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Exploring Textbook Alternatives at SDCC Library

Exploring Textbook Alternatives


This guide, Exploring Textbook Alternatives at SDCC Library, intends to assist faculty in finding instructional resources that would be viable alternatives to commercial textbooks, with the goal of making course materials more affordable to students. Whether you are designing or updating your courses, or just looking for something to enhance a module, consider the options in this guide. The instructional resources outlined here -- more than just OER-- encompass a range of variations in cost and format (and copyright permission), including Library collections, Low Cost Texts, and Open Educational Resources. 

Navigating this Guide

Finding Alternatives to Traditional Textbooks: 

Some faculty have had success using a combination of materials in lieu of a traditional textbook. This guide explores various resource options, as listed in the navigation tabs of this guide:

Library Collections

  • e-Books: Library e-books may be read via an internet browser with an institutional login. Create a reading list by assigning chapters from different e-books. See the Library Ebooks page.
  • Articles: When the library has an article in electronic form, you can provide a link to students and save them the cost of course-packs. See the Online Articles page for details on how to do this successfully.
  • Videos: Create a playlist of whole videos or segments and enhance your course with this teaching modality. See the Library Videos page.

Low Cost Textbooks

Some new entrants to the textbook market offer students the choice of very inexpensive e-texts or low cost print versions of the same. These publishers' low cost models mean that they don't send publisher's reps to your office, so you need to investigate via publisher web sites. See the Low Cost Texts page

Open Educational Resources - OER

OERs are classroom and study materials that are available online and that can be reused and modified for educational purposes by others. See the OER page for more info, which will take you to a separate detailed guide on the subject.

Our Why: Lowering the Textbook Barrier

Free the Textbook!

Survey of what can happen when some students decide not to purchase a text due to high price:

  • take fewer classes 
  • don't register for a specific class
  • drop a course
  • withdrew from a course
  • earned a poor grade
  • fail a course [Florida Virtual Campus, 2016]

If we can lower the textbook expense barrier, more students may succeed, we can relieve some student (and faculty) stress, and we may improve time to graduation rates.

Continuum of Affordability

Affordable learning resources encompass a range of instructional resources in a variety of formats:  Low cost, Zero Textbook Cost, Library, and Open resources are all options covered here. Each column is a different learning resource option. Read this chart left to right to see these options from most expensive (red) to least expensive (green). Each row explains a different aspect of the learning resources listed in the columns.

Table of affordable learning resources continuum

Ways to Make Traditional Texts Affordable

Sometimes a traditional commercial text is still your best option. In that case, you can still take a few steps to help with the cost issue.

1. Consider small publishers that may be new to the textbook market 
We need more competition in the textbook industry and some small players have more reasonable prices.

2. Use links to articles in place of coursepack articles
You can reduce the expense of course-packs by linking to articles in the library's electronic collections and preparing course-packs only for those not in the library's e-collections. SDCC already pays large subscription fees for electronic resources; we don't need to make the students pay again.

3. Submit your required readings info as early as possible
There is high demand for used texts across the country. The earlier the bookstore can place orders, the more likely they will be able to obtain used copies for your students.

4. Inform students of viable alternatives
Is your text available in a cheaper electronic form, such as on the RedShelf or VitalSource platform? Can students rent the text? Will a previous edition work for your course? Informing students of options can help them to save money, or to obtain the book when the bookstores are out-of-stock.

5. Avoid assigning custom texts and code packaged textbooks
Custom texts may be cheaper than the new hardcover edition of the standard text, but custom editions usually cost more than a used copy of the standard text. Students often can’t resell custom editions after the course (money they often need to buy the next semester’s texts).

Code packaged texts can make it difficult for students to save money with a used text. How? Although publishers are required by federal law to sell the codes separately, in practice they don’t always provide this option to students or sometimes charge exorbitant prices for the codes. By law publishers must inform instructors of the code cost. If you assign code-required options, ask for price and availability of the access code before you adopt a text.

6. Check the course schedule to see the price listed for your text
Publishers sometimes quote faculty the wholesale price at adoption, but then copies in stock at the bookstore have higher prices. Some faculty have questioned this and gotten price reductions for students.

7. Don't sell your review copy texts to the book buyers contacting you
This phenomenon adds to the spiraling textbook price problem. The Text and Academic Authors Association provides suggestions on what to do with complimentary copies you don't keep (link below).

8. Give students time to obtain the text
Consider assigning an online article from the Library or other free reading during the first week and wait till the 2nd week to use the text.

9. Let students know about tax credits for course material expenses
Course text expenses may qualify for an education tax credit (see FAQ linked below).

10. If you author a textbook:
Find a publisher that sells books at reasonable prices. Or, consider publishing an open textbook. Some of the publishers or open text projects described in this guide may be a good match. 

11. Consider placing a copy of your text on Reserve at the Library.
This provides an option for low-income students. It also helps when the bookstore runs out of copies

Reserves Tips: 

  1. Place your Reserves request early. If you wait till classes begin, staff are less likely to be successful in putting the book on reserve in a timely fashion.
  2. If the Library doesn't own the book, it may be possible to place a personal copy on Reserves.  Check with your liaison librarian on Reserves policies.

Resources for Students with Disabilities

Academic Freedom & Disciplinary Diversity

Academic Freedom
It is important that faculty have the freedom to choose the most effective course materials. Sometimes the ability to combine chapters, articles, and OERs from various sources will enhance a faculty member's options to design the best course. Also, healthy competition among numerous publishers will provide more options than a market dominated by a few large textbook publishers.

Disciplinary Diversity
Disciplines often use different types of materials for both scholarship and teaching. The humanities have always relied less on standard texts (and the course materials tend to be less expensive); some disciplines rely heavily on articles for course readings; standard texts work well for some other fields. It's important both to use the type of materials that work best for teaching in a field AND to consider the effects of course material costs on students.

Faculty Authored Texts
It can be appropriate to assign a self-authored text, but asignment of self-authored texts may involve ethical considerations. See AAUP statement below.

Guide Author and Creative Commons Copyright

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. The original version of this guide was created by Kate Pittsley-Sousa at Eastern Michigan University and has been altered to serve the needs of SDCC. Contact at SDCC Library: Sandra V. Pesce, PhD ~ Librarian/Professor Electronic Resources ~ ~ 619-388-3245

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