By Luke Buehler
While looking at what books were going to cost for this fall semester, there was outrage welling deep in the crevices of my guts, both financially and emotionally. There is something definitely broken with the reasoning behind why certain academic departments of RCTC require students to buy ridiculously, insanely expensive products for their respective classes.
Students may not feel the psychological pain of buying books. A good majority of that reason is due to the payment method they chose to use. On average, people who spend on plastic will typically spend 12 percent to 18 percent more than if they use cash (actual bills with presidents’ faces). Yet, some students decide to use financial aid money, which includes student loans. While there just happens to be a student loan crisis in America of more than $1.35 trillion (and by the way none of that is bankruptable), it’s no surprise that it would much easier to use someone else’s money (taxpayer money via a student loan) to buy things like college textbooks and tuition.
Think about this for a minute — colleges only accepting cash (dollar bills) as payment for tuition and other college expenses such as books. There would be riots in the streets! People would be furious. As a result, much fewer people would seek a college education. Not only would that lead to a decrease in demand for education, but with a huge surplus of educational providers, the cost of college would drop significantly. Now, while that would be all fine and good, society as a whole would cease to become any smarter. Students just need to be smart in the way they go about becoming smarter.
Is the cost of books worth the potential return? What kinds of skills are to be gained with an artificial online learning environment? Let’s define exactly what’s being purchased before we dive into that headache of a debate. First off, the publication companies discovered a while ago that the books they shell out every year don’t change all that much besides a few exceptions in the fields of technology, health care, and some others. But, accounting books, history books, Spanish books, math books, and almost any other kind of general liberal arts class book don’t need to have drastic changes made to the material every. single. year. For a several years, the publication companies decided to just make new editions for these kinds of books just about every year. Since they kept publishing more and more books, a surplus of books (where the curriculum doesn’t change often) began to hurt the book publishing companies financially because college professors would often reuse the older editions of the textbooks because the books themselves are inexpensive and there was a great supply of them.
The publishing companies had to think of something that would keep them from going out of business. That’s when the controversial access codes were born. These publishing companies decided to create online entities with curriculum only relevant to the new textbook editions. The online curriculum contains quizzes, homework problems that are electronically graded, readings from the books, references, term definitions, and all other kinds of materials.
The access codes allow students access to the online curriculum entities should the entities be required for the course. And not to add any more gas to this fire, but completely online classes at RCTC are not only the most expensive type of class offered, but will more often than not require the use of online curriculum where access codes are needed.
While that may sound all fine and dandy, the access codes themselves are sheepskins. Students pay horribly high prices for these codes, but the access to the online entity expires after a given period of days. In other words, students are buying intangible virtual products that expire. Not to mention that hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent on these sheepskins every semester nationwide. Stating on behalf of all the college students in the US, these textbook access codes are one of the worst educational products since the implementation of standardized testing. Students are forced into buying these awfully expensive expirable products should they indeed want to pass their classes in which access codes are required. Just imagine if professors were required to spend their own money on these products every semester … Hmm.
Now why do professors require the use of these stupid access codes? Three reasons. Convenience, lack of passion and laziness! Last year in the fall semester, one of my professors, Ruth Casper, didn’t require students to buy access codes for her general psychology class — what a saint! Instead, she developed her own material that she used to teach the class the old-fashioned way. If she added any online component to her class, it was via D2L, and only D2L. Why don’t more professors think and act like her?
Some of the professors at RCTC are adjuncts, which means they are only there when there is enough demand for the classes they teach. Each academic department of RCTC, such as the math, English, or business, will each decide what kind of curriculum to use, and how they go about delivering it to the students. Since not all the professors are full time, most of them don’t want to create their own curriculum since they aren’t always needed, and since these textbook publishing companies have already done all the work for them. It’s much easier for these academic departments to decide collectively to use the online version of the curriculum. If the professors really loved what it is they were teaching, it’s to be assumed they would be passionate about it. For example, Chad Israelson. He did not use an online curriculum for his completely face-to-face America history class in the fall of 2015. He brought his deep passion for the subject, a wealth of knowledge, humor, real-world stories, and common sense to the class — not some stupid online artificial version of “learning” that severs relationships in the classroom, which are vital to academic success. As a result, students walked away from that class inspired, and eager to teach others what they learned from Israelson. Now that’s an education!
But, are these online curriculums worth it? The fairest answer is that all students learn differently. Not all students will learn from a Chad Israelson or a Ruth Casper. Some will learn on their own and love the online artificial learning environment — whoopie. Others prefer the old school method of learning from lectures, in-class videos, in-depth conversations, notes, study guides, and all the like. There really isn’t one perfect way out there to reach the individual learning techniques of all students.
Does this online learning environment teach students applicable people skills they will need to be able to use once they graduate and seek a career? Or does this online environment just swallow up the opportunity of the face-to-face connection students could and should make with their professors and peers?
The answer is clear