Friday, April 6, 2012

Don't Touch My Textbook



Texas community college faculty object to common textbook plan


A Texas community college district's move toward standardized and electronic textbooks has raised the hackles of faculty members, who say the process threatens academic freedom and instructor autonomy because individual sections will be limited in their ability to have individual book requirements.

Professors in the Tarrant County College District weren’t willing to speak on the record with Inside Higher Ed, citing concern about their job security, but the faculty association recently passed a resolution by a vote of 714-54 that called on administrators to scrap the standardized textbook plan. That resolution also expressed doubts about any cost savings, and said the plan reinforces the “widely held perception among faculty that their expertise, experience and professional experience” aren’t valued.

David Wells, Tarrant County’s vice chancellor for academic affairs, said the fear of being fired is unfounded, but that the plan to standardize texts starting in fall 2013 is sound.

Here’s how it will work. Instructors in each department will select a common text or e-text for each course that will be used across Tarrant County College’s five campuses. The hope is that textbook costs will go down and students will learn more as the college buys books in bulk, encourages cheaper options and pushes open-source and other online materials.

[snip]

The push for cheaper textbooks isn’t new, and the spat in Tarrant County frames larger debates about the use of open-source texts and the best way to increase student learning while controlling costs. Some community colleges have saved money by working with publishers to create custom books for widespread adoption. [snip] Tarrant County administrators hope that using a common textbook in every class will help push costs down, which will allow more students to buy the books and in turn perform better in the classroom.

But some professors aren’t convinced. [snip]

[snip]

An English professor might want to teach composition a different way than her colleague, that faculty member said, while historians might disagree on whether to emphasize political history or social history in their introductory classes. To ask instructors to use a text that may not play to their strengths in the classroom does everyone a disservice, that faculty member said.

[snip]

Nicole Allen, an affordable textbook advocate for the Student Public Interest Research Groups, said common course materials can be part of the solution to reducing costs, but cautions that it's "not a silver bullet."

"This isn’t a sufficient answer to solve the problem of textbook affordability," Allen said. "It can be an effective strategy, but it’s not in itself the only solution. I think faculty can have a much greater impact on textbook costs by considering lower-cost alternatives" such as open-source materials.

[snip]

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