[This week I start what is unquestionably the most distinct and strange semester of my 20+ year teaching career. So for my annual Fall previews, I’ll be discussing some of the ways that my classes will and won’t be different this time around. I’d love to share some of what you’ve got going on in a crowd-sourced Fall 2020 weekend post!]
On an impressive specific resource, and a broader question moving forward.
I’ve written in at least a couple prior semester preview posts about my ongoing goal of making my classes more digital, and one core element of that project has been finding more digital/online resources to use as readings and texts in those classes. I’ve had various reasons for wanting to do so, including of course wanting to connect to and amplify (and also help make more intentional and analytical) my students’ increasing digital literacy. But there’s no doubt that my most explicit reason has been an economic one—as the costs of college have risen (particularly in terms of fees, which unfortunately have risen quite a bit in recent years to offset our consistently shrinking state endowments), and as students and their families have dealt with the aftermaths of the 2008 recession as well as all the ongoing crises since, I’ve found it harder and harder to justify asking students to purchase texts if and when there are available digital, online, and free options.
That economic concern became even more prominent as I began to think about this Fall 2020 semester, and I decided at an early point that I would require no hard-copy, purchased texts for any of my five undergraduate courses. Fortunately, Fitchburg State has recognized the same realities, and has through the university library offered faculty mini-grants to support the adoption and use of open-access texts and materials. I was fortunate enough to receive one of those mini-grants, and am using it for my American Literature I survey class, where I have adopted the open-access anthology The American Yawp. That anthology’s Primary Source Reader in particular pulls together numerous readings and materials that I might have been able to find eventually online, but that here are collected in one convenient spot, with clear introductions and connections to one another that exemplify the best of what anthologies can offer (but without the hefty price tag that anthologies too often come with). I’m excited to share Yawp with my students, not only to help with this class but also to give them a sense of what’s available and possible in this burgeoning world of open-access materials.
In this especially fraught moment, I have no qualms about using such materials for all of my classes, and hopefully relieving at least one source of anxiety for my students. But doing so does beg a broader question: is there a compelling argument for ever going back, for asking students to purchase texts of any kinds for any classes? Certainly there are individual classes or instances where I really want us to engage a particular text that is not available online: for example my second-favorite novel, Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony, which I teach in at least a couple of my recurring courses. That’s an individual reason to ask students to purchase a specific text here or there, but it doesn’t necessarily answer the overarching question about my practices across the board. And on that one I’ll admit being torn: my central focus on student needs makes me think I should minimize purchases as much as possible; but I recognize that the more I do so, the more I might provide nails in the coffin of the scholarly publishing industry, which despite its many flaws has been a vital element of my own teaching and writing career and one I would hate to see disappear. I don’t have any unifying answers here, and would love to hear how you all are navigating these questions and concerns, in Fall 2020 and overall.
Next Fall preview tomorrow,
PS. What are you teaching or working on this Fall? Let me know for the weekend post!