Blog Post

No More Teachers, No More Books (Well, Let’s Keep the Teachers)

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?



Great post, I definitely agree with you. As both a current PhD student and teacher (and recent tablet owner!) I can understand the frustrating tension- as the costs of textbooks sky rocket, I come to appreciate the teachers that offer readings that are PDF's that I can easily access, or sympathize with my students and copy pages they need when the bookstore runs short.

Something great my university pushes that I think would help to make course materials more available is open access to research conducted by anyone at the university (you can read about it here). By having that research available it is really easy to have and share information and scholarly work for classes that help people. I imagine with textbooks, this would be even better! 

For now I take solace in the fact that a textbook bought for my tablet is half the cost of the one that the school bookstore probably won't have anyway. I do hope that we continue to become more and more open to sharing work and research over time to faciliate a stronger learning environment. 

Thanks for sharing! 



Interesting question!  I'd distinguish the use of textbooks in basic-skills classes, from calculus to languages, from other courses and fields. As an intermittent student of Latin (my bad-days fantasy is to ditch the PhD and run off to do a post-bac in classical languages), I really like it that teaching has coalesced around a few textbooks: it's enabled a rich community of practice of students and teachers, who've refined their approach to the material over years and can present it at a sophisticated and polished level.

There's really something to be said for years of experience teaching a particular textbook in a skills course: you really come to own the material.

OTOH, I've never used the very good textbook anthologies in games studies: I like using very contemporary materials, and mixing and matching to reflect my own interests and the backgrounds and abilities of my students, rather than teaching an off-the-shelf course that somebody else devised. I trade off polish for freshness, and in a rapidly developing field, I think that's the right call.

That said, if textbook publsihers establish any barriers to effective use, they certainly can be circumvented easily with open-source materials. If they don't know already that they exist on the thinnest margin of our sufferance, they'll get the picture soon.


Thanks for the comment, John.

I think the key point you mention about Latin textbooks is the experience. What makes the courses run smoothly (I would imagine) isn't just the text, but that professors and instructors have the experience to work well with those texts. I think the aim of open courseware for learning a language is that that experience ceases to be considered proprietary. In addition, it gains the ability for collaborative development and the benefit of mass experience increases exponentially without restricting individual prefernce for course design.