February 8, 2017
The UMass Amherst Libraries’ Scholarly Communication office surveyed undergraduate students enrolled in classes participating in the Open Education Initiative (OEI) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The OEI is a faculty incentive program that encourages the adoption, adaption, or creation of existing low-cost or free information resources to support UMass Amherst students’ learning.
As part of the Initiative, grants are awarded to faculty to explore alternatives to high cost textbooks in an effort to remove cost barriers for students. Faculty are encouraged to create their own course materials, use existing Open Educational Resources (OER) provided by the Libraries, such as journal articles, streaming video, and eBooks, or a combination of all of the above. Seven faculty were awarded grants of $1,000 to $2,500 in the spring of 2016 to transform their classes away from textbooks using OER in fall 2016 or spring 2017 semesters.
The Libraries worked with faculty to survey their students to gather feedback on the alternative materials being used in their classes, as well as student opinions and habits around textbooks in other classes. Four hundred fifty eight students from courses in Physics, Kinesiology, Astronomy, French, German, and Human Development, took the survey.
Eighty-eight percent of the students found the quality of the low cost or free materials in the OEI classes were as good or better than textbooks used in their other courses. Over half of the students agreed that by using the free or openly licensed materials, they were more prepared, engaged, and achieved the learning outcomes of the class. Seventy-eight percent said they would enroll in another course that used low cost or free materials.
In the survey comments, students appreciated the efforts of UMass Amherst faculty to alleviate the burden of high cost textbooks. One student said, “I love this method of textbook requirements. If we had to purchase another $300 textbook, I may have considered dropping French as a minor.”
In addition to the cost benefit, other students said the OER materials made their class experience more enjoyable, “The readings that were presented catered more to a student attempting to understand the material in a way that is more learning-friendly.” … “I was able to better understand the content we were learning, because the best reading possible was selected [by the professor] to explain a concept, as opposed to just following a textbook where some content may be explained more clearly than others.”
When asked about their academic decisions in relation to textbooks, 59 percent said they had not purchased a textbook for a class because it was too expensive, 20 percent said that they had not taken a class because the textbook materials were too expensive, 24 percent said they took a different class because of the cost, and 49 percent said they made different decisions about their education because of student debt.
Additionally, students found a myriad of ways to avoid buying an assigned textbook; 50 percent downloaded an illegal copy online, 66 percent shared a textbook with classmates, and 44 percent “used an earlier edition of a textbook even though the professor told us to use the newest edition.” Sixty-two percent of the students surveyed spend more than $200 each semester on class materials.
The survey found that, contrary to popular assumptions, students prefer print to digital texts; 40 percent said they prefer print, compared to 28 percent for digital texts such as blogs, articles, wiki articles, etc., 17 percent prefer eBooks, and 15 percent prefer video-based materials.
Faculty were supportive of the pedagogical benefits of the OEI program. By using OER, faculty were able to utilize elements from a variety of openly licensed sources and tailor them to their own classes. After completing his grant, astronomy professor Daniel Wang said, “In addition to the benefits to the students, I now can customize the course materials to best fit my teaching and I won’t have the problem with any mismatching between my lecture and an often unnecessary update of a traditional hard copy textbook by the publisher.”
To learn more about UMass Amherst Libraries’ Open Educational Resources and the Open Education Initiative, visit bit.ly/OERUMassLibraries
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