Should textbooks cost money?

Last week some of my colleagues and I attended the annual UFVA (University Film and Video Association) conference in Boston.  One of the panel discussions I attended was entitled “Are Textbooks Dead? Educational Tools of the Future” the panel consisted of half a dozen representatives of website resources and publishing companies (namely Focal Press) whose mission it has been to introduce tools for educators and students to better guide them through the learning process.

It is hard to deny the current problems with textbooks, especially for filmmaking programs.  As I see it there are three major problems:

1. Technology changes so rapidly, by the time textbooks hit the shelves they are already a year or more out of date.

2. Most students don’t read or learn linearly.  To most student age people picking up a text book and reading it cover to cover is no different than reading an instruction manual, or a cookbook cover to cover.  Textbooks typically try to follow a certain narrative but students usually only use them to answer specific questions, namely the ones their professors tell them to answer.  Many disenfranchised educators say “students don’t read anymore” in reality they are reading, but they are not reading from cover to cover.  Instead they are scanning and searching, the more clever ones might think to use the index or table of contents.  The point is they aren’t adapt to learning by reading an individuals narrative on a certain topic.

3. Information has no perceived monetary value.  With the blossoming of a multitude of online resources students no longer have to pull out their textbooks to find graphs, tables, or other basic information they might have needed in the past.  Instead they reach for their cell phone, tablet, or laptop and search on google.  This method is far more efficient and makes much more sense. (here I should probably note that college age individuals are not the only ones who have stopped picking up encyclopedias or walking into brick and mortar libraries for information, I think most librarians will probably tell you far more people go to the library for internet access than to check out books) For textbook authors and publishers this is a very big deal mostly because GOOGLE IS FREE.  Thats right, we don’t have to pay $70 to $200 for a book that provides us information, it’s all right there in our pockets.  Virtually any question we have can be answered online by someone who at least has a pretty good idea of the answer and is willing to give it to us free of charge.  All we have to do is ask.

Publishing companies are very much aware of the move away from paper.  Virtually every publisher makes their product available on nooks, kindles, or any other type of E-reader.  They fail to realize that it is not the format of the delivery of their product but the business system that is flawed.  In my opinion there are far too many people being paid way to much to write books that are full of bad writing and poor research.

This brings me to my main point.  Information is free.  As an educator I feel it is my job to disseminated the information I gather to the world.  Many professionals especially in my industry have already started the process of making their work public and available.  There are thousands of youtube videos, developer blogs, artists blogs, and research sites devoted to following a particular person’s path through learning a particular craft.  Why then would I require my students to pick up a dated, over priced, under researched textbook when they could just more easily get the information from another source?

I feel it is the responsibility of educators and professionals to pass their expertise on to the next generation.  More on that later…

If you’d like to see some of the ways faculty and textbook publishers are approaching these new problems check out these websites:

Film Skills


Mastering Film

UK Film Net


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