Calculus Professor Martin Scharlemann did his math this quarter when choosing course materials – he offered students a $50 cheaper alternative to the required textbook.
Most Math 3B classes require students to purchase the latest edition of the book Single Variable Calculus: Early Transcendentals, a new copy of which costs $129.65 at the UCSB Bookstore. However, Scharlemann eliminated the need for a universal book, or a new edition, by simply placing all homework assignments online.
While he recommends they purchase the $80 paperback book University Calculus Part 1, he said students could technically buy even cheaper books, but probably should not do so as the organization and content may not be of sufficient quality.
Scharlemann said textbook companies continually replace their products with new editions, making older copies obsolete. For instance, if he assigned problems one through seven on page 317 of one book, it would not be the same as in a previous version. The Math Dept. recently changed its curriculum to allow electronic homework assignments, facilitating professors’ abilities to offer less expensive books, he said.
“By changing the order and nature of questions between editions and putting old editions out of print when new ones are released, textbook companies in the past made it impossible for professors to assign anything but the new edition and still have universal assignments,” he said. “But with online homework, older editions become perfectly acceptable.”
New editions rarely have anything significant to contribute, he said, and often come with unnecessary bundled material. For example, Scharlemann said the inclusion of a CD-ROM was the only difference between the fourth and fifth edition of Early Transcendentals.
“The difference between the two books is a CD-ROM, which no professor I know uses and serves no purpose,” Scharlemann said. “If you look at the table of contents they’re virtually identical. … but because the old edition goes out of print when the new one is released, it becomes worthless – has no market value. It’s a technicality, not a matter of substance.”
Despite the cheaper price tag on the paperback book, Scharlemann said students seemed hesitant, as only 25 percent of his class of approximately 420 students chose the alternative.
Scharlemann said the numbers probably reflect a lack of clear communication to his class of mostly freshmen.
“Packets sent to incoming freshman with the required reading have to mark books as required or optional, in this case, it created miscommunication either way,” Scharlemann said. “At the end, I just decided to label the original text as mandatory, but sent an e-mail to the class explaining the either/or situation.”
Regardless of this quarter’s numbers, he said future classes will likely be more inclined to buy the cheaper book, as the new online homework policy eliminates both the need for a universal book and the purpose of new editions.
For those students who want an even cheaper textbook, the Internet offers substantial options. Scharlemann said one student in his class bought an old edition of the text for $5 on Amazon.com, a significant markdown from the original $130.