Monday, September 12, 2011
It's Week 4 of our 16 week semester. Nearly a quarter of the semester has passed. Do your students have their books yet? One can only hope.
Rebel Girl can tell you that trying to teach a literature class without textbooks is sort of like trying to make an omelet without eggs: a hot pan with butter, some burnt cheese, smoke.
Backorder: students report that the books were sold out at the bookstore – and that textbooks are on “backorder.” These “backordered” textbooks will arrive tomorrow, the next day or next week.
Instructor Fail: numerous students report to their instructors that the bookstore claims the instructors had failed to order textbooks. Some instructors insist they had ordered the textbooks, as early as last spring. They print out their emails attesting to this. Still the information posted by the bookstore suggests otherwise, resulting in resentful students and the erosion from day one of the perceived competency of the instructor.
Enrollment Numbers Discrepancy: the number given to the bookstore by the college differs from the number of students actually enrolled – and apparently has no relation to the number of students given by the instructor when the original paperwork was filled out – let alone the number of students shown enrolled online.
For example, Rebel Girl’s literature class had been “full” and “closed” for at least two weeks before the first day of class – she checked its status online. She was not surprised. Last year the same class had filled. When she put in an order for her textbook, she estimated the enrollment at 45.
Come the first day of classes, less than half of the 45 students had the single required textbook, a first edition of a brand new long-awaited Norton anthology. Upon inquiry, Rebel Girl was told that the bookstore had ordered enough for the number of students enrolled in the class, a number given to them by the college.
What number was that, asked Rebel Girl, ever curious.
13, was the reply.
How can that be? asked Rebel Girl.
No one seems to know. There seems to be some kind of problem with a system that asks instructors for a number, then seems to ignore it; a system which also allows all to view the actual number of students enrolled in classes – but then ignores that and instead relies upon a different figure.
The Amazon Estimate: Some instructors have been told that the campus bookstore estimates that a certain number of students will do their shopping online. Students do testify to this, complaining about the inflated prices for textbooks at the college store. The inflated textbook prices are often defended as necessary and even a boon for the coffers of student government.
One wonders whether or not the majority of students would choose cheaper textbook prices over various student government events funded by the inflated prices from Follett Higher Education Group.
That aside, an estimate like this can also result in unavailable textbooks, since it is, of course, an estimate – thus forcing the students to delay purchase until the “backordered” textbooks arrive (see above) OR inspiring them to seek out other options, such as online textbooks purchase.
The Communication Factor: One wonders about a system that also seems weak in terms of communication, communication that could, if put in effect, address some problems before the first day of class.
Why can’t the bookstore send a confirmation message to the instructor that announces they have ordered a certain number of textbooks? (Thus, if there is any discrepancy the instructor and the bookstore can act before the first day of class.)
Why can’t the bookstore send an email to an instructor noting they have yet to receive an order for textbooks at all? (Thus perhaps setting into motion the discovery of a lost order or the placement of a late order.)
Why can’t the bookstore send an announcement to an instructor that they have run out of requested textbooks and have put them on backorder with an estimate of an arrival date? (Thus avoiding that awkward scene in class when it becomes obvious that students, many students, have yet to purchase books.)
OF COURSE, this comes as no surprise as it seems that management of the bookstore changes nearly annually and what institutional memory there is appears lost with each departure.
Still, considering how essential books are to instruction and considering how essential instruction is to fulfilling the mission of the college, some reform is needed. One imagines that everyone is trying very hard to make sure the first week of classes goes as smoothly as possible – you know, classrooms, parking spaces, syllabi, BOOKS.
[UPDATE: it's confirmed. The board added the names of Grimm and Boettger to the list of faculty to be granted tenure (item 6.9).] ...
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