#TextbookBroke campaign raises awareness about high textbook costs

Push towards Open Education Resources in future

One student shares their #TextbookBroke message outside the campus bookstore.
Supplied by AMS Communications

For most students, textbooks are a barely affordable yet required cost every semester. The new #TextbookBroke campaign aims to spark a discussion about the increasing textbook prices for university students.

The #TextbookBroke initiative was created earlier this month by the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA), and is being promoted through the AMS. The campaign encourages students to share receipts of their textbook purchases on social media to raise awareness of their high prices and to promote the use of Open Education Resources (OERs).

OERs are open-licensed materials that can be accessed by all for free online. OERs were first implemented in British Columbia in an effort to increase accessibility of education by reducing textbook costs, notably in postsecondary education.

According to OUSA President Andrew Clubine, students in British Columbia have saved over $5,000,000 through the use of these free online resources. After seeing the success B.C. has had in adopting OERs, OUSA thought Ontario students might be similarly interested in such an initiative. 

By fostering a discussion around the high costs of textbooks, OUSA hopes to gain support and awareness for these open resources. Clubine noticed the problem of high costs and believes free, online and easily accessible textbooks are the solution. 

For him, #TextbookBroke is about starting a dialogue around textbook prices. 

“And then we put the conversation to, did you know there are alternatives? And would you like to be a part of promoting these alternatives?” he said.

OUSA hopes to increase the provincial government’s focus on the topic. It’s something that has already begun, with Clubine using the example of the online education portal eCampusOntario. 

“It fit really well seeing as we have a [provincial] election coming up, and it’s gotten really good uptake from all three major parties,” Clubine said. He believes it’s important for faculty to receive financial support in developing online resources, and government funding would help to facilitate that.

At Queen’s, the AMS has taken on the initiative by encouraging students to share their textbook costs using the hashtag “#TextbookBroke” on social media. AMS Commissioner of Academic Affairs Victoria Lewarne says she has seen a positive response from students. Meeting students outside the campus bookstore after they bought their textbooks, she said they were enthusiastic to share what their money could have better been spent on, such as food or rent.

Lewarne also sits on the Queen’s Open and Affordable Course Materials Working Group, which advocates for the development of OERs for student use. They’ve had three accepted proposals for textbooks to become open and available online. They also still have three more in the works.

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