Open versus Traditional Textbooks: A Comparison of Student Performance and Engagement

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group revealed that 65% of college students have forgone buying a textbook due to its high cost, and 94% of those acknowledged that they suffered academically as a result.1 The Florida Virtual Campus survey (2018) identified five consequences of the high textbook cost: not purchasing the required textbook (64%); taking fewer courses (43%); not registering for a specific course (41%); earning a poor grade (36%); and dropping a course (23%).2 Babson Survey Research Group found that 46% of faculty were aware of open educational resources (OER); however, only 16% of faculty had adopted OER and 23% of those taught introductory level courses.3 Studies on OER and student performance have shown equivalent or better4, 5, 6, 7, 8 outcomes in psychology,9, 10 physics,11 statistics,12 and business.13 Furthermore, OER decreased DFW (D, F, and Withdrawal letter grades) rates for all students.14 The present study explored whether (1) students’ final grades in the OER class can be on a par with those in the traditional textbook (TT) class; and (2) OER equalize student learning and performance and; (3) OER increase student engagement. Participants were from two classes, one using OER (n[open textbook users fall 2018] = 72) and the other adopting a TT (n[traditional textbook users fall 2017] = 66). Student engagement is operationally defined with components consisting of (1) the number of page views, (2) on-time assignment submissions (OTAS) (excluding late and missing assignments), and (3) attendance. Data were downloaded from the Learning Management System (LMS). Results show no differences in final grades between the TT and OER classes. However, the OER class had a much smaller standard deviation indicating when every student had access to a textbook the class performance distribution narrowed. Students in the TT class had marginally higher numbers of page views (p = .055), while attendance trended higher in the OER class (p = .070), but with no difference detected in OTAS. Attendance was the single best predictor of final grades, despite the fact OTAS were significantly correlated with final grades and attendance for both classes. Variations in page views in the TT class were more extreme resulting in a large standard deviation. This suggests that students who lacked the TT and did not utilize the course reserve at the library relied on the instructor’s LMS notes. OER demonstrably elevated the performance of students who declined to purchase the TT resulting in a much smaller standard deviation in their final grades. About 35% of students who forgo required textbooks do so for non-financial reasons. The characteristics of students who purchase the textbooks were unclear. Students who had all the required course materials had better attendance. When students attended classes regularly, they were more likely to submit their assignments on time. The fact that distributions were clustered closer to the means in the OER class than the TT class for all four variables examined indicates that OER equalize student learning and performance. OER are critically important in supporting broad student academic success.
Isabelle Chang
Assistant Professor, Temple University (Department of Psychology)
Posted in Uncategorized.