Thursday, March 10, 2016

Why I Love This Place.

As often happens, a perplexing event occurs in my own teaching. I think, "Am I totally batshit crazy? Am I the only one who sees this as being insanity?"

And then I come to College Misery, search around a bit, and find that I'm totally sane, and that college students are apparently the same everywhere.

I won't tell my story; it's not as interesting, but let me show you Wylodmayer's post from 2011.

-- Darla Keef


The Things I Never Realized Were Optional
After discussing the reading summaries my students are (in theory) going to be handing in, one of them came up to me after class and expressed doubt as to whether he'd be able to complete them all as required.

"I don't know if I'll be able to check the book out of the library."

I pursed my lips and narrowed my eyes while considering this. I wasn't sure I was getting the connection between his library issues and his predicted troubles with turning in the assignments.

"I mean, I don't want to buy the book," he clarified, laughing.

This was obviously something he considered frankly outlandish.

I assured him that he was responsible for the reading assignments regardless.

He looked puzzled. "But... I wasn't planning on buying the book," he said. He seemed shocked that it had come to this.

I firmly assured him that he wouldn't be able to complete the coursework adequately without the book.

He looked annoyed. "Hm... I didn't want to have to buy the book," he said testily.

"That's unfortunate for you, then," I offered.

He left, jamming his headphones into his ears in a little hipster snit.

Is this common?


  1. Funny you dredged this up. I recently saw a reading material-related event happen.

    "Does anyone have any questions about the reading?"

    Student: *hand up* I hated this reading.

    Professor: That wasn't a question.

    Student: Uh... Can you GUESS how much I hated this reading?

    1. Professor: Uh... Can YOU guess how little I care what you think?

  2. The book people! God they make me crazy. Every single class has 3 people who want to know if I can put a reserve copy (or copies) in the library, or send me PDFs, or, I don't know, tuck them in at night with a chapter or two.



  3. My students never seem to believe it when I say they have to acquire the books (or even just print out the free stuff on our LMS) and -- my really outrageous demand -- bring them to class so that we can use them. The idea that syllabus penalties for not doing so would actually be applied, well, that just causes total vapor lock.
    At least once a semester a relative goes over my head to complain about this. Funny old world, innit.

  4. I don't have students who approach me to explain why they might not be able to do some of the work; instead, they (my students who are similar to the one described in this post) simply won't do some assignments and so I give them a zero for those assignments.

    1. I love your answer. If I flunk too many students I lose my job. I find them books, make them copies, and we read aloud in class sometimes. If I didn't I'd have to go back to working at the grocery store. That's the reality for me.

  5. Wouldn't it be good if local libraries - mainly the one run by your employer that charges student fees - could have the book in stock or 20 of them if there are 20 in the class? Or your deparment have 20 wads of photocopies of the right chapter?
    That would be a way to keep all sides happy

    1. I've wondered why schools don't buy a set (with extras) of a textbook then loan them out to students like K-12 schools do. Sure, it's expensive but the university would get a ton of good press would the school get for reducing book costs. All the students would have the book to read on day 1. Students happy, faculty happy.

  6. (PS: sorry to post twice, but I have had an idea. A book used every year could be picked-up cheap second hand by the department library and donated to the central college library. Teaching staff know when these books come on the market and what's a good used price. Another work-around that one teacher used when I was at college was to ask for volunteers to share books, passing them around mid-week)

    1. One used book a year might not cut it. You'll need several, and who buys them when they're new such that they're available later on the used market? And what about new editions, and...

      Students could also organize their own book-sharing programs. That idea has some legs.

    2. My corridor in halls had a book sharing programme way back when in the '80s, both with groups in the same modules/year sharing out the book list, buying one or two each and passing them around, and with groups in higher years sharing their books with groups in lower years. Nothing new under the sun!

  7. Based on how stupid the graduating seniors are in my 200 level classes, I assume we are just giving them degrees anyway. Why not books as well?

  8. As the local librarian of the Misery, I can tell you some of the logic for libraries NOT buying the textbooks as sets.

    1) cost: They are stupidly expensive, and often the access codes jack the price up even further. Right not, most libraries budgets are frozen, while databases and periodicals continue to climb. Without external funding, we CAN'T afford to buy every student a text.

    2)Edition issues: We used to buy one copy of each new textbook, and put it on reserve. But we spent about a 10th of our book budget on this EVERY YEAR, because of how often the editions changed.

    3) Libraries support open access textbooks, e-reserve course packs, LMS embedded links to library resources, and even reserve course packs. We WANT to help, but we need YOU to help us do it.

    4) Some colleges are switching to the library set model, but they had to get external funding, or funding from the school to do it.

    5) Reserve is surprisingly useful. Put that spare copy on reserve. Ask us to put articles on reserve.

    6)Heck, ask for a course specific libguide (most colleges have this cool software that allows content remixing)with links to electronic copies of everything. I've done this for faculty, mostly as a textbook supplement, but the software is flexible.

    But all of this requires more work than just picking a textbook and telling the bookstore to order it does. I'm thinking of going open source in my own course, and it will definitely take more work that the textbook (over $100 for an 8 week course) I have right now.

    I'll also say that we should know how much the textbooks are for our courses, and have a plan for students who just can't afford it.

    1. I think it's more the responsibility of the student to budget for the cost of the education they're paying for.

      Also the savvy, entrepreneurial student doesn't pay for most textbooks or softwares. I saved my boyfriend over three hundred dollars by pirating his GUS softwares for him.

      I feel way worse pirating games or music (the second of which I never do) than I feel pirating textbooks. Barely makes a difference to the poor schmuck who wrote it in most cases and I view it as a form of protest against an industry that I consider to be one of the most evil on the planet.

    2. See, this is one time I completely agree with Conan. (At least on his first sentence.)

      Buying the textbooks is a MANDATORY COST of attending college.

      Not budgeting for textbook purchases is tantamount to paying for the course but never attending.

      Maybe it's time for textbook costs to be bundled into the ever-rising student fees. The onus would then be on the school to broker proper deals with the publishers. Which could go totally awry... or might be diabolically clever.

  9. To me, asking why the library doesn't just stock all the textbooks we need for all our students sounds a bit like asking space explorers who deal with the sun's radiation why they don't just travel at night. If it was such a good idea, and it's so simple on its face, what are the chances that someone hasn't already thought of it? So why isn't it already being done? Perhaps it just isn't that simple.

    When you're talking about lending or renting a textbook to each and every student, you're not a library, you're something else, more like the agencies that lease all those dorm-sized refrigerators to students each year. And outsourcing is all the rage. Clearly private enterprise can handle this issue more efficienty than a bloated unversity beaurocracy -- hell, our bookstore isn't even run by the university anymore. Can a single university really negotiate a better price with the textbook makers than Amazon or B&N etc. (who do brisk business in used books, too)? And if the uni even gets close, who pays for it anyway? Yup, increased tuition.

    Or, we can just let the students buy their own books from whomever they want and pass the tuition savings on to them ;-)

    To me, a student who doesn't want to buy a book (which can be reimbursed by financial aid) is like a carpenter not wanting to buy a hammer. It's the fucking tool you need for your job. Why is this even a question?

    Or maybe I'm just naive. It's happened before.

    1. My school has a textbook rental program for most books. It saves the students a little on books. At least for their gen. eds. But most of that savings is in terms of money they don't have to float between buying it and selling it back the way I used to. The nice thing is that students who have (or are expected to get) a aid package can charge the books to their aid.

      The cost (of having textbook rental) is that any adoption decision we make is a three to five year commitment: the book rental people have to be able to rent them enough times to pay the cost of acquiring them in the first place.

      That said, I plead with my major students not to rent their texts for the in-major classes: these volumes form their own, little, professional library for when they need to look something up to recall the details (or because we didn't cover it in class). I have mixed success on that front.

  10. When textbooks run like $150-$200 ea, sometimes used for that price, you can't much blame the students.

    1. What's the student's excuse when it's $15-25 for the course's required text?

      I've had many students still not buy them at that price.

      (Let alone the ones who never crack it open or read it.)

    2. In that case, there is no excuse. Having taught before, I've even had to deal with the gamut of excuses when the book is dirt-cheap.

      But, I've always found it hard to keep a straight face when explaining to the class that the book is required and it costs $150 used.

  11. When textbooks run like $150-$200 ea, sometimes used for that price, you can't much blame the students.

  12. I think this is one where we need to join the students rather than beat them (well, we should never beat them, at least not literally, but you get my drift). This idea is pretty new around my institution, but one option to which Madame Librarian refers (and yes, librarians are in the forefront, and are going to be our allies in all this), Open Educational Resources (OERs), seem(s) to me to be a possible solution.

    I can see some possible downsides (mostly an expectation that already-overworked proffies will add creating or finding free curricular materials to their jobs, without any additional compensation), but the upsides, in terms of lowering economic barriers for our students (and reducing the number of available excuses for not doing the reading), and of maintaining faculty governance/academic freedom when it comes to curricular issues, strike me as worth it (this is the exact opposite of a school buying or commissioning a pre-made "course" and then having "instructors" "teach" it for compensation even lower than that of today's adjuncts).

    And then we can go back to trying to get the students to actually do the reading, and perhaps even think about it (which probably requires some combination of a major cultural shift, an increased Pell grant, and a miracle).

  13. Here I am planning a new textbook to be used next term…. The prices are horrendous (although if you have a friend in Europe, you can purchase the "international edition" for half price and have it mailed to you and it will still be cheaper that the horrible prices the publishers charge. I've had the library order one copy for reserve, and we do have a scanner and copier (hint, hint, wink, wink, nudge, nudge) in the library.

    But my issue is this: Will they actually read 10-15 pages every week? Before class? So we can discuss?

    1. No, they won't. But don't try telling that to those who support the "flipped classroom" movement.

    2. I had a student come to me last month and say that she's really finding it easier to keep up and learn in depth now that she has started doing the reading, and she's thankful I harped on it so much.

      She graduates in May.

      And I'm putting it in the "win" column, damnit!

  14. I wish to distance myself somewhat from my rather close-minded comment of March 10, 2016 at 10:29 PM. Too little sleep, just enough wine, and too much bullshit throughout the day led to my assuming a righteous indignation that differs from my actions in this matter.

    In my program, my colleagues and I make substantial effort to minimize direct textbook costs. We usually only require that students purchase lab manuals for courses with labs. Required and suggested readings most often come from E-books that students can access through LMS-embedded links that Madame Librarian mentions. The fees for our subscriptions to these resources are likely huge, and they're paid in large part by tuition, but as long as I don't ask too many questions, I can suffer the delusion that this is less expensive than making the kids buy (or buy/sell/rent) the books.

    Open educational resources is an interesting idea. Certainly in the information age, collaboration and online composition is technically easier than it used to be, possibly allowing excellent materials to be generated and made available "on the cheap" for all to use.

    It seems to me that under the older models, development and production costs were high, and this imposed a form of natural selection on the material itself: crap was less likely to be published in the first place. An educator could select a textbook from a reputable publisher with confidence that some degree of vetting had occurred (the cost of which of course was rolled into the final price). The new models may require more effort on the educator to vet the material, unless some agency is willing to administer and bestow ratings, which may or may not be cheap.

    I'm starting to ramble again, so I'll shut up.

  15. This is disturbingly common. The idea of buying books so that, when you graduate from college, you'll have a good collection of books, is utterly alien to them. I suppose they can't be blamed entirely, since university administrators encourage students to sell their books.

    If you have this conversation again, you can always suggest your student rent the book. I hate this, but it does win the argument.


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