Textbooks in the Online Classroom: Are Open Educational Resources a Paradigm Shift or a Fad?
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By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management at American Public University
As I read articles on open access educational materials, I am reminded of when distance learning became an alternative to traditional classroom instruction. We had different camps expressing their views on the relevance and the “staying power” of new techniques in education.
Studies show that some students have a preference for a textbook, while others are more concerned with the cost of textbooks. Some instructors embrace the freedom of open access materials in designing their courses. Other instructors rely on textbooks due to personal preferences or a lack of experience with other instructional design techniques.
However, there are options such as open textbooks to make the transition easier. According to the University of Saint Mary library website, “an open textbook is a textbook licensed under an open copyright license and made available online to be freely used by students, teachers and members of the public.
They are available for free as online versions and as low-cost printed versions, should students or faculty opt for these. Open textbooks are a way to significantly reduce student textbook costs, while giving instructors the flexibility to reformat and customize their course material. They are an affordable, flexible alternative to traditionally published textbooks.”
Some of the debate focuses on the following areas:
Learning style – Students learn in different ways. Some students have no problem reading material on a screen, while others prefer actual textbooks.
Also, I have had conversations with working adults regarding how they completed their assignments. I was surprised by the number of students who did not read their syllabi and seldom used their textbooks. These students practiced “just in time” learning, surfing the Internet for information to complete their class assessments.
Cost – Some students determine their courses based on how much the textbooks will cost. There have been instances of students dropping half of their classes so they could pay for their books.
Instructional design – Although instructors are experts in their field, some are not familiar with instructional design techniques. They may be able to put together a basic syllabus based on what they know about a topic, but they struggle to do so without the guidance and pre-selection of textbook chapters.
Disagreement with Textbook Sales Professional Led to New Course Design
My experience with open educational resource (OER) materials started more than a decade ago. I was in the middle of a disagreement with a textbook salesperson about whether I needed to move to the next edition of the book I used in one of my courses. As I questioned the differences between the current and the new editions and whether a new edition was necessary, I was met with “You have to do it.”
Unwilling to accept that response, I provided examples of why the new edition was not necessary. Feeling like I was being held hostage, I ended the conversation and vowed that I would re-design the course without his textbook.
As I explored my options, I searched for reading materials in the library and on the Internet that would help students complete their assignments and meet the learning objectives I had mapped out.
The process was not as laborious as you might think. You just have to develop a plan of action beforehand.
Some Students Choose to Lighten Course Loads Rather than Pay for Expensive Textbooks
During this period, I began to see a trend. I maintained the same number of students in my program, but I witnessed a reduction in the number of courses they took per semester.
As I read their end of course surveys, numerous responses dealt with the textbook. I saw comments such as “the textbooks are too expensive,” “the books were not needed to complete the class” and “the manuals did not add value to the learning experience.”
According to a U.S. News and World Report article by education reporter Allie Bidwell, some people believe the textbook market is in trouble. One reason: The price of textbooks has increased 82 percent during the last decade.
“Students are paying too much for textbooks, plain and simple,” Ethan Senack, a higher education associate at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said in a conference call with Bidwell and other reporters. “The textbooks market is broken, and students are paying the price.”
The effect of cost works both ways. While reducing operating prices is a significant concern for senior administrators, institutional leaders should recognize that current and future students often make their educational decisions based on cost.
While we might have our personal opinions on whether or not an educational method is relevant, we must recognize that we need diverse methods to teach because our students have different needs and learning styles.
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About the Author
Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.
Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and strong leader, manifesting people skills, a methodical approach to problems, organizational vision and ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.