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Textbooks and alternatives

Overview of textbook publishing and the question of textbook costs


Educational Publishing Landscape : Summary  from November 22 Chairs’ Meeting

 The following overview was presented at the November, 2019 Chairs Exchange by Sybil Harrison, Director of Learning Services. The presentation focussed on the impact of textbook pricing and access on students. 

In the US much of the research and advocacy on textbook pricing and market structure has been led by the Student Public Research Group (PIRG). The Canadian market is very similar to the US market, and the results of this US work is very applicable to our context. 

Florida has undertaken a multiyear analysis and research into textbook pricing and options, this research has led to a state-wide initiative for Open Textbooks.

This US based research is very applicable to the Canadian post-secondary environment. More recently, similar research has been initiated in Canada.  Rajiv Jhangiani (Kwantlen) has been a lead researcher in this area. He has done extensive work around the perception of open resources and has also looked at the impacts of commercial publishing on Canadian students. Research from specific institutions (e.g. UBC and McGill) provide similar conclusions to that of  Jhangiani’s work.  

Recently, with the merger of McGraw-Hill and Cengage and the further narrowing of competition in textbook publishing (dominated by the Big 5  Pearson, Wiley, McMillan, McGraw-Hill, Cengage), articles about textbook publishing and the emergence of open educational resources appear more frequently in the consumer press, such as Wired and Vice.

The growing practice of publishers bundling addition content with textbooks has seen significant resistance in recent years.     Publishers promote the services with a view of having students (and instructors) spending more time on their “learning” platforms. Cost is an issue, as well as privacy, data protection, integration issues etc. 

Last spring UBC passed a new policy limiting the amount students can spend on 3rd party resources for assessment. And, as of September, Algonquin College ended their much lauded inclusive e-textbook initiative, where students paid a fee to have first day access to all textbooks. This change was initiated by students, who demanded choice in how they acquired their textbooks. 

BC’s Open Education initiative continues to gain traction.  Recent statistics show that 14,000 BC students have used an open textbook, with 648 instructors adopting their use across 3347 course sections. 305 books are now available through the BC Campus Open Textbook portal.  At Camosun, instructors in Biology, Business, Sociology and Trades (and others!) are actively using open resources. In September, Camosun was awarded a BC Campus Open Education Sustainability Grant. In December, a call for expressions for interest to be part of this initiative will be released (in time so the opportunity can be considered within Scheduled Development planning).

In the US, most government published resources are openly available. That is not the case in Canada. However, we are beginning to see some changes in publication. For example, this summer the BC Building Codes became free online to everyone, and the print copies reduced in price by 70% and, remarkably, anyone who had bought a copy in the previous year was eligible for a rebate. The Library community worked over a number of years to advocate for this important change for British Columbians.

At Camosun, coursepacks are often used as an alternative to textbooks. Coursepacks can become expensive as well, price includes printing and an overhead fee for copyright review that must occur with each coursepack. Many instructors use D2L as an alternative to coursepacks. Copies of articles or book sections on D2L are subject to the same fair dealing terms as coursepacks – 10% or one chapter.   

Many textbooks are available for loan through the library’s reserve collection. Books in this collection are in high demand, for the past 3 years each year has seen a 10% year over year increase in use. The library is also seeing high levels of printing by students – materials from D2L, assignments, articles from the library databases. Last year the library sold approximately $75,000 in print credits for students (10 cents a page BW, 40 cents a page for colour). 

The publishing landscape will continue to shift in coming years, and the opportunity for instructors and students to take control over what resources are used and produced is growing. Students are demanding choice in how they access materials, and increasingly are becoming vocal about their concerns over costs.  

The changes in publishing have resulted in a greater range of choice—the primacy of the textbook is diminishing and new structures will enhance instructors and students ability to access and engage with content. Moving beyond the use of textbooks  can result in: 

  • Representation of  a broader spectrum of points of view and perspectives
  • Accessible content
  • Protection of individual’s privacy
  • Affordability
  • Choice in delivery—print, digital, both
  • Opportunities to create content locally
  • Using content as it exists in its primary published state (on the web, ejournal etc.), rather than interpreted into a textbook

Charles Ames (designer and early information architect) said “After the age of information, is the age of choice”. CETL and the Library are here to help chairs and instructors pursue choices to create the best possible learning experience for students. 

Textbooks have an important place in teaching, but there are options.


Textbooks and teaching

Most courses have a sizable amount of content that needs to be delivered. Lectures and D2L materials provide important core content, textbooks and other instructional resources are fundamental to ensuring students have access to the necessary concepts and ideas related to a course's learning outcomes. Textbooks are often relied upon to provide necessary content to students. In addition, textbooks can provide structure to a course. Choosing a quality textbook can be a benefit to instructors, allowing them to focus on engagement and application of content providing an enhanced learning experience for students.

Tim Oates, from Cambridge Assessment defined the characteristic of a quality textbook :

  • underpinning by well-grounded learning theory and theory regarding subject
  • clear delineation of content
  • a precise focus on key concepts and knowledge
  • coherent learning progressions within the subject
  • stimulation and support of learner reflection varied application of concepts and principles
  • expansive application’ control of surface and structural features of texts to ensure consistency with underpinning learning theory

To choose a quality textbook, review your choices considering the following criteria: (adapted from Tools for Teaching by Barbara Gross Davis).  

  • Content that aligns with course learning outcomes; consider the accuracy, coherence and clarity of the content
  • Scope and sequence of topics 
  • Level of difficulty and interest to students 
  • Quality of the writing 
  • Conceptual orientation and approach to the subject matter
  • Pedagogical design (headings and subheadings, chapter preview and summaries, review questions, glossaries etc.) 
  • Canadian content, inclusive cultural perspectives 
  • Cost to student 
  • Reviews by faculty who have used the textbook
  • Opinions of students 

Publishers will usually provide a free review (sometimes called a desk copy) to instructors. Request a review copy and take some time with the book before you adopt it for your course. 

Remember a textbook is not required.  If you choose a textbook, make sure it's core to the course delivery.  If only a portion of a book is needed, consider a course pack or other alternatives.   Let students know how you expect them to use the textbook, provide an overview of the textbook providing an overview of it's structure and features. 


Textbook adoption

The Camosun Bookstore manages textbook adoptions. Textbook adoption is the process by which the book is made available for purchase through the bookstore.   Details on how to adopt a textbook can be found on the bookstore intranet site. Make sure you are aware of timelines, late submission can result in delay in access.   Typically adoption requests are required two months before the start of a term.