Why Aren’t They Reading?

It is late Spring, and you are scanning your classroom as students walk in. To your horror you see textbooks still wrapped in plastic, others that appear to have never been cracked, and many students who arrived with no book at all. Later you reference an example from the text in an activity or lecture only to be confronted with an ocean of blank stares. Your experience is one many of us have had, and we wonder why aren’t they reading?
This is a complicated question without an easy answer. Also, to be fair, many of them are reading. Of the students who are not having a positive experience with the textbook there are many explanations:
  • The book could be dry and inaccessible
  • The book could prove to not be useful
  • The book could be too expensive to buy/rent
  • The reserve copy of the book could be unavailable at the times the student has to study
A report compiled by the Student Public Interest Research Group found some interesting results about textbook usage among students. I would urge you to read part of their report, but I would encourage you to do some of your own research using a variation of their tested items. James Tyler and I worked together to pull four key questions we believe will give you a better understanding of how your students are utilizing their textbooks and what alternatives might be viable:
  • Have you ever decided against buying (or renting a textbook because it was too expensive? (yes or no)
  • If yes, were you concerned that not buying (or renting) the textbook would hurt your grades in the course? (yes, significantly concerned; yes somewhat concerned; no;  not applicable)
  • Does the cost of textbooks impact which classes and/or how many classes you decide to take? ( yes, significantly; yes, somewhat; no; not applicable)
  • All other things being equal, do you think you would do better in a course if the textbook was available free online and buying a hard copy was optional? ( yes, significantly better; yes, somewhat better; no; not applicable)
If you would like to distribute these to your class, but need some help and have some additional items you would like to use email us at FDEV@csuchico.edu, and we will do the work for you.
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For 2017/18 Faculty Development and Statistics professor Edward Roualdes have secured a $50,000 grant to encourage the adoption for lower cost course materials, so if you want to explore some of these options to increase access for your students, your window of opportunity is now. These are complicated issues with a variety of perspectives. Read this recap of a recent debate if you think otherwise. We encourage you to consider working with us next year to lower costs and increase access for students at Chico. Please fill out this form if you are—this is not really an application, just a way for us to stay organized. If you have a high cost textbook and want to work with some folks to explore alternatives, you are in.
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