I came to Vancouver on Sunday to give a speech and wandered into a delightful bookstore called MacLeod’s. It’s a classic–crammed with piles and piles of used books from fancy leatherbound volumes to mass-market 1970s paperbacks. I picked out 3 books inside of five minutes and I knew the longer I stayed, the more I would end up buying. I seek out bookstores wherever I travel, because they just make me happy. I come from a family of writers and my parents’ house has so many books in it that a contractor once told them the weight was causing a structural problem.

All of which makes it ironic, I guess, that I just wrote a piece for the New York Times arguing, in the words of Judy Baker, “The traditional printed textbook, homogenized, vanilla version, is basically the Hummer of higher education.” It would be preferable both for teaching and for costs, for professors to draw on and contribute to free and open digital repositories of learning resources. In the more than 40 comments to my piece, the objections to this point of view can be summarized as follows:

1) Who is going to reward the creators of these learning resources? To the extent that it’s part of teaching practice, it should be covered by their salaries. If there are more specialized curriculum experts they can be paid for that, as part of the “unbundling” of teaching functions.

2) Printed books still have advantages over online versions.

2a) There’s still a digital divide and poorer students or those in foreign countries may not have access to high-speed internet or appliances.

The latest Kindle costs $189, which is as much as a single textbook can cost. High-speed Internet access is rapidly becoming a requisite for participation in modern life and a college education is no exception.

2b) I just don’t like reading on a screen.

This is probably the toughest one for me. I love paper books too. But I don’t think students should be forced to spend $1000 a year on them.

2 Responses to “A Book Can Change Your Life”

  1. If we think the thread is, how to teach, how to create teaching resources, how to reward creators of teaching resources, and so on, we are stuck in the old system.

    If we think the thread is, how to learn, how to learn how to access learning resources, how to contribute to learning resources, how to create a global DIY University, for life long learning, then it all gets much simpler. We are born knowing how to learn and we lose it by having people trying to teach us everything. There are some issues, but they need to be solved within the framework of self managed learning. This has been done with programmes of self managed Independent Study, I know, I was involved in starting one and we did get some students through degrees. The students designed their own programmes, their own assessment systems, even their own programme for financing their learning and assessment.

    It was called the College of Independent Study, and this was before the Internet!

    Anya, you have kicked off a great movement. Some time ago a few of us started a charity called the Synectics Education Initiative, and we have had two books published, Creative Education, and Reinventing Education. We must get you to contribute to our next book!


    Graham C.Psychol, former Educational Psychologist, Innovation Facilitator

  2. David Robson says:

    Is this a new model for creating a textbook?

    Tom Henderson received a master’s degree in mathematical sciences from Portland State University and taught math there for three years. Now he’s ready to write a non-traditional (Punk) math textbook and has posted an appeal for funding on Kickstarter, hoping to raise $2400. So far he’s raised $18,338 and he says he’s writing furiously. See his video pitch at…


Leave a Reply