I have been reviewing some student emails and there have been numerous references to a school's science textbooks. There appears to be some issue with them. A number of students have complained that they are inadequate in that they fall short in understandable explanations of a particular principle with not enough or unclear examples. That may well be the case and one must remember that the textbooks are merely tools and the crux of the teaching/learning process is a relationship between the instructor and student. Nevertheless, one wonders how these textbooks are chosen and what criterion are employed. Granted, some publishers offer huge discounts [making the textbooks a bit cheaper for the students] for large textbooks orders. Sometimes, textbooks are chosen because the instructor has just published a textbook in that particular field. Sometimes, textbooks are selected from a body of educators with little expertise in a particular science field or for other reasons such as cost, politics, etc.
The health of a publisher lies in sales and profits and are measured by what it takes to publish a textbook and what they can realize from textbook sales. Small publishers, university presses, and private publications suffer the most. Unfortunately, many wind up as remainders on the bargain table. I have been told that a lot of schools in my community restrict the use of the Internet as reference material...limited to three or four sources listed in the bibliography. I suppose their reasoning could be somewhat archaic in that they want to promote the library resources and mechanics of using a library for research. That's not entirely bad, for it will teach good library research skills and familiarization with the mechanics of libraries
In the past few years the college textbook battlefield has been vicious and now commands more players--on campus, off campus, online. Many college students suffer sticker shock when its time to find those textbooks for their courses. Campus bookstore alternatives are scarce and online brokers vie for student bucks. But its is worth it with a bit of planning. Unless you are a purist [want to be the first in your dorm to mark a page with marginal notes or employ the ubiquitous highlight marker], then used textbooks are fine. Shop the online used book dealers. For whatever their reasoning is [commanding high profits for textbooks], textbook publishers should be ashamed and subject to sharp students finding cheaper copies. And responsibility should also be shared by those that have awarded scholarships. $1,000 per semester for textbooks is outrageous!
I think that we can all agree on the high cost of textbooks, but care must be exercised in making a sweeping value judgement in regards to the value of a textbook beyond the course or subsequent reuse [a life span of more than just one semester]. In some specific cases that is true. I suspect that the life-science textbooks are the ones with limited shelf life: Medicine, biology, physiology, etc. More advances are being made there than say chemistry and physics. Perhaps those texts that are subject to "outdatedness" could be amended by supplemental textbooks. Those textbooks would contain the usual erratum, updates, charts and diagrams, and exemplary problems. To judge a textbook on current relevancy can be misleading for many of the basic textbooks of physics, chemistry, astronomy, etc. do contain core science that hasn't changed for years. Perhaps the methodology of teaching the basics has changed, but the basics are the same. However you look at it, college textbook issues are complicated and reaches far beyond the presentation of materials: Individual professor promotion of materials, high pressure textbook sales people, specific goals of publishers. Basic textbooks do have a long life. Buy used.
This is a sore issue for students but Ian Ayres [Yale Law School] does introduce another reason for high costs of college textbooks--one of the key elements of commerce..."competition". He even suggests that universities incorporate the notion of them supplying the textbooks and giving the professors a budget to work within. My objection there is that the tuition would certainly increase and moreover, the textbooks may become stale for some courses, especially in the sciences, when used year after year. Nevertheless, the issue is recognized and being discussed.
"Just What the Professor Ordered"
Are you content with the textbooks you use or do you have problems with the chosen textbooks. And, do you supplement your textbook information with further research over the Internet and actual library research?