EdTech Factotum #7: The IRRODL Open Education Edition

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June 23, 2017

One of the significant contributions Athabasca University (who I wrote about in last week's newsletter) has made to the field of open and online learning is IRRODL – The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning. The journal housed at Athabasca has been publishing leading research in our field since 2000.

This week IRRODL released an an important issue for OER and open education advocates titled Outcomes of Openness: Empirical Reports on the Implementation of OER.

I'll admit that I find it immensely frustrating that OER's seem to be held to a higher standard than publishers resources. It feels like those of us who are OER advocates have an extra burden to empirically show the worth and value of OER's in ways that publisher resources don't seem to have to do. For example, we're beginning to see a great deal of research about the efficacy of open textbooks, but we rarely see the same level of research about commercial resources. It's a double standard that irks me.

However, the upside of that (real or perceived) higher standard threshold has been that the OER movement has worked very hard in the past 5 years to build a solid empirical base of research about OER's that is becoming hard to ignore. This special issue of IRRODL continues to build and expand that base.

So, this is a special issue of ETF focused on a special issues of IRRODL. It's meta-special.

Disclaimer: 2 of the articles below are written by people with close ties to both BCcampus (my employer) and me. I have co-authored a paper with Rajiv Jhangiani and Christina Hendricks, and both have served as Faculty Fellows for the BC Open Textbook project when I was working on that project. The third paper also uses data from the BC Open Textbook Project.

Investigating the Perceptions, Use, and Impact of Open Textbooks: A survey of Post-Secondary Students in British Columbia

Rajiv Sunil Jhangiani, Surita Jhangiani, IRRODL, June 2017 This is a survey of 320 BC post-secondary students conducted over 3 terms (Spring, Summer & Fall of 2015) examining their textbook use and purchasing behaviour.

Modeled after the oft-quoted Florida Virtual Campus student survey on textbook use, this paper adds a critical Canadian-specific piece that has been missing around how students in our region use textbooks.

Some key findings from the research;

  • Over half the students reported not purchasing a textbook at least once. The students who were more likely to skip buying a textbook were likely to have a student loan and/or be working more hours per week than those who did buy a textbook.
  • 26% shared a textbook with a classmate.
  • 27% said they have taken fewer courses because of the cost of textbooks, with 17% dropping a course because of the cost of the textbook.
  • 4 out of 5 students report that they have been affected by high textbook costs in some way.

There is also data on what formats students are using (predominantly PDF), their print preferences (they prefer to print what they need than buy a finished print book), and their perception of open textbooks compared to commercial textbooks (96% perceive the quality of their open textbooks to be as good or better than commercial textbooks). Overall, the results of this study are similar to what is being seen in comparable US-based studies

The Adoption of an Open Textbook in a Large Physics Course: An Analysis of Cost, Outcomes, Use, and Perceptions

Christina Hendricks, Stefan A. Reinsberg, Georg W Rieger, IRRODL, June 2017

There have been numerous classroom studies that examine the results of replacing a commercial resource with an open resource. Like previous studies, the results of this study show similar results; that students who use an open textbook vs a commercial textbook save significant amounts of money, have similar learning outcomes, and perceive the quality of the open resource to be as good if not better than a commercial product.

What makes this case unique is that it focuses on an adapted resource. While faculty adopting open resources is becoming more common, faculty adapting those resources to fit their pedagogical needs are not nearly as common. This despite the fact that the open license gives faculty the right to modify and adapt the resources, theoretically to make them pedagogically stronger for their specific teaching & learning context.

This study examines just that type of open textbook adaptation, and how being able to adapt content was a prime motivator for the faculty to move to an open textbook. They wanted to be able to adapt resources to fit their pedagogical view, and saw open textbooks as a way to achieve this. This is a fundamentally different driver for adopting an open textbook than saving students money. This adoption was driven by the faculty who want the autonomy and flexibility to adapt learning resources. While saving students money is the obvious win when you move to an open resource, the autonomy that faculty get when moving away from a locked resource to an open resource is something that does not get near enough attention in the literature, which is why this paper is significant.

Rating the Quality of Open Textbooks: How Reviewer and Text Characteristics Predict Ratings

Lane Fischer, David Ernst, Stacie L Mason, IRRODL, June 2017

Early on in the life of the BC Open Textbook Project, we recognized that we would need some way to assure faculty that the open textbooks in our collection had been vetted by other faculty. So we incentivized an open peer review process by providing stipends of $250 to faculty who reviewed an open textbook, and posted those reviews online. We also made the decision to license the reviews with a Creative Commons non-derivative license recognizing that the books we had in our collection were books that were in other collections, like the Open Textbook Library at the University of Minnesota. Not only were the reviews shareable, but the criteria for the reviews was as well.

This research takes a look at 416 textbook reviews of 121 textbooks done by faculty in British Columbia and the University of Minnesota. Small note: the article misidentifies faculty in British Columbia as being from UBC and British Columbia College (which does not exist). In fact, the faculty sample in this paper are from all over British Columbia.

Specifically, this research examines what the differences and similarities are between reviews of the same open textbook but done by different types of faculty from different disciplines and different countries.

Some findings:

  • There was no significant difference in the reviews if they were done by Adjunct, Assistant,or Full Professors, or others (such as graduate students and teaching assistants), meaning that the ratings for a book whether done by a tenure track prof or a grad teaching assistant, were of similar quality. As the researchers note, " it would not be accurate to argue that reviews should be discounted because they are by faculty of different ranks, because faculty in this study tended to agree about the textbook quality, regardless of rank. "
  • Canadian reviewers generally rated the same book lower than US reviewers. The authors give a few reasons why this might be, but my own take as someone who worked gathering some of these Canadian reviews in the data set has to do with the fact that many of the open textbooks that were being reviewed by Canadians were originally created in the U.S. by U.S. authors. Many of the early reviews we had for, say, OpenStax books done by Canadian faculty would often be critical of often US-centric content in these books. This could explain some of discrepancy between U.S. and Canadian reviewers.

Thanks for reading,

Unless otherwise noted, all content CC-BY Clint Lalonde.

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