This is a guest post by Jenny Bossaller, a contributor to the newest issue of the Journal of Academic Freedom. Professor Bossaller teaches library and information science at the University of Missouri. She studies social aspects of information access and use, informed by critical theory and concentrating on social justice.
Jenna Kammer, an instructional designer and doctoral student at the University of Missouri, worked with Professor Bossaller on the essay. Kammer is also an adjunct for New Mexico State University-DACC.
The research that Jenna Kammer and I did for our paper began as an accident. I decided to take a class, and when I went to pick up my textbook I was presented with choices: did I want to buy the textbook, or the disc, or both? I’m cheap, and I knew I wouldn’t need the textbook later, so I opted for the slightly less expensive option: the disc. It was around $200 instead of $300 for the bundle. I was of course aware that there are expensive textbooks, but I hadn’t actually paid for one myself up until that point, so that was a bit of a shock. Most faculty members in my department construct reading lists out of fairly inexpensive books and articles.
I registered the disc online, and was only able to access the textbook through the Blackboard course. Of course, as a professor in information science, I had a lot of questions: which of the course materials was created by my professor? There were many resources available from the publisher, but which were applicable to the course? How were my online behaviors being tracked? What were they doing with that information? My grade was indeed determined to some degree by what I did within in the courseware / publisher platform. At the end of the semester, I lost access to the course and the textbook. One student who had bought the textbook stormed out in the last class, enraged at the fact that he had bought the textbook and the bookstore wasn’t buying it back; a new edition had come out (even though the text was only available as a new book that semester). I was glad I hadn’t bought the text at that point. One unexpected result of the class was that I had a regained a student’s viewpoint while simultaneously holding that of a faculty member, on textbooks and hybrid platforms.
I teach in the School of Information Science and Learning Technologies, and I tend to take a very critical stance with technology. Jenna is my PhD advisee, but is also a campus instructional designer. With her help and insider’s perspective, we were able to learn more about how professors around the university were looking at publisher products, including what they thought about some of the inherent problems with technology such as intellectual freedom, academic freedom, and surveillance. You can read about our study in this issue. Here’s to fruitful accidents!
Note: A fuller discussion of this topic may be found in the 2014 issue of the Journal of Academic Freedom in “On the Pros and Cons of Being a Faculty Member at E-Text University,” an essay by Jenny S. Bossaller and Jenna Kammer.