As our #TextbookBroke campaign comes to a close this week, it’s reminded all of us how large a role textbooks play in post-secondary education. If you haven’t taken a look at the campaign on social media - I encourage you to check it out! Here at OUSA, we’ve been glued to our screens watching tweets roll in that emphasize why a campaign like this is important. There’s students that talk about wanting to spend their textbook money on rent and groceries, but also many students that talk about their need for fitness, healthier food options, and proper winter clothing. Now that so many students have shared their personal stories, I’ve had the opportunity to think back about my experience with textbooks when I was a student.
When I arrived on campus to start my first year of university, everything was a new, exciting adventure. As in, getting a coffee from Starbucks was a big deal! On my first day, I was even jealous that my dad and brother went to buy me an ethernet cable while I was unpacking because they were going back to the University Community Centre. That’s why, I was totally ready to go buy all of my required textbooks on the first day. A few of my upper year mentors insisted that I wait until I go to my first week of class and hear from the professor which textbooks would actually be needed.
Turns out, my professors said all of the textbooks were needed, and I eagerly perused through the campus bookstore to track down new versions of them and spend hundreds of dollars of my summer income. I probably used about half. The encyclopedia of citations needed for History 101, I never opened. The grammar guide for Creative Writing, I sold halfway through the semester. After buying course materials I didn’t need, using books that cost $100 once, and realizing that half of the “used” books in the bookstore had never even been used, the cost really sunk in. On top of tuition, I was responsible for gambling money on textbooks that I might not use, or that might not enhance my learning. Thus began a four year personal strike against buying textbooks.
Some of my professors would take time during our first class to go through which textbooks were crucial for the course, and what small pieces we would be taking from others. They would tell us where in the library to find a supplementary book, and in one case, my professor would actually put holds on books he knew we would need based on our essay topics. But this was unfortunately not the norm.
If I had OERs when I was studying political science, I don’t believe my assigned course materials would have frustrated me so much. Accessing a textbook tertiary to the course wouldn’t have included a burdensome cost. My professors could have worked Canadian political science content into the syllabus without doubling the required text list. The professors that already went above and beyond to look out for students, may have even been the ones authoring the textbooks we used and inviting students to collaborate on them. Now that OERs are becoming more established in Ontario, they won’t just save students money on the textbooks they need, they’ll also allow professors to assign course materials that are customized to the content they want. Hopefully students will begin their semesters with a heavier wallet, and a lighter backpack than I did.