Can You Still Require a Textbook for Your Course?

Articles on college students' spending on textbooks continues to be an issue, as I has been for decades. Lately, it seems that the spending on books and course materials is declining, but not because textbooks are cheaper.

As I have posted and presented in years past, more and more students simply skip buying required course materials. Do students have alternatives? There are usually used books to buy - though the constant "new editions" discourage that and buying from college bookstores or publushers is often not much of a savings. 

The scarier alternatives for faculty, colleges and students is that students simply try to get through the course without the materials. Fake it, beg, borrow or steal it. Some students report that they have to take fewer classes (especially true with part-time students). Some students say that the cost of materials is a factor in choosing classes (electives) or sections of a course (required).

Can you still require a textbook for a course? Of course. Can you expect that all the students will own a copy? No.

A new survey of undergraduates on 23 campuses by the National Association of College Stores, found that students spent an average of $563 on course materials during the 2014-15 academic year, compared with $638 the year before.

Some of that decrease may be due to the increasing use of textbook-rental programs and the use of open textbooks. But of those students who did not buy textbooks, the report noted, a greater percentage than in the past said it was because "they believed them to be unnecessary."

I would not recommend that students buy a textbook before the semester and wait to see how critical the readings are to course success.

I have found for my own students (and other surveys seem to agree) that as digital as my students might be, they still prefer print if cost isn't a factor. 

I do not see a significant increase in the use of free and inexpensive open textbooks, and that is unfortunate. That is out of the hands of students and is often a direct result of teachers not being aware of them.

In a time when college bookstores are more likely to be called just the "campus store" because more sales come from clothing, snacks and drinks than books, you would expect the open textbook movement to be gaining strength.

I did a number of presentations to faculty in past years about finding open textbooks to use in their courses. (An older guide I did at PCCC is still online and relevant.) You can start by just searching through some of the most used sources (below), but, yes, it does take some work.

I haven't assigned a textbook in any of my graduate classes in the past 5 years with all readings coming from free online sources including open textbooks. 

Art and the MOOC

A new "virtual art school" called Kadenze has already teamed up with programs at 18 institutions to create a digital platform designed for arts courses.

According to a company co-founder, Perry R. Cook (an emeritus professor at Princeton, one of the schools involved), the platform will be “multimedia rich” and allow students to create online portfolios, upload music files and scanned art, watch videos, and participate in discussion forums.

Their website describes Kadenze as "the future of creative education" as it "brings together educators, artists, and engineers from leading universities across the globe to provide world-class education in the fields of art and creative technology."

Kadenze will initially offer about 20 courses on subjects including music, art history, and technology and art.

Their "business model" is one that has been evolving the past two years for many MOOC providers. Similar to the free and premium model used by many app and software as service (SAS) providers, it offers free access and also additional access or features for paid users. You can enroll in courses and watch videos for free. Paying $7 a month allows you to submit assignments and receive grades and feedback. Additional fees of  $300, $600, or $900 will be charged for courses that are offered for credit.

Open-Access Journals a Victim of Their Success

A very interesting and ironic opening to an article from The Chronicle

"A blossoming experiment in allowing a form of open-access scientific publishing appears to have hit a roadblock, after the world’s largest journal publisher found that too many universities were moving to take advantage of it."

That publisher is Elsevier. They have notified universities that have built their own online repositories of journal articles written by their researchers that they now must respect waiting periods (typically lasting a year or two) before allowing free access to Elsevier-owned content. This is the same approach that movie studios - another media dinosaur - has taken to holding back films from streaming services (like Netflix) for weeks, months or years.

Why these embargoes? Money, of course. And an attempt to hold back a rising tide to openness that will eventually overcome and destroy the publishers (and studios).

According to the article universities and their researchers are "crying foul, saying Elsevier is reneging now that a movement to create university repositories — web-based storehouses of articles — is rapidly gaining momentum."
Who would have thought that this open-access concept would catch on?  Not Elsevier.

There Is Open and Then There Is Closed

open closed
Going back all the way to the early days of MOOCs (less than a decade, of course), the Open part of Massive Open Online Courses was a very important part of the equation. OPEN meant a number of things, including:
Access - open to all, regardless of age, location or previous experience and education
Free - without cost
Open Tools - using free and open tools like Moodle, blogs etc.
Reuse – the right to reuse the content in its unaltered / verbatim form
Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself
Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other content to create something new
Redistribute – the right to make and share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others.

That is not true for many of the big MOOC providers. Another blow against the Open Everything Empire comes with the announcement that Udacity will no longer give learners the opportunity to earn free, “non-identity-verified” certificates. People will still be able to view Udacity’s online course materials without paying, but those who want a credential will have to pay. Udacity feels their courses are worth something and plans to charge students accordingly. Udacity had earlier pulled back on believing that MOOCs are best-suited for academic pursuits and better applied to training and lifelong learning. That is what many universities consider to be "non-credit" courses.

How long before the courses are not even open to those who aren't willing to pay to learn?

The big MOOC providers already tend not to use open source platforms and most don't allow the courses to be remixed, reused or redistributed.

The openness is eroding.