September 02, 2008

the pitfalls of education

Every semester there are new classes and with most of those classes come textbooks. One of my classes this fall, called Sound for Film and Video, has no required text, only photocopies and excerpts available online. Another class, Essay Writing 1 (a non-fiction workshop class) has three books, not textbooks, that cost a total of $38 -- a very manageable price.

Another, Microeconomics, has the most ingenious setup. There is a web-based program online called Aplia. It costs $70 for access to all the homework assignments, which are in the form of readings, practice quizzes, and graded quizzes and assignments. A digital copy of the required textbook is available for free with the paid access, and a hard copy is available from Aplia for $50. Note that the college bookstore charges something like $138 (I think that was the used price, it may have been as high as $170) for the access and the text. I didn't know if the eBook was going to work out, but now I love it and have no intention of getting a hard copy.

But students always feel pressure to get the hard copy, and to get it right away so that they can begin the required readings. Not all professors are like my microeconomics professor, who warned us that there is a digital copy available online and that hard copies can be ordered online as well, and that there was no need to rush to the bookstore. My accounting professor did not do this.

For accounting, there is a required textbook, as well as another online program similar to Aplia, called Aleks. Again, if you buy the hard copy at the bookstore, you also get a registration code for the web-based program. And like Aplia, you can also buy the code directly from Aleks without the textbook. However, Aleks does not give you a digital copy of the text. Knowing this, and knowing that the textbook was a "custom" edition for the college, I went to the bookstore and picked it up. The book is a binder, not a bound text, with over 1,000 hole-punched pages. Including the Aleks code, the cost was $170. $170 for some paper and a code. When I registered for Aleks, I noted that they said that you can buy the code from them and not from the bookstore, but I didn't think there was a copy of the text available online, so I thought the bookstore was my only option. Oh, and when you buy the text from the bookstore, it comes shrink wrapped. On the wrapping is a sticker that says if you break the shrink wrap, you cannot return it. Well I needed to get the code for Aleks, so I had to open the wrap.

This was just yesterday, but over the weekend I had my fun with Aplia, and I fell in love with reading text online, with all its zoom-to-enlarge-font, no-squinting glory. I began to feel queezy about my $170 accounting purchase. Afterall, many textbooks are online nowadays.


After much googling, I found the copy of the text on the publisher's website (though the main page for the website is so hard to navigate, only a google search would have directed me to this exact page.. And there, for free, is the entire text. I went back to Aleks to see how much the code would have cost from them alone without the textbook. $60. I wasted $110. I'm sure you can imagine that I am peeved. Maybe there are a few items in the appendix or something that are in my hard copy and not available online, but I think I could have done most of this entirely on the computer.

To boot, my linguistics textbook is online as well. I did not know this before I paid $30 for the out-of-date edition from Amazon, but $30 is not a huge loss comparatively, and each chapter online costs $5.95, or the entire book for $50, so when my copy arrives, I may give it up for the online version.

My point here is that students waste a ton of money on textbooks each semester, when most of it is on the Internet for a much lower price, and at a much greater convenience. It is also paper-saving. And I feel that I wasted this money because I was in such a rush to get the books to begin the readings. Why can't professors send out syllabi a week before class begins, so I have time to investigate my options? Why have I wasted $140 this semester?

Let's hope I can resell these.

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