious) and other guests seemed to find that pretty odd. I’m often reading one book for the column and 1-2 others at the same time. Someone asked me whether I really retain what I’m reading at that pace.

I muttered something brilliant like “I think so” but a better response is “it depends.” If I’m skimming something so I know whether or not I want to recommend it to library patrons, say a craft book or a genre I don’t usually read, maybe I don’t remember everything, but in that situation, I’m not trying to retain it. If it’s a book for the column that deserves a review but I don’t love (I try to cover books that appeal to a wide range of tastes, not just my own) I do read mindfully, but I also tend to let the book go as soon as I’ve written about it.

If on the other hand, I’m reading either for research or for pleasure, I take my time, unless of course the book is page turner. And I think I do retain what I’m reading, even if the details (like all details in my mid-40’s mind) are sometimes hard to recall perfectly. Retention aside, I’ve heard Paul Harding speak a few times and he advocates slow reading because the experience is better, you notice more, you can enjoy the beauty of a good book if you’re not rushing it.

To read (and live) well, I think the key is to be fully engaged,to allow what you’re experiencing to become a part of your not to have perfect recall. When I reviewed The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak on bookconscious I wrote, “In my view, the best books stay with you, working on your own stored memory, fusing themselves with all you’ve read and all you’ve been, incorporating themselves into what you’ll be. Books that last are books that make meaning, that consciously or unconsciously change the way you view the next thing you read, the next idea you consider, the next response you have to the world. ” You could say the best way to read is to make yourself available to that.

So while I’m not making fancy reading resolutions and or joining formal challenges (after falling short of my Europa Challenge goal last year), I do plan to practice mindfully savoring whatever I’m reading for reading’s sake. Work reading is work reading, and I’ll continue to do that as efficiently as is necessary. Although occasionally something counts as both work and pleasure.

I will participate in two community reads in 2013: I’m on the Concord Reads committee and will read whatever we choose for that. And Books on the Nightstand’s Project Short Story sounds both fun and doable. What are your 2013 reading resolutions?