Students at the City Colleges of Chicago may have to do without textbooks until as late as mid October.  While the students are as bright as any they need their books, for reference, and a sense of security.  They need reassurance that what they are about to write on their homework is right.   My lectures, OneNote notes, PowerPoints, and websites can only make up for so much.  This is the case across many courses, at all campuses, in our for college credit curriculum. Not just my courses but many others as well.

Books are important to a scholar.  When I write of combining Quantum Field Theory and General Relativity, I have my copy of Peskin and Schroeder  and Caroll  to assure me that my basic equations are right.  (Even if how they are combined may not be...which would put me in good company since no one knows how to combine those for sure yet.)  Every doctor, lawyer, physicist, has a personal library the nucleus of which are their textbooks.  While notes can kind of do that, a textbook is very valuable as a resource and a reference for life.     

The City Colleges of Chicago is one of the largest community college districts in the United States of America with over 100,000 students spread over 7 campuses.  We teach students who are  of a variety of ages.  Some of whom haven't been in school for a while, or who need extra prep before a four year college, or who just want to save money.  At worst they lack confidence in their own educational abilities. Let me put it this way.  If you'eve seen either "Stand and Deliver" (Edward James Olmos) or "Lean on me" (Morgan Freeman) .... now imagine that those were colleges instead of high schools.   Each of the City Colleges where I am an Adjunct Professor have their Jamie Escalante, or their Joe Clark.   I am simply honored to work with them and to have the students I do.  Once they gain confidence they are just as formidable as any sophomore at DePaul, UIC, NIU, or any other college or university. 

A matter of money

Like most public colleges and universities  the city colleges of Chicago are looking for ways to leverage new technologies and to save money via those technologies.  This has lead to an embrace of the digital in most respects.  For example, many of the classrooms I lecture in are smart rooms.  The projector and computer work with a special board to provide a touchable user interface.  So one may lecture from the in class computer and make annotations.  

The below is a small photosphere of the classroom I lecture in At Malcolm X College.  Click for the full sphere and stand where I stand. 

Photosphere of Malcolm X College classroom

If most of the classrooms are smart this one is a genius. The smart board, plus two large projection screens.  Each student has a computer terminal.

Clearly the City Colleges of Chicago have a reasonable amount of money.  The issue isn't one of under funding.  

When Digital goes wrong. 

So someone had the bright idea to close the on site book stores at each campus and replace them with an online only book store.  A sort of education focused  Students would be given vouchers for their textbooks instead of money in the bank, to ensure they spent wisely. 

That all sounds wonderful isn't working.  

The students bought their books with the vouchers only for the books to be back ordered.  Students have had to make due with sharing the few books available or making copies, for a price, in the libraries.  Library staff are overwhelmed by the demand for these textbooks on reserve.  Getting copies made runs up against concerns about protecting the text books publishers copyrights.  Those concerns are the reason that good color PDF scans of the books have not been made available on each of those computer screens. 
For example my Astronomy classes at Daley have students over half of whom have no books.  Yet they all need to try and share two books on reserve in the library.  I decided there is no choice but to ditch the textbook and teach the basic elements of astronomy from memory, from the internet, and to make good use of blackboard.  In essence I have to formulate a textbooks of sorts on the fly in my OneNote notebook for the course.  

I have to do the same for my algebra based health career focused Physics course at Malcolm X College. 

The contractor for these books is known as Akademos. The publisher for almost all of the books is Pearson.  One company blames the other and the faculty, staff and students are holding the bag.

Stay tuned for updates.
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