This month I’ve had the opportunity to return to a difficult, but necessary, topic of discussion as OUSA launched our #TextBookBroke campaign. The price of textbooks, and the financial burden, stress, and barrier to access expensive course materials places on students, is a persistent issue for those attending post-secondary institutions in Ontario. OUSA’s campaign shed light on this, and also encouraged the development of Open Educational Resources (OERs) in Ontario as a way to combat these issues.
While it was heartbreaking to hear stories of students passing up on buying groceries, struggling with rent, and avoiding courses that required multiple textbooks, there were stories I was familiar with. When thinking about my own experience with OERs, or really the lack of OERs, I thought it was important to highlight another key area where these tools would have helped me succeed as a student. While I was fortunate enough to receive several bursaries and family support during my undergraduate education, the financial cost of textbooks affected me in a way I think many students might relate to, and this includes course selection, grades, and mental health.
As a new university student I wanted to make sure I was well equipped for all of my classes, and instead of giving myself time to explore courses, find academic supports and seek advice, I dove right into the courses I originally selected, determined not to change my master plan (which of course, like 99% of students, I had to do in the end). I enrolled in a first-year seminar that I thought would nicely highlight the degree I was hoping to complete, and by the second class I had brought in my expensive textbook, fully highlighted with notes, ready to go! I was so focused on making sure I completed every credit on time that I didn’t consider what would happen if I had to drop a course, or couldn’t take a course. After attending a few classes, I realized that I made a big mistake. I struggled with the content, the format of the course, and just overall comprehending the topics discussed, even after reaching out for help. I remained in the course for the full semester nonetheless. I decided not to drop the course because I felt guilty for buying expensive course material that I couldn’t return or wouldn’t use in the end. I didn’t want to “waste money”, so despite the terrible levels of stress and anxiety, I endured and finished the course with the lowest grade I ever received as a student.
Throughout my four years at UofT I avoided courses that required multiple expensive texts, opting instead for courses that listed online resources. I also pushed aside assignments and readings for new courses until I felt absolutely sure I would remain enrolled before going out to buy the required texts I needed to complete my work. My friends and I tried to find numerous ways to cut down our textbook expenses, including going 50/50 on purchases and taking turns using the textbook, to spending hours searching for available online copies or purchasing older and slightly cheaper publications when possible. Spending extra time trying to find alternative ways to access course materials beat the guilt and stress of having to buy more.
In my undergraduate journey, the ability to use OERs would have definitely helped reduce the anxiety and stress I struggled with as a student. Open educational resources would have also given me the flexibility, access, and reassurance I needed to pave an educational path that worked best for me.