Survey results for the use of an online open education resource textbook in algebra and trigonometry

On the first day of class in MS 101 Algebra and Trigonometry a survey sought to determine whether the class would be willing to experimentally pilot test the use of an online open educational resource textbook. Twenty-one students completed the survey. The results of the day one survey indicated that 19 of the 21 were willing to attempt using an online open educational resource, the Algebra and Trigonometry text available from OpenStax produced by a team of instructors led by senior contributing author Jay Abramson of Arizona State University and hosted by Rice University.

At the end of the term a second survey was administered to twenty-six students that explored whether as a result of the summer experience the students preferred a hard copy or an online textbook. The survey also asked whether they would recommend that students in future classes use an online textbook.

A strong majority of the students still preferred the online text at the end of the term, and the students were unanimous that classes in the future should use the online text.

In both the pre-term survey and in the post-term survey two students indicated a preference for the availability of a hard copy of the textbook. These were not the same two students. Although the survey was anonymous, the two students on the pre-survey who expressed a preference for a hard copy were in a morning section of the course. The two students on the post-survey who expressed a preference for access to a hard copy were in an afternoon section. The afternoon section is where the gain of five students occurred, and thus the two might conceivably be students who added into afternoon section and would not have been present on the first day when the pre-term survey occurred.

Also of note is that both of the students who expressed an preference for a hard copy responded "yes" when asked whether they recommend that the class use the online textbook in the future. One of the two who responded yes to future use of the online textbook then added the comment, "I think the hard copy for the textbook is needed." My own sense is that the student wants access to a hard copy but does not want to purchase a textbook that in the current edition would retail near $300 on island.

Hard copies of the OpenStax text are available for ordering at $58 from Amazon. Perhaps a solution would be for the library to retain a few copies for reference in the Learning Resources Center for those few students who might on occasion want to access the hard copy.

The end of term survey asked the students whether they read the textbook, used the textbook, found the textbook helpful and understandable, and whether they studied any other texts.

Unfortunately I do not have access to baseline data for these questions when answered by students who had used the hard copy for a full term. Note the one question not asked, "Did you buy the textbook?" which would have to be asked of the hard copy text. The open educational resource text was free on line.

Given or despite the lack of baseline data, the results are encouraging. In general, student read the textbook, consulted the textbook for help working homework, found the textbook helpful and could understand the explanations in the textbook most of the time. By and large students did not consult other texts. That lack of seeking other references suggests that if hard copies are held by the Learning Resource Center, the LRC would only need to hold two to three copies to handle demand.

The students had the following comments on the online textbook:
Textbook is very convenient, ready to use, and helpful
It is very helpful is you have 100% access to the Internet. It also allows less money spent buying it from the store.
It's better for the students to use the online textbook because it's easy and not heavy them to carry around.
I think the hard copy for the textbook is needed.
This class was very hard for me to solve for my own so I hope that in the future we need an online textbook which is very creative that can help us determine the why of solving the problems in a very smooth way.
The online textbook is the best because you won't need to carry around a hard copy, printed textbook for you to read and also saves money.
Pretty Useful and helpful.
Very helpful to me when I read it.
The online textbook is more accurate since updates can be made easily with via Internet. It is also accessible anywhere anytime even without Internet since you can download the PDF.

The last comment notes that Internet connectivity is not required if one chooses to use the downloaded PDF version rather than the online version. The question of access to the textbook is also a question of the technologies the students have available to them. Both the pre and post survey explored the question of which personally owned technologies the students had available to them and whether they had Internet access at home.

Again, home Internet access was not necessary. Students could download the PDF version of the text, and students could also access the textbook via college computers when on campus. The more important question was whether students had the technology to carry the textbook with them. In both the pre and post survey no student said they lacked any form of technology. During the term I asked students who were accessing the textbook via their smartphones their level of satisfaction with the ability of their smartphones to display the text and on oral, anecdotal interactions they all said that their smartphones worked well for accessing the text. Larger screens made text access even easier. At times I too used the textbook on a smartphone to show a student a particular passage.

From an instructional standpoint, I was already using Schoology to deliver homework assignments. The Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license permitted me to use the textbook homework with attribution in my Schoology assignments.

I used screen capture to incorporate images from the text. I also renumbered the problems, picking and choosing the problems to include in the homework.

Schoology includes an equation editor permitting the entry of complex mathematical equations into homework assignment. This did mean that I effectively had to re-create homework from the textbook in Schoology, but with Schoology these assignments can be copied forward into future terms, edited, and redeployed. Thus the extra upfront work is balanced by less work later.

The online OpenStax text fairly closely follows the same sequence as the Cengage hard copy text in use at the college. There are some differences in which material is found in which particular section, and some differences in how material is subdivided into individual sections. There is also a chapter count difference such at much the MS 101 material is one chapter up from the chapters in the extant hard copy.

The students are ready and able to access, use, and learn from online textbooks. There is a very real opportunity to broaden the use of online texts in courses at the college. My thanks to the administration for permitting this experimental pilot test.


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