Sunday, February 04, 2018

Reducing Textbook Expense (Rant II)

In Rant I.2018 Eli explained that the root cause of unaffordable textbooks is that they are ordered by faculty and paid for by students.  Teh textbook publishers know this and focus their attention on providing services for faculty not serving students needs.

Faculty have created a wide range of educational materials. Individuals, educational institutions, foundations and funding agencies have invested considerable time and resources to these projects. The INTERNET provides a global low cost distribution channel for educational materials but broad adoption of open on-line educational materials and software lags. While many STEM faculty can and have created educational materials, marketing of the materials to others for the most part requires a skill set and resources that they do not have, nor for open Online Educational Resources (OER) is it clear what the rewards are. There has been a strong effort to create educational materials, but there has been no systematic effort to disseminate them.

While science is a gift culture where those who contribute the most are the most highly valued, this is not true for those who create open educational materials, especially at research universities. A key to establishing high quality OERs will be extending this ethic to educational resources so the effort of all who participate is rewarded. Such sponsorship will be important not only at teaching oriented institutions but also in traditional research centered departments to create and maintain a broad range of OERs,

The study of science education needs to be discipline based and it needs to be housed in university science departments.  Research centered departments resist hiring tenure track faculty in discipline based educational research (DBER) but such faculty are increasing, if not at all the best places, at least at some places and some fields, with major conferences bringing practitioners together.  There are well established DBER journals in the geosciences, chemistry, physics, engineering and more.  Research on science education needs to be recognized as a major focus.

Faculty creating educational materials need support and rewards. Administrators should provide rewards for faculty, with increasing rewards as the OERs they create, and market are adopted nationally and globally. This will require measurable outcomes but can be as simple as crediting creation and marketing of first rate materials in annual evaluations and consideration for raises. For promising OERs, universities should consider hiring outside consultants and advertising experts. The contribution of a successful OOER to institutional reputation and recruiting can be significant.

Faculty seeking to disseminate materials needed to learn marketing skills that will influence adoption.  They need to bring in marketing and advertising folk from the business school to help with this and to learn from them.  This issue is obviously connected with the issue of climate or science communication in general.  Getting the public to pay attention to scientific results without involving marketing and advertising expertise is a category error.  Transforming scientists or content creators into communications experts to disseminate their ideas and materials is neither efficient nor likely successful.  Working with people whose skill IS marketing is much more likely to succeed.

 Moreover it is important for creators to work with the DBER folk to continually evaluate their materials and modify them to best meet student needs and business school colleague to identify and serve the market .

Finally, to compete with commercial publishers for the attention of faculty, an ecology of OERs is needed: texts, workbooks, videos, test banks, on line homework systems and more.  OER can be integrated both within a field, and linking together related fields.


Fixed Carbon said...

I teach ecology at a big university. 180-200 students. The company textbooks appropriate for this class are between $100 & $175 or so. A decade ago I got on the "too expensive" bandwagon and wrote a text that covered my lectures. A few students complained that they wanted a "real text book." Others complained about the few typos. None expressed any gratitude at not having to buy a text book. No student has ever complained about the cost of the company texts that I use. I have collected a number, 8-10, of free copies that the publisher gives me for my TAs and make them available on loan to any students who desire to borrow them; all are loaned out and most get returned. I must say that the company texts are very high quality. Their graphics are well thought out and far exceed my graphical capabilities. I really hate to take any issue with Ely upon whom I rely for climate insights, wit, and gentle snark directed at the right places.

Unknown said...

Stay tuned for part III, there is DBER showing that you are wrong, students do care and students do just as well and better with open texts, and, as PART I showed, lots of your students almost certainly did not buy the textbook.

Old_salt said...

I have been fascinated by the economics of text books after teaching large courses in introductory oceanography. The textbook was full of beautiful pictures but primarily focused on definitions of technical language.

Our Dept taught about 2000 students a year, which meant that it generated perhaps $100k per year in text book sales (at least half bought used or shared or went without). An enlightened administration would release some time to a couple professors to write open chapters for a text and end up saving huge dollars to the students. However, saving students money was not a metric for success.

Unknown said...

Old Salt, turns out that this is more of an issue at R1s, many of which refuse to give any credit for teaching/education work except when they ding you for low student evaluations.

The uselessness of teaching evaluations is really nailed in a new study "Meta-analysis of faculty's teaching effectiveness: Student evaluation of teaching ratings and student learning are not related" which nails the entire problem in it's last paragraph

In turn, our findings indicate that depending on their institutional focus, universities and colleges may need to give appropriate weight to SET ratings when evaluating their professors. Universities and colleges focused on student learning may need to give minimal or no weight to SET ratings. In contrast, universities and colleges focused on students' perceptions or satisfaction rather than learning may want to evaluate their faculty's teaching using primarily or exclusively SET ratings, emphasize to their faculty members the need to obtain as high SET ratings as possible (i.e., preferably the perfect ratings), and systematically terminate those faculty members who do not meet the standards. For example, they may need to terminate all faculty members who do not exceed the average SET ratings of the department or the university, the standard of satisfactory teaching used in some departments and universities today despite common sense objections that not every faculty member can be above the average.

But yeah.

Fixed Carbon said...

Dear Unknown. I know of no quality free texts in ecology. Please tell me what I am wrong about. I do not assert that some students did not buy the text, however many do bring it to office hours and pour over it with me. I would love to have a free text to assign. Students express their opinions on the anonymous evaluations about my age, weight, and baldness, so why would they not express their opinions about the expensive text?