Changing the Face of Textbooks

by Brianna Kuplent

Horizon Reporter

The cover of an environmental science book depicts a polar bear sheltering her young cub in her arms. A turtle graces the page of a tenth edition of the environmental science book, published by the same author four years earlier. The first chapter title is the same in both textbooks and much of the subheadings are similar. One of the biggest differences between the new edition to the old one is that the twelfth edition has extra chapters on sustaining resources and environmental quality, as well as sustaining human societies. Another big difference is that the twelfth edition is $130 new, $98 used and the tenth edition is $5 and always used.

“I can see where it would be reasonable to use older editions if the only thing that changed was the cover,” said Bob Winters, a film instructor who is also the Division Chair for Arts and Humanities.

Winters has allowed students to use older editions because of a student’s money issues, but considers the student to be at a disadvantage to not have the accurate or newest information. Many other teachers expressed a similar view.

“Psychology is evolving quickly, and it might not be the same in all the disciplines, but the change from an older edition to the newer edition is that the references changed,” said psychology teacher Bob Riesenberg, adding that the new editions for psychology books come out every three years.

The student is using an older edition they could have information that is six or seven years old, he added. For other professors, the older editions have particular chapters that they like to emphasize in their classroom.

“The parts of the new edition don’t have the parts I need, so I end up photocopying,” said Earl Bower, a history and political science professor. “I only assign certain chapters and pages that will be used for tests. I try to use the book as much as I can to make it worth the student’s while. But I think the biggest thing is that when the student buys the book, we use it.”

In the college bookstore, several classes from varying disciplines use older editions or a mixture of old and new. John Spores, the bookstore manager for 15 years, perused the bookshelves naming several professors who ordered old editions to make the textbooks cost less.

“Instructors drive the textbook ordering process,” said Spores. “We respond to fill those orders that have as low cost as possible.”

 Courses using old editions range from anthropology to criminal justice.

“We gladly welcome the adoption of old editions,” said Spores, who is also teaching a course this quarter, History 205, Contemporary Latin America. “We realize the financial benefits to students of lowered cost textbooks and the benefits of sustainability of reusing textbooks.”

The used textbooks, either old or new edition, can be used for eight quarters. The majority of the textbooks in the bookstore come from the book buy-backs, but a few come from wholesale companies that obtain books from campuses all across the country. The book buy-back is a highly sustainable event because it reduces the freight expenses and resource use.

Another approach to lowering textbook costs is the use of electronic books. Books online cost less because of less paper, ink, and fewer resources to transport books. Web sites such as can give you access to over 12,000 books, writes Tara Siegel Bernard in the January 14, 2011 edition of the New York Times.

For example, while the new edition of the environmental science textbook with the polar bear on the cover is $130 new and $98 used in the bookstore, the e-book on is $78.47. A point in the article was that you have to keep track of what you have already printed and you cannot highlight sections that are useful to you.

The Whatcom bookstore already has a form of e-texts. For students taking Spanish classes the “books” are behind the register and come in the form of several papers protected by cardboard. On the sheets of paper are user names and “keys” for access to the texts and workbooks online.

The debate of old editions and new editions will remain one of the dilemmas a student faces.

“I don’t like the old edition, it’s a way to make money,” said a Running Start student John McGirr.

Another student had a different opinion.

“For some, like a science book, those change often, but for others like math it’s the same,” said Chris Peterson. “And you’re still not even guaranteed to sell it back.”

“Personally, the books say the same thing,” Peterson added. “You can recycle the book over and over.”

Syvana Moreau, 17, said many students in her math class last quarter had old editions.

“The professor didn’t mind,” she said. “He wrote down the problems each edition had.”

Still, Moreau said she prefers a newer edition.

“If the information has changed or new studies have come up you need to know that,” she said.


English Dept. coordinates for lower costs


The English department at Whatcom found their own way to lower costs.

Driven by Rhonda Daniels and Wayne Robertson, a group of English teachers edited a book that had enough quality and diversity for all English 101 classes. The book is “Thinking Vertically!”, a custom compilation of readings that can be used for the 101 classes, bringing down costs.

When a popular English text went out of print, the English teachers had to scramble to find another book for next year. To have the same challenging aspects of “Making Sense”, the previous textbook, the professors combined essays that they used from the book and found a publisher to create “Thinking Vertically!”.

Rhonda Daniels said that “it gave the department a chance to talk to each other” and is thinking of trying the same project for the English 100 and 102 classes.

Next fall when the teachers will take another look at the book, Daniels also said that they will do more proofreading and put new artwork on the cover. The artwork on the front and back of “Thinking Vertically!” is from Whatcom art students.

Standardizing textbooks takes the effort and time of the whole department. It simplifies the ordering process and one book equals less cost to the students.

Ron Leatherbarrow, vice president for instruction, said this was the first instance that he’s heard of where professors developed a book in two months.

In previous quarters, the English 101 classes had several books, including the rhetorical, 100 to 102 level “Writing Analytically” (which cost $28 used but is not required by all instructors) and “Signs of Life” ( which cost $52 used).

Together, the student would spend from $40 to $75 depending on which professor you had, whereas “Thinking Vertically!” costs $52.

Some instructors, said Daniels, continue to use “Signs of Life” instead of “Thinking Vertically!”, however.

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