Read Two States. Eight Textbooks. Two American Stories. (nytimes.com)
We analyzed some of the most popular social studies textbooks used in California and Texas. Here’s how political divides shape what students learn about the nation’s history.

📑 Highlights and Annotations

Conservatives have fought for schools to promote patriotism, highlight the influence of Christianity and celebrate the founding fathers. In a September speech, President Trump warned against a “radical left” that wants to “erase American history, crush religious liberty, indoctrinate our students with left-wing ideology.”

I can’t help but think here about a recent “On The Media” episode A Civilization As Great As Ours which highlighted changes in how history is taught in India. This issue obviously isn’t just relegated to populist India.
Annotated on January 12, 2020 at 11:22AM

Pearson, the publisher whose Texas textbook raises questions about the quality of Harlem Renaissance literature, said such language “adds more depth and nuance.”

If they wanted to add more “depth and nuance” wouldn’t they actually go into greater depth on the topic by adding pages instead of subtly painting it such a discouraging light?

But Texas students will read that some critics “dismissed the quality of literature produced.”

Annotated on January 12, 2020 at 11:27AM

Publishers are eager to please state policymakers of both parties, during a challenging time for the business. Schools are transitioning to digital materials. And with the ease of internet research, many teachers say they prefer to curate their own primary-source materials online.

Here’s where OER textbooks might help to make some change. If free materials with less input from politicians and more input from educators were available. But then this pushes the onus down to a different level with different political aspirations. I have to think that taking the politicization of these decisions at a state level would have to help.
Annotated on January 12, 2020 at 11:30AM

How Textbooks are Produced

  1. Authors, often academics, write a national version of each text.
  2. Publishers customize the books for states and large districts to meet local standards, often without input from the original authors.
  3. State or district textbook reviewers go over each book and ask publishers for further changes.
  4. Publishers revise their books and sell them to districts and schools.

This is an abominable process for history textbooks to be produced, particularly at mass scale. I get the need for broad standards, but for textbook companies to revise their books without the original authors is atrocious. Here again, individual teachers and schools should be able to pick their own texts if they’re not going to–ideally–allow their students to pick their own books.
Annotated on January 12, 2020 at 11:33AM

“The textbook companies are not gearing their textbooks toward teachers; they’re gearing their textbooks toward states,” she said.

And even at this they should be gearing them honestly and truthfully toward the students.
Annotated on January 12, 2020 at 11:39AM

Read Opinion | How Professors Help Rip Off Students by Tim Wu (New York Times)
Textbooks are too expensive.
OER is a nice way to go, but I’ve also mentioned before how to restructure the textbook business so the economic balance is righted.

tl;dr: Professors aren’t doing the learning, so at most they should recommend one or more textbooks, but never require them. The students should choose their own textbooks or otherwise fend for themselves (many are already doing this anyway, so why disadvantage them further with the economic burdens) and direct market forces will very quickly fix the problem of run-away book prices.

Professors should not be middle-people in the purchase decisions of textbooks.

👓 OER as an Institutional Survival Strategy | Inside Higher Ed

Read OER as an Institutional Survival Strategy by Matt Reed (Inside Higher Ed)
The difference between “tuition and fees” and “total cost of attendance.”
A nice highlighting of why administrators should be pushing for OER. Unfortunately lost here is the actual cost of the remainder of the enterprise. Where do these OER resources come from? Who creates them? Who gets paid to create and maintain them? Or quite often, whose resources, time, and effort are being exploited to use them? Additionally, who on the institutional level is being paid to talk about OER, push it, educate educators about it, and help professors adopt it?

While it’s readily transparent how his accounting works in this limited example, there’s a lot more accounting and transparency that needs to be taken into account.

Let’s not take the cost and just shift it to others who are also ill-equipped to handle it.

👓 University issues statement on textbook pricing | Louisiana.edu

Read University issues statement on textbook pricing (University of Louisiana at Lafayette)
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette issued the following statement regarding the pricing of textbook and software materials needed for Accounting 201 and 202. It can be attributed to Dr. Jaimie Hebert, the University’s provost. “We want to make it very clear to our students and the public that the University of Louisiana at Lafayette makes every effort to ensure that the materials required for courses are affordable. “We welcome the opportunity to clarify some confusion that resulted from the pricing of materials for Accounting 201 and 202.

👓 University’s $999 online textbook creates confusion and outrage | Inside Higher Ed

Read University's $999 online textbook creates confusion and outrage (Inside Higher Ed)
An online textbook priced at almost $1,000 has infuriated students trying to navigate an already confusing textbook marketplace, but Louisiana-Lafayette officials insist they had "good intentions."
This reporting doesn’t drill in far enough. Surely there are a few dozen textbooks that cover all of the same material that are roughly equivalent. What are those textbook prices? What about OER textbooks and their relative prices? Why is the department or even the professors doing anything but recommending textbooks? Why aren’t the students given the freedom to choose their own textbooks?

📑 Anomie – Wikipedia | Annotations about economics

Annotated Anomie (Wikipedia)
Anomie (/ˈænəˌmi/) is a "condition in which society provides little moral guidance to individuals".[1] It is the breakdown of social bonds between an individual and the community, e.g., under unruly scenarios resulting in fragmentation of social identity and rejection of self-regulatory values.
I can’t help but see this definition and think it needs to be applied to economics immediately. In particular I can think of a few quick examples of economic anomie which are artificially covering up a free market and causing issues within individual communities.

College Textbooks

Here publishers are marketing to professors who assign particular textbooks and subverting students which are the actual market and consumers of those textbooks. This causes an inflated market and has allowed textbook prices to spiral out of control.

The American Health Care Market

In this example, the health care providers (doctors, hospitals, etc.) have been segmented away from their consumers (patients) by intermediary insurance companies which are driving the market to their own good rather than a free-er set of smaller (and importantly local) markets that would be composed of just the sellers and the buyers. As a result, the consumer of health care has no ability to put a particular price on what they’re receiving (and typically they rarely ever ask, even more so when they have insurance). This type of economic anomie is causing terrific havoc within the area.

(Aside: while the majority of health care markets is very small in size (by distance), I will submit that the advent of medical tourism does a bit to widen potential markets, but this segment of the market is tiny and very privileged in comparison.)

Others

In a non-economic setting it also seems to be highly applicable to social media silos like Facebook, Twitter, et al as they break social norms. I’ll have to circle back to write a longer essay about this with regard to the IndieWeb movement.

👓 ‘Inclusive access’ takes off as model for college textbook sales | Inside HigherEd

Read 'Inclusive access' takes off as model for college textbook sales (insidehighered.com)
Hundreds of colleges are signing on to publishers’ programs, with apparent savings to students. Some applaud the movement, while others are skeptical.
Inclusive Access is a great marketing term. It sounds nice, but has some insidious implications. It would be interesting to do some additonal in-depth reporting on the economics of these models. The article could have done at least a back of the envelop calculation and been far more skeptical of what was going on here.

Highlights, Quotes, Annotations, & Marginalia

The “inclusive” aspect of the model means that every student has the same materials on the first day of class, with the charge included as part of their tuition.  

It almost sounds to me like they know they’re not getting a cut of the money from poorer students who are finding the material for free online anyway, so they’re trying to up the stakes of the piece of pie that they’re getting from a different angle.

This other model of subscription at the level of the college or university is also one that they’re well aware of based on involvement with subscription fees for journal access.
August 21, 2018 at 10:17PM

She said that her institution, which has inclusive-access agreements with more than 25 publishers, had saved students more than $2 million this semester alone. Morrone said this figure was calculated by taking the retail price of a textbook, subtracting the cost that students paid for the equivalent etextbook and then dividing the cost saving in half to account for the fact that many students would not have bought the book new.  

$ 2million compared to what? To everyone having purchased the textbooks at going rates before? This is a false comparison because not everyone bought new in the first place. Many bought used, and many more still probably either pirated, borrowed from a friend, from the library, or simply went without.
August 21, 2018 at 10:21PM

Students like the convenience of the system, said Anderson, and all have access to the most up-to-date content, instead of some students having different editions of the same textbook.  

They’re also touting the most up-to-date content here, when it’s an open secret that for the majority of textbooks don’t really change that much from edition to edition.
August 21, 2018 at 10:24PM

A key difference between inclusive access and buying print textbooks is that students effectively lease the content for the duration of their course, rather than owning the material. If students want to download the content to access it beyond the duration of their course, there is often an additional fee.  

So now we need to revisit the calculation above and put this new piece of data into the model.

Seriously?! It’s now a “rental price”?
August 21, 2018 at 10:26PM

Campus stores are often the ones driving inclusive-access initiatives, as they receive a cut of the sales. While the profit margins are smaller than for print, inclusive access means that the stores receive revenue from a larger number of customers. Donovan Garcia, course materials manager at the University of Mary Washington, said that lower margins were also mitigated by lower overheads. “We’re not purchasing books, we’re not paying shipping, we’re not having to put any time or effort into returning unused books or paying restocking fees,” said Garcia.  

I suspect the publisher is also saving on sales commissions to their sales staff as well.
August 21, 2018 at 10:27PM

👓 Why a professor buys his books from the bookstore | Chuck Pearson

Read Why a professor buys his books from the bookstore by Chuck Pearson (Another fine mess)
Friday, I made a visit to my campus bookstore, and I bought my books. The guy who runs Tusculum’s bookstore, Cliff Hoy, is a great guy, and the work that Tusculum’s bookstore does is fi…

👓 My Open Textbook: Pedagogy and Practice | Robin DeRosa

Read My Open Textbook: Pedagogy and Practice by Robin DeRosaRobin DeRosa (actualham)
I’ve spent some time talking about open pedagogy at several universities this Spring, and in each of those presentations and workshops, I have usually mentioned The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature, an OER anthology that my students and I produced last year for an American literature survey course I taught.  When I talk about the anthology, it’s usually to make a point about open pedagogy.  I began the project with the simple desire to save my students about $85 US, which is how much they were (ostensibly) paying for the Heath Anthology of American Literature Volume A.  Most of the actual texts in the Heath were public domain texts, freely available and not under any copyright restrictions.  As the Heath produced new editions (of literature from roughly 1400-1800!), forcing students to buy new textbooks or be irritatingly out of sync with page numbers, and as students turned to rental markets that necessitated them giving their books back at the end of the semester, I began to look in earnest for an alternative.

Highlights, Quotes, Annotations, & Marginalia

Most of the actual texts in the Heath were public domain texts, freely available and not under any copyright restrictions.  As the Heath produced new editions (of literature from roughly 1400-1800!), forcing students to buy new textbooks or be irritatingly out of sync with page numbers, and as students turned to rental markets that necessitated them giving their books back at the end of the semester, I began to look in earnest for an alternative.  

Repackaging public domain texts and charging a steep markup too much above and beyond the cost of the paper is just highway robbery. Unless a publisher is adding some actual annotative or analytical value, they shouldn’t be charging outrageous prices for textbooks of this nature.
August 13, 2018 at 12:14PM

If OER is free, what hidden costs exist in its production? Making these textbooks is taking me a chunk of time in the off-season.  Thanks to my salaried position, I feel ok about putting in the overtime, but it’s a privilege my colleagues who teach under year-to-year part-time non-contracts can’t afford. Who should be funding OER creation? Institutions? Students? For-profit start-ups? How will you invest time in this project without obscuring the true costs of academic labor? Right now, we pass the corruptly high cost of academic publishing onto the backs of academia’s most vulnerable members: students. But as OER gains steam, we need to come up with funding models that don’t land us back in the same quagmire of exploitation that we were trying to get out of.  

This is a nearly perfect question and something to watch in the coming years.
August 13, 2018 at 12:35PM

working in public, and asking students to work in public, is fraught with dangers and challenges.  

August 13, 2018 at 12:36PM

What David told me was his energy, enthusiasm in the class was at a much higher level with the OER approach. Sure we choose the polished “professional” textbook because of its assumed high standards, quality etc, but then its a more passive relationship a teacher has with it. I make the comparison to growing and/or making your own food versus having it prepared or taking it out of a package. Having produced our own food means we know everything about it from top to bottom, and the pride in doing that has to make the whole experience much more energized.  

As I read both this post and this comment from Alan, I can’t help but think again about scholars in the 14th century who taught students. It was more typical of the time that students were “forced” to chose their own textbooks–typically there were fewer, and at the advent of the printing press they were significantly higher in price. As a result students had to spend more time and attention, as Robin indicates here, to come up with useful things.

Even in this period students often annotated their books, which often got passed on to other students and even professors which helped future generations. So really, we’re not reinventing the wheel here, we’re just doing it anew with new technology that makes doing it all the easier.

As a reference, I’ll suggest folks interested in this area read Owen Gingerich’s The Book Nobody Read which I recall as being one of the texts I’ve read that references early teaching and textbook practices during that time period.
August 13, 2018 at 12:44PM

As the new school year draws near and enthusiasts continue to push the benefits of #OER, let’s also take  a moment to remember and celebrate the ability of students to choose their own educational resources and books.

Teachers need to do a better job of providing options, flexibility, and guidance in the panoply of choices available to students of all income levels and abilities. Increased choice at the student level will drastically improve both the literal and proverbial marketplace of ideas.

Here’s some additional detail I wrote on this day a few years back:

https://boffosocko.com/2011/07/30/on-choosing-your-own-textbooks/

👓 The Theranos Story and Education Technology | Inside Higher Ed

Read The Theranos Story and Education Technology (Inside Higher Ed)
A great new book has me thinking about ed tech.
This is an interesting and useful analogy.

In ed tech, schools are the customers, but students are the users.

This also reminds me of the market disconnect between students and their textbooks. Professors are the ones targeted for the “sale” or adoption when the actual purchasers are the students. This causes all kinds of problems in the way the textbook market works and tends to drive prices up–compared to a market in which the student directly chooses their textbook. (And the set up is not too dissimilar to how the healthcare industry works in which the patient (customer) is making a purchase of health care coverage and not actually the health care itself.