Online homework programs burn holes in student pockets

· Feb 7, 2013 Tweet

Purchasing expensive textbooks is, for the most part, a necessary evil.

After all, it’s not easy to make a textbook. Writing a college-level text requires a significant time commitment from a number of very well-educated and intelligent people – people whose time is valuable, and who must be compensated well for their time. Besides the actual writers, it takes an enormous amount of editing to make sure every little detail of the book is correct.

Of course, this assumes the textbook itself is high-quality. The only thing worse than dropping $200 on a textbook is dropping $200 on a shitty textbook.

While it may be there isn’t too much to do about high textbook prices for the time being (I’d love to be proven wrong), there is a worrying new trend that is making it even more difficult to purchase textbooks without breaking the bank: a required online portion of a course.

At first, this doesn’t sound like an inherently bad idea. After all, technology is becoming an ever more important part of our lives, and classrooms need to take advantage of these new opportunities. However, there is a right and wrong way to go about doing so.

Certain classes at this university require students to use an online program to complete and submit their homework — for instance, Accounting 100, Finance 100 Economics 101 and Physics 202. There are certainly some advantages to online homework, like faster feedback and much less work for professors and teaching assistants. However, at what expense? For many of these programs, there are two ways to gain access: either purchase the textbook new or purchase an access code for the program separately. In some cases, access to the online program can cost more than $100 – as much or more than the new textbook itself.

Considering that online coursework programs are priced in such a ludicrous manner, it becomes clear this is nothing more than an attempt by textbook companies to quash the used textbook market.

But why would professors choose to use these types of programs? After all, professors have been through their fair share of school. They understand how budget-busting purchasing textbooks can be. While I’m not a mind reader, allow me to hazard a few guesses.

First, they might not have considered the issue. The textbook publisher tells them the online portion of the course comes with all (new) textbooks, so it won’t cost the students anything extra – which is true only if students never buy used books.

Second, they might be trying to make their lives easier. Especially in large lectures, grading homework from a few hundred students can be an awful lot of work.

If the second reason does play into professors’ decision to use these sorts of online programs, then they either don’t understand or willfully ignore the interests of their students. If that’s the case, then professors are essentially charging students in order to decrease their own workload – in a large lecture, we could be talking on the order of tens of thousands of dollars for a single class. College is already expensive enough, thank you very much.

Besides the simple monetary aspect of the issue, there’s also the reality these programs often aren’t that good. Any sort of automated grading system leaves little room for questions gauging actual comprehension and understanding, rather than rote memorization and computation.

The classroom as we know it needs to continue to evolve in order to keep up with the 21st century. There are a variety of ways to go about doing this – some better than others. There are definitely ways to update the educational experience without allowing textbook publishers to destroy the used textbook market.

If professors are using these sorts of programs out of ignorance, then they need to realize what they’re doing to their students. If they’re using them because they don’t want to grade homework assignments, then they need to seriously reevaluate their priorities as an educator.

Joe Timmerman ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in math and economics.


This article was published Feb 7, 2013 at 8:05 am and last updated Feb 7, 2013 at 8:05 am


UW-Madison's Premier Independent Student Newspaper

All Content © The Badger Herald, 1995 - 2023