— Jeanne M. Slattery
My second chapter post-test was due Wednesday of the third week of class, my third on that Friday. To take the tests my students have to purchase access to the publisher’s site ($84 for the e-book and these and other resources). When I made the decision to use these resources, I thought it was a good one. This package is less expensive than a hard copy of the text and, as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5 (DSM-5) was just introduced, almost any book needs to be new (and will be expensive).
Earlier this semester, a student approached me and said that he couldn’t even afford food right now, so buying a book was out of the question. I lent him my copy of the text and moved the first chapter post-test to D2L — and felt good about my decision. The following Monday another student came up to me and said that she couldn’t buy the book and package until Friday (she’d miss at least the second post-test). Was there another option? “Really? I allow you to drop one post-test, so no big deal, but you NEED to have a book to be successful in this course. I’m not putting this post-test on D2L.”
Then a colleague contacted me about yet another student who can’t afford to get the book until Friday: “Is there something you can do?” So, I posted the second post-test on D2L, then contacted my students to let them know that there was another option for taking this test.
I want to be fair to all of my students, yet I fear that the book and resources are outside the price range of a small but important minority. I chose this book because it would meet the needs of all my students: the book and its resources are relatively inexpensive and include many study supports, including the capacity to read some or all of the book aloud to students. This makes my book more accessible to people who cannot otherwise afford a text, who have learning disabilities or visual impairments, and to those, like one of my students, who have recently had a concussion. And, yet another reason I chose this text is that my course will be offered online next Spring and I want to offer those students a lot of support throughout the course — both from me and the publisher.
I believe in books. I believe that students must read and write extensively to be successful in college and beyond. Arum and Roksa (2011), for example, concluded that students who were required to read more than 40 pages a week and write more than 20 pages a semester gained more on measures of critical thinking, analytic reasoning and other “higher level” skills than students in less demanding classes. We need to have our students buy the books and read the books; however, we also need to choose books that our students can afford. If we have to assign a book that is more than they can afford, our university must put supports into place that help our students get books in a timely manner at the very beginning of the semester. We need book loans students can use on the first day of class, not the fourth week.
In some courses (but not this one), these competing goals can be met by using a series of outside readings — in fact, I don’t require a text in my capstone for this very reason. Randy Potter is approaching a similar dilemma by spending his sabbatical writing an e-book for at least one and perhaps two of his courses, then making it/them available for free (or a nominal price). Sometimes, however, you just need a regular textbook (and you don’t always get sabbaticals).
I’d like to move some of the text’s resources to D2L; then students might be able to buy used texts or share books. Not even considering issues of copyright — which concern me — I worry that in doing so I will have only hidden the problem. If I move my exams to D2L, I won’t recognize how many students have and use texts and how many don’t — just as I haven’t known in the past.
At this point in a blog I would typically offer a solution, and maybe I will in the future. Instead, I’m asking you. What would you do?
Arum, R., & Roksa, J. (2011). Academically adrift: Limited learning on college campuses. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago.
As always, I am grateful to Melissa Downes for her help in sharpening my thinking and language in this piece.
Jeanne M. Slattery is a professor of psychology at Clarion University. She is interested in thinking about what makes teaching and learning successful, and generally describes herself as a learner-centered teacher. She has written two books, Counseling diverse clients: Bringing context into therapy, and Empathic counseling: Meaning, context, ethics, and skill (with C. Park), and is writing Trauma, meaning, and spirituality: Research and clinical perspectives. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org