The textbook conundrum

Textbooks in higher education – their quality, their cost, their utility, their pedagogy – continue to be the focus of discussion, debate, and deliberation around the country.  This article in The Chronicle of Higher Education provides an overview of the most recent survey of faculty regarding textbooks – traditional, digital, and openly-licensed.

ACC has joined in the debate by trying new approaches to lowering the costs of course materials while increasing the accessibility and availability of such materials. Many faculty would agree with the results of the Babson survey, no matter where you are on the opinion spectrum.  For some, textbooks are too expensive; for others, textbooks still give students a lot of bang for the buck.  For some, openly licensed materials are wonderful for teaching and for accessibility; for others, openly licensed materials are lower quality and do a disservice to students.  The debate will not end any time soon.

Thanks to the innovation and dedication of our faculty, ACC offers Z-classes (zero textbook costs) and Z-degrees (degrees that can be completed by taking only Z-classes).  This effort at ACC occasionally brings us attention from the local press as well as serving our students.  The intent of Z-classes and Z-degrees is to ensure that students have access to required course materials on the first day of class and to make that access free or very low cost.  Too many of our students can’t purchase a textbook until two or three or four weeks into the semester, so they start behind and can never catch up.   Open educational resources can be one solution to that problem.  To date, if you use $100 as an estimate of average textbook costs, ACC’s Z-classes have saved students over $2 million.  That savings is the direct result of the decision of some faculty to adopt open educational resources.

Inclusive access is another way to lower costs and provide access on the first day.  As with the larger textbook debate, faculty are on all sides of the inclusive access issue.  Some argue that inclusive access doesn’t save students that much money, and students prefer/do better with hard copy textbooks.  Others believe that our students today expect electronic access to their required textbook as well as the portability that comes with it, and First Day Access guarantees that students do not start the semester unable to do the required reading.  ACC started its First Day Access program in Summer 2018 and through the Fall we had saved students almost $700,000 in textbook costs when compared to buying a new hard copy textbook.

No matter whether you are a believer in open educational resources, or you are committed to First Day Access, or you are focused on the pedagogical value of a physical textbook, you teach at ACC because you are committed to fostering learning for all your students.  The debate around quality – and access – and pedagogy will continue.  That’s the beauty of the higher education system.  We disagree as much as we agree, but we all support the common goal of education that can alter the trajectory of our students’ lives.  And the beat goes on.