Dulce Martinez
Asst. News Editor

Whittier College’s switch to remote learning combined with pressures from the pandemic has left some students with fewer funds to purchase a textbook. Given these circumstances and as Spring Module 2 begins, some professors have sought to provide more financially accessible alternatives to a mandatory textbook.

Prior to COVID-19, textbooks and other course materials were part of the expenses for classes that students needed to find on their own. When financial hardships stood in the way, there were other means to obtain these materials. Some professors would upload PDFs of readings into Moodle, or students could physically share with other class members. Given that Whittier College has switched to remote learning, these options are not available to them anymore.

The pandemic has brought many hardships, and one of the challenges that has come with the pandemic is financial hardship. Whittier College’s Administration does not decide whether or not a textbook and other reading materials are required, but, rather, faculty determine the content and requirements for courses.

Prior to COVID, I would typically ask students to either purchase or rent a textbook,” said Social Work Professor Tina Yates. “However, even before COVID, I was always cognizant of the economic restraints some students face and did not want any barriers. Thus, I would typically purchase a copy of the textbook and put it on reserve in the library for students.”

Some professors offer different options for the reading materials, such as uploading PDFs or giving access to free, online textbooks. Having these resources given to students during the economic downturn, when many individuals do not have extra money to be spending, can relieve students of extra stress.

 “I wanted to remove all barriers available for students so that their learning could continue without adding stress during an already uncertain time,” said Yates. “The fact that the Wardman Library isn’t even open to students to go in and copy the textbook on reserve meant I had to be a little more creative.”

For courses in which reading materials are essential to the learning process, such as Literature courses, professors have lightened the weight by allowing students to purchase the material as online versions, whereas, in the past, students were required to purchase hard copies.

“As an English professor, it’s fairly hard to imagine not having required readings. Where I was able to be more flexible was in saying that texts could be in physical or e-format, which just seemed to make some fairly obvious sense in our remote context,” said English Professor dAvid pAddy, “ In some of the classes I also made more readings available on Moodle than usual.”

However, some professors, many of whom have published work, disagree with distributing free copies of books to students.

“I did require reading materials this year. It is difficult for me to conceive of how you would teach skills like close reading, distillation of a larger text or writing, for that matter, without assigning reading,” said English Professor Jonathan Burton, “I did, however, make no restrictions about how students accessed their texts. Whereas, in the past, I have insisted on paper copies, I allowed students to choose between paper copies and eBooks this year. I also provided PDFs of shorter readings. This is, of course, a question that is really about inclusion and accessibility. But let’s not forget that it intersects with questions of legal use of texts, authors’ rights and authors’ payment for their labor.” 

As an increased number of students have struggled to afford their textbooks this year due to the pandemic, some feel that the school should offer other accommodations. “I have been asked to purchase reading materials for almost every class this year. I, luckily, was able to afford these texts by working as an essential worker during this pandemic,” said third-year Yasmin Mendoza. “It’s wrong to not provide optional ways to read during these trying times. I knew, even when we went to the College, there were students who couldn’t afford the book and would just take pictures of a peer’s reading, or go to the library and scan some pages. It was even easier when we had printing money available to us.”  

The Administration does not decide whether or not Faculty make materials mandatory for their class, nor do they decide the curriculum within these courses. Having to adapt to new learning and teaching processes has pushed professors to look for ways in which to better help their students. Additionally, however, efforts professors put in do not pay off if the students fail to take advantage of the resources they are being given.

“I hope it has offered them an opportunity to feel cared for and that instructors at Whittier are sensitive to their needs. I also hope this has meant that students appreciate the effort enough that they will actually complete the reading assigned. Learning is a two-way street,” said Yates. 

To learn more about Whittier College Economic Relief and how students can apply to receive need-based grants, click here

Featured Photo: Emerson Little/ Quaker Campus.

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