Rising cost of textbooks encourages online readings

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April 17, 2007

3:51 AM

At Harvard University, the annual cost to cover books for the average student is $1,300. According to a survey taken by the Illinois Board of Education in 2006, Harvard is not unique. The survey revealed the average student at a four-year public university spends between $735 and $891 annually on textbooks.

p. Aware of the financial burden, an increasing number of College professors are putting course readings on Blackboard.
Religious Studies Professor David Holmes began putting course readings on Blackboard as a result of personal experience.

p. “Having experienced the purchase of four years of books for each child, I wanted to spare my students and their parents as much of those additional burdens as possible,” Holmes said.

p. English Professor Colleen Kennedy noted that utilizing Blackboard is more efficient than creating coursepacks for the class.

p. “Coursepacks require a lot of advance planning, and often I’d find an article after the course had already started,” Kennedy said. “Blackboard offers immediate access — as soon as I put the article up, students could get it.”

p. Whether Blackboard is less financially burdensome for students remains in question. According to Kennedy, printing out articles can be costly. To alleviate printing costs, Kennedy gives her students the option to only print out important articles.

p. “My students don’t need to print out every article. I tell them when it’s important that they do,” Kennedy said. “I imagine it saves them a little bit of money overall.”

p. In addition, some feel the online format of reading books and articles on Blackboard can be inconvenient.

p. “I am too new to the use of Blackboard to yet have a feel for its disadvantages, though I suspect that reading documents on the screen or having to print them out would be two perceived disadvantages,” Holmes said.

p. Kennedy also noted that when it comes to books, some students prefer buying them rather than using Blackboard. “In the future, when it comes to books, not articles, I’ll order a few copies in the bookstore and give students the option,” Kennedy said.

p. To respond to needs of all students, Holmes and Kennedy make compromises between what they put on Blackboard and what they require students to purchase.

p. To further reduce the cost of books, Holmes advises purchasing only books that are used consistently in class and sharing the purchase of recommended and infrequently used books with classmates. Kennedy tries to reduce costs by allowing students to use alternate editions of class materials.

p. “I know that the textbook we use for film studies is quite expensive,” Kennedy said. “We’ve tried to help students out in that course by allowing them to use the last two to three editions if they can buy those more cheaply.”

p. Harvard faculty also suggested that professors list course readings early so that students have time to buy cheaper editions of materials.

p. Holmes reminded students that textbooks do benefit education.
“My own children graduated from college earlier in this decade,” said Holmes. “Although their colleges were expensive in the extreme, they were worth it — because quality education usually costs.”

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