Sunday, January 08, 2012

Textbook Troubles and Dr. Feynman

Sometimes I teach undergraduate college classes. As an adjunct faculty member, I don't pick the textbooks or write my own syllabus, so I'm painfully aware of how much textbooks cost, and how frequent production of new editions keeps the students buying new rather than used books. There's talk about how e-books will save students money, but in my experience, the e-books cost just as much as physical books. I was heartened to read this: Steinberg Proposal Slashes Textbook Costs for California College Students:

At a time when the affordability of higher education is at the forefront of national debate, this legislation would create Open Educational Resources (OER) in California, where undergraduate students would be able to have free access to the 50 core textbooks required for lower-division coursework via computer or mobile device through a digital open source library, with the option of buying a printed version for around $20. The legislation would also require publishers selling textbooks adopted by faculty for the most widely-taken lower division courses to provide at least three free copies of those books to be placed on reserve in California public college and university campus libraries.

If college textbook highway robbery were not aggravating enough, there's always the topic of K-12 textbooks in public schools. I enjoyed re-reading Judging Books by Their Covers:

In 1964 the eminent physicist Richard Feynman served on the State of California's Curriculum Commission and saw how the Commission chose math textbooks for use in California's public schools. In his acerbic memoir of that experience...Feynman analyzed the Commission's idiotic method of evaluating books, and he described some of the tactics employed by schoolbook salesmen who wanted the Commission to adopt their shoddy products. "Judging Books by Their Covers" appeared as a chapter in Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman...(1985).

In case reading this makes you nostalgic for Dr. Feynman (as it did me), here are links to some fine Feynman videos: The Richard Feynman Trilogy: The Physicist Captured in Three Films | Open Culture.


Bob Babione said...

A nice thing about the new year: my RSS feed promptly notified me that you were posting again!
Another effort toward reducing education costs: "Connexions is: a place to view and share educational material made of small knowledge chunks called modules that can be organized as courses, books, reports, etc."

Rebecca Clayton said...

Hi, Bob! Thanks for that link--I'll be exploring it for some time to come.

Katie (Nature ID) said...

Thank you for sharing links about Feynman. I enjoyed reading "Judging Books by Their Covers" considering I used to work in education publishing and found it too slick to stay despite the impressive salaries. I'm gradually looking through the online videos. Like Richard, there's more to you than initially meets the eye.

Rebecca Clayton said...

Katie, I'd be fascinated to know more about your publishing experiences. I think there's more to most of us than meets the eye.