Demise of the Textbook ?!?

The question for our learning community this week pertains to Open Education, and what it means to us personally and professionally. What a massive, politically charged topic… There is nothing uncontroversial about this, with competing views of copyright enforcement vying for supremacy in far reaching international trade agreements.

As I watched the variety of resources made available to us over the last couple of days, it became clear that I have, at best, a haphazard understanding of some points related to open education and open access. The idea of making a coherent blog post on open education is daunting. Where do I even start? Instead of frustrating myself and diving headfirst in to a topic I know I need to build an understanding around, a good way to begin might be to discuss the kind of connections I made as I watched the assortment of videos.

Textbooks = $$$

My student loans are a part of my past, and thank goodness for that … But I vividly remember the pain of pouring my hard-earned money, from summer after summer of intense tree planting in Northern Ontario, into overpriced textbooks. As engaging as my ‘Intro to criminal law’ professor was, I never got over the bitter shock needing to spend over three hundred and fifty dollars on four required texts. There was a feeling of unfairness in having to put in that extra kicker after spending so much on tuition to begin with. As I continue through post-secondary education, I remain a cog in an industry Dwayne Huebner (2009) describes in his book Challenges Bequeathed, as follows: “The technologies of textbook making and test construction have resulted in powerful new industries that influence local decision makers and school teachers.” (pg 3)

Poor Me

In watching the video Why Open Education Matters, I  feel pretty ridiculous for bemoaning the cost of my paperweights, I mean textbooks. Poor me, right?  Here I am, an individual with resources and living in relative privilege, whining about how much I’ve paid for textbooks.

How many people are there around the world who cannot access the resources (let alone tuition) for the kind of higher education that we now deem to be necessary in Canada? An article by Unesco smacked me in the face in detailing how over 617 million kids are not getting the education they need. While the number itself is staggering, what really got to me is that over two thirds of those students are enrolled in school … they’re in school, and still not accessing quality education. Clearly, getting children around the world to school is not sufficient.

Unequal access to education is an issue that touches us here at home. Thomas Picketty articulately discusses the impact of unequal access to education in the United States, and details just how unaffordable education is becoming as tuition and material costs continue to explode.

The kind of open education advocated for in Why Open Education Matters speaks to me, both from a personal standpoint, and from what I believe to be right. As stated in Lawrence Lessig’s talk Laws that Choke Creativity, we need to “fight for balance.” The rights of creators are real, and perfectly reasonable … but how can it be ok for entire industries to thrive in building education infrastructure, like textbook making, while so many around the world are utterly unable to access something as fundamental as education? Kelsie Lenihan’s assertion, in her blog, that education is a human right compounds the difficulty of accepting vast amounts of money being made when so many do not yet have access.

Emotionally, it is very easy to empathize with the life story of Aaron Swartz. Whatever one may think of his methods, it feels like there is a certain nobility in the political goals he was striving for. As details of his conflict with the justice system were born out, the extent to which we have entrenched, competing interests is made obvious. On the one hand, Aaron Swartz and his supporters are pushing for access to resources that they feel everybody should have access to, like court documents and jurisprudence. On the other, a severe government reaction to protect creators rights (immense fine, up to 35 years of prison, solitary confinement) designed to deter others from following Swartz’ path.

(If you did not choose this as an optional viewing, I highly recommend you watch it!)

This is by no means an end, but I think it is an ok start. I haven’t even begun to delve into the complexities of sharing, but I have begun where I find myself connecting emotionally. As a teacher in a community school, I see the impact of unequal access to education on a daily basis, and agonize at the potential consequences for our kids’ prospects.



on “Demise of the Textbook ?!?
3 Comments on “Demise of the Textbook ?!?
  1. Scary how education is become so in-affordable. Something has to be done and open education is definitely moving in the right direction. I enjoyed your post. Well done!

    • Hi Joe,
      Thank you for your post. Often times I look at our book lists for students and I think to myself “I can’t believe we are still doing this.”
      The money required for post secondary education is a huge barrier when you consider tuition, books and even travel. I think open education is a far more democratic vehicle for education delivery, but you can definitely see how this has the potential to upset the old apple cart… I really enjoyed your post. See you in class!

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