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Something Has To Be Done About Textbooks


As the spring semester ends for colleges and universities across the country, students are done with their classes and, more importantly, no longer have to carry their heavy textbooks across campuses. Many students will return their books to get back a fraction of the cost; others will sell them to friends or lend them to siblings, but many will keep them and absorb the cost. One obvious truth is textbooks seem to be getting bigger and heavier, which unfortunately corresponds with them being more expensive.

My solution to end shoulder and back pain on campus.

My semester is ending too, and I have to carry textbooks for my classes along with students’ papers, my attendance folders, and supplies. A few years ago I decided to stop carrying everything in a large briefcase slung on my shoulder because it caused too much pain. I switched to a Samsonite with wheels, and I find that so much better – except when there is heavy rain or snow; then I am forced to put the strap over my shoulder or carry it by the handle.

Two weeks ago students in my technical writing class gave their end of semester presentations. For this assignment they pick something that will improve campus life. A couple of them chose the topic of textbooks, and they were not only concerned about their heft but their exorbitant price tags. I have always been bothered by this and it reminded me that nothing has changed much since I was lugging heavy, expensive books around campus as a student.

Except so much has changed in terms of technology. There is no reason why any student should be lugging around a twenty pound, $500 textbook. It is beyond absurd when we know that all of a student’s textbooks could be found on a thin, light laptop instead. So why does this travesty continue to happen?

Some people blame the textbook companies and others blame faculty, and this could be true in some cases, but I know many of my colleagues share my concern with the cost and heft of textbooks. In my case I assign the minimal amount of textbooks that work for my classes, but sometimes the textbook companies create new editions and that is how they make their money. Since the old editions are no longer available, I have to go with the new ones and thus so do my students.

These numbers speak for themselves.

I always stress to my students to get books for my classes at the lowest price possible – which seems to be renting a digital version. I have no issues with students using laptops or tablets in class, but some instructors do. We have to get over the aversion to technology in the classroom no matter how much we have a love affair with printed books.

While I support the use of digital textbooks in my classes, they are not all created equally. The problems with digital or e-books include the fact that many required books are not available in that format. This would involve the publishers making them available or instructors choosing alternate texts. E-books can be expensive also, and you cannot return them like physical books or share them with a younger sibling or sell them to a friend who is taking the course next semester.  

I prefer to read physical books myself. I know it would be infinitely easier to read an electronic version, especially when going on a plane or to a beach, but I like a “page turner” and there is nothing more satisfying than turning an actual page in a real book. I love the smell of a new book, opening it for the first time, and feeling the soft sheen of the pages. There is also the joy of holding an old volume, the smokey, musty smell wafting from its yellowing pages, so I do understand wanting a real book, but that is not practical in the modern classroom, and we have to support this change that is without a doubt inevitable, no matter how slowly it may come.

This problem is not limited to higher education. My children in high school and grammar school are carrying home seriously heavy backpacks. When I pick up their bags it seems like someone has slipped a pair of dumbbells in them. It is ridiculous that kids have to lug around such heavy backpacks at school in 2019, and it is detrimental to their health as well.  causing shoulder and back pain.

It is time for a change in classrooms all across the country. Electronic textbooks should be required by all universities, colleges, and K-12 school districts. When students enter a new school year, each one should be given a tablet or laptop for use in class and at home. These devices will have ISBN numbers on them or some other identifying code that can be scanned. Students will be responsible to maintain the devices and return them in the same condition as when they received them. In the best of all worlds, the students’ required textbooks could be pre-loaded at the start of the semester by the institution, and in higher education included in their tuition for a nominal fee.

I understand that textbooks companies will be as happy with this proposal as Kodak must have been with digital cameras, but that company changed to meet the needs of the modern world, and the textbook publishers must do the same. 

It is getting more expensive to attend colleges and universities, and rising textbook prices are like rubbing salt in students’ wounds. While I’ll leave the cost of a college education for another day, we owe it to students to cut the cost of textbooks and embrace technology inside and outside of the classroom. Digital textbooks or e-books are a necessary and compelling change that will benefit all students and their professors and teachers as well. 

About Victor Lana

Victor Lana's stories, articles, and poems have been published in literary magazines and online. His books 'A Death in Prague' (2002), 'Move' (2003), 'The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories' (2005), and 'Like a Passing Shadow' (2009) are available in print, online, and as e-books. His latest books 'Heartbeat and Other Poems,' 'If the Fates Allow: New York Christmas Stories,' 'Garden of Ghosts,' and 'Flashes in the Pan' are available exclusively on Amazon. After winning the National Arts Club Award for Poetry while attending Queens College, he concentrated on writing mostly fiction and non-fiction prose until the recent publication of his new book of poetry, 'Heartbeat and Other Poems' (now available on Amazon). He has worked as a faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with 'Blogcritics Magazine' since July 2005 and has written many articles on a variety of topics; previously co-head sports editor, he now is a Culture and Society and Flash Ficition editor. Having traveled extensively, Victor has visited six continents and intends to get to Antarctica someday where he figures a few ideas for new stories await him.

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3 comments

  1. Dr Joseph S Maresca

    The purpose of the text is to support the lecture. Ideally, students should read the chapter before coming to class to hear the lecture. Once the chapter has been read, the lecture amplifies what students have read and more intelligent questions can be posed.

    In recent decades, educators have been incorporating more advanced training methodologies into the formal classroom. For instance, students can be assigned groups to discuss the material and reach collective conclusions or a general consensus. Each group may elect a spokesperson to manage progress toward gaining a consensus by the end of the encounter.The leader of the group should have some skills as a facilitator in order to move the agenda forward on a consistent basis using simple guidelines.

    More technologically advanced classrooms employ clickers so that students can participate in the lecture electronically. The clickers place more of a burden on students to prepare for class. In this way,each student may be required to provide relevant facts to earn class participation credit. Students who come to class without having read the material are at a disadvantage. Generally speaking, the clicker questions and responses parallel what’s demonstrated in the formal text.

    Many teachers assign class projects or term papers so that students can make progress beyond what’s taught in the text. Technical subject matter may be taught differently.

    In a math or science class, students may be directed to read the text initially. The difference in the technical courses involves students solving problems in order to apply the material using real data and data sets. Science courses require formal lab preparation to apply the concepts using the classic scientific principles and the scientific method.

    The current publishing technologies are moving rapidly toward the ebook format. Ebooks are cheaper than the formal academic texts purchased in a local high school or college bookstore. In addition, the storage challenge for ebooks is not an issue.

    • Thank you for your perspective, Dr. Maresca!

      • Dr Joseph S Maresca

        You are very welcome, Victor. I’m glad to be able to contribute to a most important discussion – one that college administrators should be making.