The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Sunday November 27th

Column: Online textbooks have crossed the line

<p>This costs $80.</p>
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This costs $80.

We all know that a mandatory $300 textbook is ridiculous, but at some fundamental level, students need books. I am not here to complain about paper textbooks. 

I am here to complain about online textbooks.

My first experience with online textbooks was a mandatory WebAssign subscription for MATH 232 my sophomore year. This cost me a hefty sum. And you know, doing homework on paper and getting personalized feedback is free. But c'est la vie, and la vie n'est pas fair. And I was determined to push through to get my degree.

But this semester is out of control. Here's a breakdown:

Bearface: $43 (Privatized Sakai that costs $43)

Mastering Physics: $115.95 (Pearson Education at it again, but this time enabled by the Physics Department.)

Learning Catalytics: $20 (Poll Everywhere that costs $20.)

And now the kicker, the chieftain perched at the summit of bullshit (and larceny) mountain: SimUText at a whopping $80. (This is on top of our mandatory textbook ($132.50), which ~must~ be the second edition. But honestly, $132.50 is a steal for a science textbook.)

So what's so bad about SimUText? Great question, and I think it's best answered by an example. 

This costs $80.

Here's a screenshot of an activity which involves maximizing "Crab Happiness." The idea is that crabs love eating snail, so snails with thicker shells will survive more often than snails with thinner shells. These snails then go on to reproduce more successfully. Kind of like humans who are more attractive and get a college education. 

SimUText seems like a "genius app idea" created by a stoned first-year computer science major as a tool to waste the time of fourth graders, while simultaneously stealing their money. 

I realize this is a big ask, and I ~certainly~ don't want to step on the toes of any students who may enjoy clicking on 30 rainbow-colored virtual snails at a rate of one millimeter per click, but I personally think the use of this technology in the classroom needs to be put down. 

Like a sick dog.

Nobody likes the devil's advocate who criticizes, but doesn't offer any solutions. So here's some mindblowing alternatives.

  • Raise tuition for bio majors.
  • Why not follow the lead of chemistry and physics and assign a $307.27 textbook.
  • Sue SimUText for wasting our time.
  • Give us a PDF of the text for printing (studies show that students learn better from paper than the screen, after all, and I did write to SimUText about this. They declined).
  • Give us a refund.
  • Find an online textbook vendor who doesn't use code from 2008.

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