Blogs

  • As college students head back to school this fall, a highlight continues to be the quality and affordability of the course materials that will help them learn and succeed. Trends that have only accelerated with the digital transition in education since the pandemic.

    For the past ten years, publishers have forged ahead with a twin focus on quality and affordability, leading to a significant decrease in student spending on course materials. In addition, publishers have been able to provide students with innovative new products that increase accessibility, and provide them with a broad spectrum of course material options to choose from.

    One of those innovations has been the course delivery model Inclusive Access, which provides students with access to course materials on the first day of class, at the guaranteed lowest market rate. The model continues to gain popularity, with more than 1,500 campuses (and growing). According to new 2022 research from Student Watch, 39 percent of students have acquired materials through Inclusive Access models, up from 15 percent in 2019.

    What’s more, the reduced costs are also folded into tuition, reducing the need for separate materials at the beginning of the semester. Federal regulations permit students to pay for Inclusive Access materials through loans or grants under Title IV of the Higher Education Act and require them to be available at the lowest cost available on the market.

    Kelly L. Denson is Vice President of Education Policy and Programs at the Association of American Publishers and a former teacher.

    Research has also shown that Inclusive Access often leads to major increases in student success for diverse student groups.

    Researcher Michael Moore from the University of New Hampshire found that Black students, female students, and students over the age of 25 had the “largest increase in success rates” when comparing student success before and after using Inclusive Access. Inclusive Access models may have a massive impact on increasing equity in the learning environment.

    And faculty appreciate that students can have their materials on the first day of class, giving them more time to start their assignments and increase their chances of successfully completing the course. Inclusive Access also provides flexibility and can be implemented on a department level, on a course-by-course basis, or even by course section.

    More research continues to be done on this innovative course material delivery model. Education publishers continue to prioritize affordability, offering high-quality content and course materials in a variety of delivery models that have been proven to dramatically reduce the cost to students – including Inclusive Access, as well as digital, rentals, or digital subscription models, and individual learning apps.

  • Since 1976, the AAP has sponsored the PROSE Award for Excellence in Physical Sciences & Mathematics. Every year, upwards of 20 judges spend our precious hours reading about the mineralogy of meteorites, or the ecosystems of California, or solutions to boundary-value problems in diffusion science (to name but a few of the recent winning topics). You may ask, why does AAP offer this prestigious award for Physical Sciences & Mathematics? To my mind, the answer is simple. The world needs more great science books and great science books deserve to be celebrated. You may not immediately agree with that statement, but hear me out.

    First, a small philosophical digression.

    Ever since Heraclitus, humanity’s deep thinkers have doubted the capacity of the human mind to comprehend the mysteries of the cosmos. In the modern era, proponents of a position known as mysterianism have followed this line of argument, suggesting that the solutions to certain “hard problems” (most notably, how consciousness somehow arises from physical processes in the brain) lie beyond the cognitive reach of Homo sapiens. After all, they say, everything we are, biologically speaking, is the result of a random process of evolution. Unless our distant ancestors were assisted in spreading their genes by a deep knowledge of the workings of the universe, why should we expect that evolution would have endowed our brains with such esoteric capabilities?

    There are others who find this to be an overly pessimistic view. Having identified a mystery, are we not already on the path to solving it? The philosopher Daniel Dennett puts it this way: “As soon as you frame a question that you claim we will never be able to answer, you set in motion the very process that might well prove you wrong: you raise a topic of investigation.” Speaking for myself, a mere mortal with a limited grasp of these questions, I confess to (a) a headache brought on by thinking too hard and (b) a preference for the latter, more optimistic, approach.

    What has all this got to do with books? Well, if hard problems are hard to think about, they are even harder to write about. And if you can’t write about them in a convincing way, your ideas are unlikely to gain much traction. Compelling writing is no less important in the scientific realm than it is in works of literature, say, or young adult fiction. In the sciences, I would argue, books (or, to use a more scholarly descriptor, monographs) provide the ideal setting for the careful laying out of a complex argument. Journal articles, with all their constraints and conventions and need for speed, are simply not suited to this purpose; they serve a rather different function in the research ecosystem.

    As an exemplar of the power of the scientific monograph, I direct your attention to the winner of the 2021 PROSE Award for Excellence in Physical Sciences & Mathematics: David Merritt’s A Philosophical Approach to MOND: Assessing the Milgromian Research Program in Cosmology, published by Cambridge University Press. If this seems a challenging topic, see above, and I don’t propose to go into too much detail here. Just bear with me through the next paragraph.

    Sean Pidgeon, is a 2022 PROSE Award Judge, editor of the 2009 PROSE Awards R.R. Hawkins Award Winner, and Senior Editor at Association of Computing Machinery

    In brief, MOND refers to Modified Newtonian Dynamics, a theory advanced by the physicist Mordehai Milgrom as an alternative explanation for an apparent anomaly in the dynamics of galaxies. The speed at which stars or gas clouds orbit at a certain distance from the galactic center can be predicted by applying Newton’s laws of gravity and motion, given the observed distribution of mass in the galaxy. Astrophysical measurements have shown that this holds true near the centers of most large galaxies, but perplexing deviations begin to appear farther out in the galactic disk: the orbital speed is found to be systematically larger than that predicted by Newton’s laws. In the “standard model” of cosmology, this observation is explained by assuming that galaxies are embedded in haloes of “dark matter,” a mysterious substance that has never been directly observed. By contrast, the MOND theory posits the radical idea that Newton's laws are themselves modified in regions of very low mass density, such as the outer reaches of galaxies.

    Is MOND an accurate description of what’s really going on, or should we stick with invisible dark matter? I have no idea, and Merritt does not claim to have answered that question definitively. What he does demonstrate, though, is the value of a carefully reasoned long-form scientific argument. Constructed with exquisite care over 270 pages and beautifully written for its intended audience, his book builds its argument with devastating logic. A glance at the reviews shows that even the skeptics are impressed with the way he develops his thesis. As a physics graduate myself (though in ancient times), I confess that I found the book entirely gripping, despite having to skim over some of the really complicated stuff. In some distant foggy recess of my brain, I am still pondering the meaning of life, the universe, and everything, and wondering whether modified Newtonian dynamics might have a part to play in that.

    If Sir Isaac Newton is furrowing his brow, that’s got to be a good thing: it’s how the hard problems get solved. And so, in closing, here’s my heartfelt plea to the deep thinkers of the world: write more books like this, please. And to my fellow science publishers: publish more books like this, please, and don’t forget to submit them for the PROSE Awards. If we work together, maybe we can keep those pessimistic mysterians in their place.

  • When was the last time you read a graphic novel? And when you think of them, do you think of Garfield and Calvin and Hobbes, Batman and Superman, or webcomics like xkcd?

    While many people associate graphic novels or graphic narratives with comics, the truth is that these robust works are often used to explore a wide range of complex topics, including scholarly analysis of historical events, educational materials related to science and medicines, memoirs, and biographies. Although scholarly graphic novels frequently tackle the same serious subjects that are found in traditional books, readers engage with them a different way.

    In fact, Graphic narratives are often used in educational settings as a way of encouraging reluctant readers. They’re usually seen as fun, especially to those who view reading a book as onerous. But it would be a mistake to say that these works are ‘simple’ when compared to text driven publications. On the contrary, by using a combination of visual and verbal communication, these works are quite complex, simultaneously engaging multiple literacies. As a result, they can be used to convey information or emotion more effectively to the reader.

    Recognizing the growing importance of graphic novels, last year the Association of American Publishers created the Nonfiction Graphic Novels category for the annual PROSE Awards. This category recognizes the creativity and innovation in publishing graphic narratives and showcases the best of the genre.

    Judging from the submissions we received for the 2021 PROSE Awards, the first year with the Nonfiction Graphic Novels category, publishers are making good use of the format. One great example is Witness to the Age of Revolution: The Odyssey of Juan Bautista Tupac Amaru, published by Oxford University Press and authored by Charles F. Walker and Liz Clarke, which won the category last year. Part of OUP’s Graphic History series, the work follows the life of Juan Bautista Tupac Amaru, from his participation in the unsuccessful Tupac Amaru Rebellion in the Peruvian Andes, through his imprisonment following the revolution, brutal forced travel, first across the Andes and then across the Atlantic, and eventual release and return to South America decades later.

    Chronicling the experiences of Bautista, Walker and Clarke engage the reader through a hybrid approach of nontraditional narrative of the Age of Revolution, filled with highly detailed illustrations, followed by a traditional narrative with additional details of the same story, and then primary sources. Witness to the Age of Revolution is well researched and structured in such a way that it nearly writes itself into a course syllabus.

    Sara Kern is a 2022 PROSE Awards Judge and Student Success & Outreach Librarian at Juniata College

    As a librarian who often advocates for the use of graphic narratives in college classrooms, I like to refer to them as “sneaky vegetables”: students are often excited and, anecdotally, say they are more likely to read the graphic narrative on the syllabus. Even though they think of it as fun reading, they still engage with the material in a meaningful way.

    While works like Witness to the Age of Revolution lend themselves well to classroom use, graphic narratives are not valued simply for their educational uses. The 2021 PROSE finalist, Light in Dark Times: The Human Search for Meaning, published by University of Toronto Press and authored by Alisse Waterson and illustrated by Charlotte Corden, brings together art and anthropology and asks the reader to reflect on their place and purpose in the in the world at this moment. Part of University of Toronto Press’ ethnoGRAPHIC series, the work is based on Waterson’s 2017 speech at the American Anthropological Association's annual conference, the work offers those not present for the address the opportunity to engage with the work in a different way - in the graphic narrative, the reader is able to join Corden and Waterson, traveling together through space and time to meet more than a dozen writers and activists and engage in conversation with them, while presenting a call for action to create a new future.

    I love graphic narratives because they’re fun, but also because they challenge me to engage with material I might not otherwise read. I’m excited to learn from this year’s submissions.

  • October 26, 2021 Read More

    “Accessible” has to be one of the best back-handed compliments: “Oh, you’ll enjoy that book; it’s very accessible.”  Wait, is that a crack at the book, or a crack at you? But accessibility in the sense of availability and appeal to a wide audience is hardly a shortcoming in the mind of a book acquisitions editor or an art director. Trade book publishers, in that sense, thrive on accessibility and make the Outstanding Work by a Trade Publisher PROSE Awards category uniquely rewarding.

    Steven Heffner is 2022 PROSE Awards Judge and Managing Director Publications, IEEE

    Appeal is not a disqualifier for significance, and Trade publishers have always been major contributors to scholarship. In the current publishing and academic environment, I would even venture to say that Trade publishers have a unique and essential role to play, bringing vital perspectives and distinct advantages, qualities that are helping to balance and propel professional scholarly work.

    First, we rely on Trade Publishers to strike notes with current resonance. Academia tends to remain aloof from what it perceives as transient cultural trends, maintaining a distance social phenomena deemed temporary, passing. The Trade is not bound by this particular pretense. Indeed, the Trade Publishing industry thrives on being au courant, which means its contributions are often highly relevant to the current cultural moment and, at their best, help to contextualize and define as-yet undefined areas of exploration.

    In 2020, the PROSE Award for Outstanding Work from a Trade Publisher went to W.W. Norton & Company for Sisters and Rebels: A Struggle for the Soul of America by Jacquelyn Dowd Hall. Hall’s extensively researched work tells the story of three sisters springing from the Southern establishment who are carried by the currents and eddies of American social thought and geographic migrations to very different vocational end points. Among many other things, the story speaks dramatically to our current moment of splintered political discourse, suggesting that our rifts can be viewed in the context of America’s ongoing intellectual development, almost beckoning us back from the edge of apocalyptic interpretations of our political state. The use of rigorous scholarship to tell a politically or socially relevant story—one that is made more impactful precisely because of its meticulously documented factual detail—is a vital contribution from the Trade publishers.

    Another space we look to the Trade to fill in professional and scholarly publishing is a widening gap of scholarship’s own making. Ever-increasing specialization and the curation and indexing technologies that drive professional communities into narrow and isolated channels have diminished the opportunity for (and benefits of) serendipity and cross-pollination, particularly in science but in the humanities as well. Unconstrained by rigid conventions manifest in the academy, the Trade Publishing industry has the luxury of a broader view, one that can take a chance on cross currents and meta-conclusions.

    Farrar, Straus and Giroux, an imprint of Macmillan and the 2019 PROSE Award winner for Outstanding Work from a Trade Publisher, published Underbug: An Obsessive Tale of Termites and Technology, which weaves author Lisa Margonelli’s experience following researchers in biology, computer science, robotics, and natural history into an unassuming work of observation with strong contributions to engineering ethics, the history of science and even epistemology and philosophy of mind.  It’s a fine example of the Trade Publishing industry’s ability to apply an unorthodox perspective on scholarly pursuits to produce interdisciplinary insights.

    I’m personally looking forward to the submissions from the Trade publishers this year. What emerging issues will get a unique spotlight? What serendipitous encounters are being synthesized? I for one will relish the “accessible” insights.

  • In searching for the truth, one should deeply question organizations that require resorting to falsehoods to create their narrative. The new inclusive access misinformation site, developed by SPARC and their backers, weaponizes myths surrounding inclusive access to confuse consumers trying to make the best choice for their education.

    For the past ten years, publishers have forged ahead with a twin focus on quality and affordability, leading to a significant decrease in the cost of course materials. In addition, publishers have been able to provide students with innovative new products that increase accessibility, decrease expenses, and provide them with a broad spectrum of options to choose from. However, this new SPARC site uses myths to conceal the progress publishers have made, while pushing fake “facts” to create a false storyline surrounding inclusive access.

    Through their website, SPARC pushes a series of fictions easily dispelled with real facts published by research groups Student Watch and Student Monitor, as well as by the College Board itself. First, SPARC claims the cost of college course materials has risen over the past twenty years. This is simply untrue. Recent surveys from two different groups, Student Watch and Student Monitor, found a 36% drop in the amount students spend on course materials over the past decade.

    SPARC also makes the incorrect claim that Inclusive Access constrains faculty ability to choose course materials. In reality, Inclusive Access is extremely popular precisely because its flexibility encourages academic freedom for faculty: programs can be implemented on a department level, but they can also be provided on a course-by-course basis, or even by course section.

    SPARC falsely asserts that Inclusive Access limits student choice, but students are always able to opt-out, and the truth is that there is a robust market for used books and rentals for students to choose from, as supported by data from Student Watch.

    Kelly L. Denson is Vice President of Education Policy and Programs at the Association of American Publishers and a former teacher.

    SPARC argues that American students should be forced into a one-size-fits all solution of taxpayer funded OER when it comes to course materials. There is no question that high quality, innovative and constantly updated course materials offered by American publishers are critical to education, and in the case of some of the most iconic and groundbreaking works available, admired around the world.

    Despite SPARC’s rhetoric, it is clear to everyone in the education ecosystem that faculty and students need access to first rate, professional course materials and need the freedom to choose the materials that work best for them, both in terms of quality and affordability. Indeed, the Inclusive Access programs that SPARC attacks are an increasingly popular option because they deliver on both fronts.

    SPARC’s website relies on the idea that students are paying more for their course materials, and Inclusive Access contributes to that, but the data shows this is simply untrue. The facts matter, and data published by the College Board, Student Monitor, and Student Watch, shows students are spending less than ever.

    While we’re always open to honest debate, we find it disheartening that SPARC has chosen to resort to disinformation to make its point. SPARC should ask themselves why their arguments rely on faulty facts as a driving force. And we should all be wary of the intention behind sites that make such obvious attempts to mislead the public.