The semester is now two days old and frustrations regarding textbooks abound. Our bookstore decided not to order enough books for the intermediate Spanish course I teach. Since the purchase of the book gives students access to online homework and tools, as teachers we’ve been scrambling to copy book pages and movies until the texts arrive. This has brought up some long held feelings about the seemingly unjustifiable position of the textbook industry in the electronic age.
As an undergraduate only 6 year ago, few, if any, students had laptops in class. I certainly didn’t. Now it seems like the norm. While publishers seem to be moving with the trend and offering electronic books, why do we, as teacher and academics, still rely on textbook companies? In theory, each department in every university is comprised of experts in a given field who should have the knowledge and ability to develop their own course materials. By making these open source, electronically accessible materials, the need for overpriced textbooks is gone.
Some universities have already done this. Last year Carl Blyth from the University of Texas, Austin spoke to a group of second language instructors and professors at my home institution. Dr. Blyth has helped work on developing a French textbook Français interactif, a completely free online textbook (see here). UT Austin also provides online materials for learning second language pedagogy with enough information to teach a graduate-level course on the matter (see here).
So my question is, why can’t this be done across the curriculum? By removing the constraints of physical publication, not only is there increased accessibility to textbooks and relief for students already paying high tuition costs, but the quality of textbooks can improve. Through the incorporation of collaboration into the textbook process, specialists form across the country can contribute to improving textbook materials.
So who wouldn’t rather go to the campus bookstore just to get themselves a new tablet instead of a bag full of books?