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Thursday, May 6, 2021

Letter to the Editor: Textbooks and learning in the postmodern era

This letter to the editor was written by Madelaine Stubblefield, a Western sophomore.


That is how much money I was expected to spend on a textbook for my psychology 101 class. This amount seems large and unnecessary to be sure, especially considering it was purchased for an introductory class based on rote memorization that I had minimal interest in – a class that was merely a prerequisite for my minor.

This is ridiculous when juxtaposed with the fact that in the last eight weeks of this academic quarter I’ve leafed through those unbound, plastic, shrink-wrapped pages exactly one time in order to access the required online launch code for the course.

You would assume with all of the hassle to obtain online access to the exact same information that lay within the printed pages, there would be some tangible learning benefit that would outweigh the exuberant price of the book.

You would be wrong.

I was required to access the online “book” in order to take practice quizzes before my bi-monthly multiple-choice exams. To add insult to significant financial injury, these practice quizzes were not graded on correctness, but merely participation.

Did these practice quizzes, as my syllabus so charmingly stated, “ensure better student grades?” Absolutely not. Conversely, I’d say the practice quizzes took away time I could have been spent meaningfully studying. 

We, students of the 21st century, are experiencing an excruciatingly delightful shift in pedagogical methods. No longer must we pay homage to Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert by hauling around massive tomes of encyclopedic knowledge.

We live in an era of fact-checking and easy access to information across a plethora of platforms. This isn’t to say that the book should become obsolete. The reason I refuse to buy an e-reader device is because I crave the physicality and tradition of the book.

Requiring textbooks in academia, particularly at the university level, is no longer useful when students can find multiple sources and examples of the same information presented in more engaging ways with a few keyboard strokes.

Learning is our most important investment in life, and like all other investments, requires diversification. The ability to recommend articles from outside sources, the ability to absorb first-hand narrative perspectives of professors, the reification of conceptual learning through real world examples are all lost when textbooks are used as a teaching crutch.

If a book is going to be assigned to a class, I want my learning to be altered by the information it contains. I want to read it, cover-to-cover and keep it on my bookshelf to thumb through when I’m 45 years old and nostalgic. Until then, I’ll be donating my unsellable loose-leaf pages and expired access codes to campus recycling bins.


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