I currently have a class in which at the beginning of the semester, our entire class was told it would be okay to obtain a previous version of the textbook which I did because it was significantly cheaper. However, now that we are further on in the semester, the previous version is leaving out information that the new version contains. Each week, we complete a guided inquiry for this class in which we answer questions about the chapters. The guided inquiry now frequently has questions that answers cannot be found for in the previous edition. Our professor, however, only has the new edition of the text and doesn’t know which questions cannot be found in the previous edition. She decided that a good means of dealing with this would be to give us two attempts on the guided inquiry so that after we complete it the first time, we can reach out to our peers and get the information not found in the textbook.

I personally don’t think that this is fair to either the people with the new edition or the people with the old edition. The people with the old edition will have to rely on others for them to get a good grade, and the people with the new edition will have to devote time to finding the information that their peer needs and sending it to them. Because college students tend to be very busy, I don’t think that either of these is an ideal situation to be in.

However, I am not sure if this is just me being upset over the fact that I now have to spend extra time emailing someone else and waiting and hoping I get the information, or if it is a justifiable argument and I should send her an email to discuss the matter. I also don’t want to seem disrespectful, because I am sure she is just trying to do what she thinks is best as an educator so that we have all the information we need to become successful teachers. I am just not sure how an email from me would be received.

Edit to add: This is an online class so in order to get the pages from someone else, I would have to email and ask them to send me either pictures of their text or pictures of their answer. We only have three chapters left, so I was going to ask if maybe she could just scan those chapters for those of us with the old edition and post them on our class site with the other information because she did this for us at the beginning of the school year when everyone was still waiting to receive their textbook. Also, our university library is closed due to COVID and only providing online resources right now. Another reason that I didn't mention prior to this is that the class had issues finding the current edition of the text, and that was the reason a lot of people got the older version. The newer version at the time wasn't available through Amazon or Chegg and our school bookstore sold out pretty quickly. Also, yes this is an educator preparation class.

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    Can you not just copy those pages from somebody else?
    – user111388
    Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 7:34
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    Why can't the professor provide the answer key?
    – 2cents
    Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 15:22
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    Is this a class in an education program? A teacher-training program?
    – Buffy
    Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 20:28
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    I see how this case is somewhat problematic in that the materials to be obtained from others are directly and regularly the absolute precondition to fulfilling a part of your grade requirements, and that remote teaching due to covid-19 complicates matters. I'd like to point out, though, that in general, there is nothing wrong with having to get in touch with other students. Establishing contact and asking around to solve certain tasks was seen as a desirable and intentional feature during my own studies, and I'd wager that it is indeed a good preparation for most careers. Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 14:06
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    @O.R.Mapper Yeah but that was back in the days when we were deemed responsible for ourselves and our own efforts. Now it's all up to someone else 😣 Nowadays students would rather complain online about "ethics" and "it's not fair" than to employ some really rather simple, practical solutions to what's quite a small problem. Commented Nov 8, 2020 at 2:44

6 Answers 6


I've been both in situations where I told my students "I've looked at the 1st edition of the text and it's OK to use it" and "I've looked at the 1st edition of the text and it's not OK to use it". It sounds (unless I misunderstand your story) that your professor never looked at the prior edition and just assumed that it would be OK. I hope that "never assume" will be one of the lessons learned in this class by everyone, including your professor.

The professor tried to mitigate their mistake. (Other possible solutions might be to limit the topics of the guided inquiry to the material in the old edition, but that would not be fair to the students who do have the new edition.) Clearly, this creates a huge inconvenience for you (and the other people with the old edition), but also, more importantly, you're missing out on the material that's in the latest edition and is missing in the one you have.

My advice to you is twofold:

  • You're missing out on gaining the knowledge which is the goal of your being in this class and in school. You're not learning as much as the other students who have access to the current edition. Get hold of the current edition of the text book (buy it new, buy it used, rent it, download it for free from pirate sites, borrow from somebody). It may cost you, but the alternative is that you won't learn in this class whatever you've set out to learn.

  • Do not say anything to the professor. Nothing good is likely come out of it. The professor already knows that students who have the old text are inconvenienced. You have nothing new to say. The professor sounds very unlikely to change anything again, but also sounds like the type who might retaliate and dng your grade for complaining. If your school conducts course evaluations at the end of the semester, explain there clearly what went wrong.

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    'Do not say anything to the professor. Nothing good is likely come out of it. If your school conducts course evaluations at the end of the semester, explain there clearly what went wrong.' --> Whatever happened to something like things would be better if we told people (like constructive criticism but not attacking) how we felt instead of talking behind their backs? Also, why should we leave saying how we feel only until the end?
    – BCLC
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 14:35
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    @JohnSmithKyon, the part you left out of your quote seems to address your questions pretty well: "The professor already knows that students who have the old text are inconvenienced. You have nothing new to say." There isn't a perfect solution to this situation, and the professor has already taken a course of action, hopefully weighting the pros and cons. I guess you could take the matter up with a department head or other university authority figure before the evaluations, but they likely have more pressing matters to deal with now. People make mistakes Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 23:38
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    The sentence "The professor ... sounds like the type who might retaliate and [ding] your grade for complaining" is ludicrous. Other than the background facts, the only description of the professor is the accommodating "She decided that a good means of dealing with this would be to give us two attempts on the guided inquiry". Where on earth did you get "the type who might retaliate" from that? Commented Nov 7, 2020 at 19:46
  • A professor who doesn't check whether the old edition of the text contains the assigned material, but assumes it and tells the students that it's OK to use the old edition is incompetent, which is highly correlated to other a-hole moves, such as, unfairly dinging student grades to retaliate for complaining. Commented Nov 7, 2020 at 21:03
  • OP can just explain the situation in the course evaluations at the end of the semester (provided there are any) and should encourage classmates to do so. That way, the professor will be held accountable for making sure this mistake doesn't happen the following semester and also circumvents the issue of retaliation - whether the concern is realistic or not. Just don't let this situation affect the other parts of the evaluation - if the professor is a great lecturer but made this one mistake, make that clear. ;)
    – eurieka
    Commented Nov 7, 2020 at 23:55

You've established that the professor knows about the problem and has found a low quality solution. If you do not have a better solution, I see no point in contacting the professor about it.

Is there a copy available in the library or through the library website? If so, use that. If not, ask the librarian if one can be made available.

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    In addition to the OP asking the librarian themselves, they can try to get as many people in the class as possible to ask the librarian as this will increase the likelihood that the library will see this as an important request. In addition, the OP and other students could ask the professor to ask the library to make many copies available; this will likely have an even greater impact on the library than multiple students asking. Both methods would probably be best. Of course, all requests should be done politely and ideally in such a way so as not to annoy or embarrass the professor. Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 16:57
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    Along these lines, it could be fair to ask the prof to request a desk copy to leave in a safe shared space (like the department's study room). Or have her ask the library to order some copies to put in reserve (the short term check out system).
    – nomen
    Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 21:07

I doubt sending an email is wise. I imagine two cases. First, the instructor is newer and hasn't run into this before. Second, the instructor is experienced.

If the instructor is younger/new, I can almost guarantee that they already realize their error and feel badly enough about it. Many younger instructors make the mistake of thinking they're serving their students by being flexible on editions. With good intentions they sought to lower the cost burden of the class, etc. They should be seeing that this ultimately backfires. This professor is learning (hopefully) the hard way to make it a written-in-stone policy that everyone get the same edition. They've cobbled together the best solution they can think of, but it's too late to go back. They won't do it again next semester. You don't need to pile on when they're probably already punishing themselves.

If the instructor is experienced, they should already know better. And that probably means they don't care that much. So in this case sending an email won't have any affect anyway.

  • Surely the instructor has more weight to request that the library obtains copies of the book? The reasons should be obvious.
    – Tim
    Commented Nov 7, 2020 at 12:03
  • Sure, but that's a different kind of email than I thought the OP was intending. That said, I may have misread the OP. Commented Nov 19, 2020 at 19:00

Your professor has caused a problem and it is a problem that should never occur. I find it especially egregious in a program designed for future educators. The professor is, right now, a terrible role model for how to manage a class.

The professor should design a class and provide for sufficient materials and instructions for every student to be successful. This includes text book recommendations. The design shouldn't be changed after the course begins and, most especially, it shouldn't be changed in a way that disadvantages some students over others. That is just wrong.

The professor, to behave ethically, needs to either return to the original "agreement" made when students entered the class or provide, in some legal fashion, the necessary additional materials. Anything else is a breach. It shouldn't be on the backs of students to recover from problems caused by the professor.

The professor should teach the course so that the original (first edition) is sufficient or supplement it explicitly with other things that they provide directly.

I don't know what recourse you have. Ideally, a complaint to the department head or dean would be appropriate, but, with the power imbalance here it might not be wise. If the teacher is so inexperienced or callous as to have let this happen, they might not react well to being called on it.

As with many such things, individual action an be dangerous and collective action can, in theory, be more effective. But you have to judge the local situation, including personalities, to decide whether any course of action is feasible.

But, you have been wronged. When you get to be a teacher, I hope you consider other people to be your mentor and others to be those you want to emulate. Good luck.

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    I disagree with this answer. It seems that the professor was motivated by an attempt to accommodate her students and to save them money. Likely it's an innocent mistake (which did cause real problems for students), which she is already aware of, which doesn't seem to have a good solution at this point, and which she is unlikely to repeat. If you regularly "think outside the box" to try and help students, then occasionally you are going to screw up, and I suspect that this attitude of trying to be helpful might be what a complaint to the dean would end.
    – academic
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 14:49
  • It may well be that the second edition ommitted some material that was conytained in the first, rather than merely adding to it. Thus, working from only the first may disadvantage those who have the second edition.
    – Tim
    Commented Nov 7, 2020 at 12:05
  • @Tim, that may be, but the problem is one the instructor needs to fix, since they caused it and it is disadvantaging some people.
    – Buffy
    Commented Nov 7, 2020 at 12:06
  • As I commented on another answer, surely that's down to the instructor, with more clout, to order from library/bookstore - pref. the former. So, what's wrong with suggesting that to said instructor?
    – Tim
    Commented Nov 7, 2020 at 12:11

Your professor made a significant mistake. Judging by your question, it sounds as if she was attempting to be helpful and accommodating, that this backfired, and that she has realized this and tried to do what she can.

I would complain if (1) you don't think she's realized that this is a serious inconvenience, or (2) you would like to request some alternative form of accommodation. It sounds as if she has realized (1), but if you can think of a practical suggestion for (2) then I would encourage you to suggest it.

You also edited your answer to add:

The newer version at the time wasn't available through Amazon or Chegg and our school bookstore sold out pretty quickly.

It is the responsibility of the bookstore to stock the books required by students. At least in my university, they are provided textbook orders and registration counts months in advance, and hence have no excuse for this sort of thing. (It happens anyway.) In my estimation this is an egregious failure on the bookstore's part, and one which is completely beyond the professor's responsibility.

In your shoes, I would consider complaining about the bookstore to the university administration.

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    Sorry, no, she didn't "do what she can". She can revert to the original course plan, making the textbook issue moot.
    – Buffy
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 15:16
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    Do you mean requiring the new book? If so, suddenly requiring a new book midsemester is a quite serious imposition. They can cost hundreds of dollars, and students might not be prepared for an unexpected expense. (At my university, it is common for students to work 20++ hours a week, at close to minimum wage, to pay their living expenses.) Perhaps that is the best solution here, but it comes at a cost.
    – academic
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 15:32
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    No, I don't mean that at all. I mean teaching the course so that the first edition is sufficient as was originally said to the students. Requiring a re-purchase would not be ethical, I agree.
    – Buffy
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 15:42
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    No, that minimum is not sufficient. A change in the course plan should not disadvantage some students. That is pretty bed-rock as a principle.
    – Buffy
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 15:50
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    I'm imagining that any course of action, at all, would disadvantage some of the students. But I could be wrong about this, and if I am then I certainly agree with you.
    – academic
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 17:02

Wondering how conversant the prof. is with both editions...

The onus is on the prof. to get the library to order 2nd edition copies, and perhaps ensure the bookstore has some in stock.

A suggestion to the prof. on this issue should not alienate anyone. Prof. understands blunder, but working from just one edition disadvantages those with the other. Speak to the prof.

  • Alternatively, the prof can teach the course in such a way that the edition of the book is irrelevant. There are many ways to do this that don't require that the students have access to two editions.
    – Buffy
    Commented Nov 7, 2020 at 13:03

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