The Case for Open Textbooks

Here is an article summarizing some of the research and data on the benefits of open textbooks that I posted over on the circles of innovation site:

The Open Textbook Alliance created a nice handout explaining The Case for Open Textbooks.  Open textbooks are textbooks that are free for students to use and openly licensed so that instructors are free to revise and redistribute them, with attribution.

Below are some arguments for open textbooks explained in more detail and updated with more recent research and data.  But the gist is – open textbooks not only save students money, they can help improve student success, as well.

Background – The High Cost of Textbooks

How many students do you think have avoided purchasing a required textbook for a course?

Recent surveys and studies have found that over two thirds (66%) of students report not purchasing a required textbook because of cost (Florida Virtual Campus, 2016, Martin et al., 2017).  94% of those students recognized that doing so would impact their grade in the course (Student PIRGS, 2016).  26% of students occasionally or frequently drop a course because of high textbook cost (Open Textbook Alliance, 2016).

Textbook prices have increased 88% in the past decade, compared with a 63% increase in tuition.  37% of community college courses require students to purchase an access code (Student PIRGS, 2016).  Faculty report the average prices of their textbook is $97, and only 9% of faculty report adopting an open textbook (Seaman & Seaman, 2017).  Students spend an average of over $1200 a year on textbooks (College Board, 2017).

The consequences of the high price of textbooks include scenarios such as students having to decide between textbooks and food or rent, students’ learning and grades suffering, and hurting time to graduation and access to courses.  Search #TextbookBroke on Twitter for some stories.

Benefits of Open Textbooks

1. Saving Students Money

Individual faculty, colleges, and states adopting open textbooks are saving students millions of dollars every year, with the total approaching $1 billion in savings worldwide.  See this list of the amount of money saved at some institutions:

Just one open textbook, Introductory Statistics from OpenStax, saved California community college students over $3 million over the past 10 years.

Since 2012, use of OpenStax textbooks has saved students over $155 million.

Four states (California, Oregon, Texas and Washington) recently passed legislation requiring the labeling of courses that use open textbooks and open educational resources (OERs), and colleges like Tidewater Community College are creating entire degree programs that utilize free resources.  Students in these open textbook courses persisted at a 6% higher rate and take more credits each semester than students in traditional courses (InsideHigherEd, 2017).

2. Increasing Student Success

But saving money for students isn’t the only benefit of open textbooks – student grades and course passing rates may increase, as well.

  • A 2018 study of over 22,000 students at UGA found that switching to open textbooks resulted in a significant increase in student grades and course passing rates (Colvard et al., 2018; summary).  They used OpenStax textbooks in that study.  OpenStax books can be used in conjunction with some commercial publisher tools.
  • A 2015 study of over 15,000 students in 15 courses found that in 4 of the courses students had better grades with open textbooks and 9 showed no significant difference.  Students in courses using open textbooks also enrolled in a higher number of credits in the following semester (Fischer et al., 2015).  What about that one course where students had better grades with the commercial textbook (Business 110)?  It turns out that “21% of students in the commercial textbook condition withdrew from the course while only 6% of students in the OER condition withdrew from the course” (p. 165, ibid).
  • A 2018 study of over 10,000 students found that ”students using the print format of the open textbook perceive its quality to be superior to the commercial textbook. Moreover, students assigned an open textbook in either format [paper or online] perform either no differently from or better than those assigned a commercial textbook” (Jhangiani et al., 2018).
  • In 2016, John Hilton III reviewed 16 studies on open textbooks and found that “students generally achieve the same learning outcomes when OER are utilized and simultaneously save significant amounts of money. Studies across a variety of settings indicate that both students and faculty are generally positive regarding OER” (Hilton, 2016).
  • Virginia Clinton has compiled as list of several other published studies on the use of open textbooks.

3. Customizing, Creating, Finding Open Textbooks

If an open textbook is licensed with a Creative Commons license and available in a standard format, you are free to revise and remix the textbook however you see fit.

Pressbooks is a popular choice for authoring open textbooks that also makes it easy to clone and edit existing open textbooks.

OpenStax has become a premier “vendor” of high quality open textbooks for high enrollment courses, and they are working on an adaptive learning tool called OpenTutor.  But as mentioned earlier, OpenStax integrates with some commercial publisher tools, too.

Search through the largest list of existing open textbooks at the Open Textbook Library.  Browse through the subject-based directory of thousands of open textbooks at College Open Textbooks.  See if there are textbooks related to your courses!

Check out the Rebus Community to connect with other folks interested in creating or editing open textbooks.

A Florida OER Summit and OER summits in other states are held each year to discuss issues surrounding the adoption of open textbooks and other open educational resources (OERs).  See also the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources (CCCOER), which has regular webinars on adopting and creating OERs.

The University of Hawaii has an online OER training guide for bringing higher education instructors up to speed with Open Educational Resources (OER).


Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Open Education
%d bloggers like this: