Brian Gillespie

  • Textbook Alternative Pilot Evaluation
  • Brian Gillespie
  • Dept. of Sociology
  • Fall 2014


Having struggled to afford texts when I was in college, often using outdated texts available in the library or forgoing books when necessary, the Textbook Alternative Pilot was particularly attractive to me. Even prior to my involvement, I encouraged students to use older editions of frequently updated costly texts—which are, unfortunately, often updated with very little fresh content.

I applied my participation in TAP to Sociology 319, a GE course on Aging & Society. As I structured the course, I was hopeful that it could be done as a “bookless” one and my primary reason for doing so was to cut costs for students. The aging text that is often considered the gold standard in the field is sold new at a steep $178. In developing the course, I found a number of very useful approaches to sparing student the burden of textbook costs while also keeping their learning a primary goal:

  • The American Sociological Association publishes the Teaching Innovation and Resources Library (TRAILS), which allows for instructors to share and access teaching materials across a variety of subfields for a small subscription fee.
  • There is an active Facebook community for the ASA section of Aging & the Life Course, where summaries of current research, media coverage of aging-related topics, and other interesting/fun approaches to the study of aging and gerontology are posted daily. Using these resources encourages students to stay up-to-date on current events on aging—arguably even more current than even the most recent of texts could allow.
  • Each week, I also assigned recently published research articles (primarily qualitative research) that provide narratives about the aging experience to supplement lectures on individual topics.
  • I implemented weekly small-group and full-class discussion that focuses on specific themes related to aging, giving each student a specific set of social status characteristics that help them understand the intersectional nature of the aging process and better understand the lived experiences of aging individuals in America. This gave students the opportunity to interact and discuss the lectures and readings for the course.
  • There is a Moodle website for the course that serves as the “anchor” for students. It is updated throughout the week with readings and links to videos and mainstream media to supplement lectures and encourage class discussion.
  • I post abbreviated PowerPoint slides to Moodle prior to lecture each week to help students outline the lecture material and still take notes to “fill in the blanks.”


In a recent poll of my course, student feedback supported the “bookless” model I’ve adopted.

I’ve included a short selection of comments that illustrate some of the themes students identified

Full surveys completed by N = 60 Sociology 319 students—with their comments and concerns about the “book free” course—are available upon request.

Customized Materials:

  • If anything, there seems to be a higher quality of education because the professor chooses the readings as they relate to each lecture topic. Going home to read a textbook is dreadful.
  • I enjoy not having a textbook in the class because all study material can be found on Moodle (lectures, articles, etc.). It shows the professor has customized the course and makes studying more comprehensive and intuitive.

Cost Effective:

  • When the professor told me that we wouldn’t have a required text, that made it possible for me to buy other books for my other classes. I wouldn’t have been able to afford to buy them all at the same time. I would have to decide which classes are more important, and to me they all are.
  • I am currently in a class that requires six books and we have not discussed the readings in any of them since the semester began. I think that’s a waste of my time and money.
  • Most often when I do buy a ridiculously expensive textbook I find myself not even using it. I have begun to split books with fellow classmates because the prices are so high.

Better Attendance, Study Habits, and Note Taking:

  • I prefer a course with no textbook. It forces me to take better notes and actually show up to class. All of the articles on Moodle are accessible from anywhere so it makes the assigned readings easier.
  • Most of the time I have textbooks I don’t even read them the way I should be. I skin the chapters that are on the test and then I am done. I don’t learn from textbooks.
  • The assigned readings aren’t boring or super hard to read so it doesn’t make doing your homework a drag. Also, people are more motivated to read the readings online because they are less intimidating and a “cooler way” to read/do homework.

Relevant and Up-to-Date Information:

  • The readings for the class are informative and most of all interesting. It’s relevant to what’s going on today and not years ago.
  • The information on Moodle is much more recent than that of a textbook. The textbook holds us down—not being tied to a text leaves more interesting options.

Only one student identified a small concern with the bookless model described above: “The only thing that concerns me is that tests will come from many different sources instead of just one.”


Of course, the bookless approach may lend itself better to some disciplines (e.g., social sciences) than others, especially given the pervasive media attention to topics like aging, race, gender, and social problems. Overall, I strongly recommend maintaining the Textbook Alternative Program at SSU, as I would recommend any program that helps reduce student costs and facilitate access to higher education.