This is the final part of a four-part series of blog posts co-authored by Beck Pitt (OER Research Hub researcher) and Megan Beckett (Siyavula). You can read our posts on the Siyavula educator sample and background to the study here, more on education in South Africa here and more on educators’ attitudes and behaviours toward OER here. This post features some of the findings relating to questions specifically about Siyavula open textbooks and their impact on educators and students.
Siyavula Open Textbooks
We asked educators how they first became aware of Siyavula textbooks, as this is of particular interest to Siyavula. Respondents could give more than one answer, a selection of these are as follows. Just over a quarter of respondents told us that delivery of Siyavula textbooks by the Department of Education had first made them aware of Siyavula textbooks (26.7%, n=23). This group of respondents would have first encountered Siyavula textbooks during 2012 and 2013 as they were printed and distributed by the Department of Basic Education for all government schools in South Africa during this period. Nearly 40% of respondents told us it was via an internet search (38.4%, n=33) whilst over 20% told us it was via a colleague and/or via a Siyavula conference presentation (both 22.1%, n=19). 17.4% of respondents told us this was through volunteering on a Siyavula project (n=15) and almost 12% via the School network (11.6%, n=10).
Indeed the textbook that most respondents had used or currently use both online and/or in hardcopy was Everything Science (Grades 10-12). For example almost 30% of respondents currently use the online version of Everything Science with their students (29.6%, n=24). Meanwhile 21.0% currently use the hardcopy version of Everything Science with their students (n=17). As mentioned in the previous blog post, the Everything Maths and science textbooks have been available in different versions for several years now, and Siyavula has the strongest community within the Physical Sciences educators in South Africa.
In most instances (except in relation to previous use of the hardcopy version of Natural Sciences and Technology… and the same percentage of use for both the hardcopy and online version of Everything Maths…) respondents tended to have and/or currently use online versions of Siyavula textbooks. It is therefore of note that over three quarters of respondents reported using a hardcopy textbook prior to using Siyavula materials (77.8%, n=63) with only 6.2% of respondents reporting use of other online textbooks (n=5).
Siyavula as an openly licensed resource
92.8% of educators who use or have used Siyavula textbooks told us that they were aware the materials are openly licensed (n=64). When asked what Siyavula publishing their textbooks under an open license meant to them, we received a range of responses including:
“Freedom. It also means that whatever I contribute to the projects will be free to impact a much larger group of students than a traditional closed licence textbook.”
“I can use already edited material as notes and additions to my teaching. I do not need to redo all the work from scratch which frees my time to seek new teaching techniques.”
“It shows their commitment for free education to all.”
“Very convenient. I use the pdf version on my laptop, which means not having to carry around heavy textbooks. I can easily copy and paste from the pdf onto PowerPoint, etc. The open licence on the hard copy version does not make much of a difference though, to have it printed locally costs around R200, black-and-white, whereas Siyavula sells the colour copies for R235, which makes it worthwhile to rather buy from Siyavula.”
“I can photocopy, copy a few questions for a test, give kids electronic copies, all legally. A kid will ALWAYS have their textbook accessibly – even if it is on their phones! Lost/ damaged textbooks are no longer a reason for not doing homework.”
The percentage of educators that know they are openly licensed is an interesting result, and is actually a higher than Siyavula expected, for several reasons. Firstly, Siyavula includes the Creative Commons logo as well as the license logo in the front of all the books with explanations, but we are unsure as to whether people see this or know what it means. Secondly, as the majority of the respondents are from private schools (58%), these educators would not have received these textbooks for free from the government. They have therefore elected to use them or advocate them as extra resources to their learners. It would be interesting to get insight into the understanding of more public school educators around open licenses who received the textbooks from government. Our assumption at Siyavula is that most of these educators are not aware that the textbooks are openly licensed, and they are rather just free resources. But, as discussed in post one of this series, there was a bias in this survey to educators in private schools. Thirdly, we also distributed the survey via one of our mailing lists to our volunteer community. This community consists of people who have contributed in some way to the production of the textbooks, either by attending physical workshops or contributing online. They therefore also have an understanding of open licenses due to our interaction with them, especially at the workshops where we discuss open education and Creative Commons in detail. At Siyavula, we strongly believe in the collaborative development of our textbooks. You can read more about one of our volunteer workshops held last year here.
Remixing Siyavula Textbooks
Over a third of respondents reported making changes to the Siyavula textbooks they use/used (36.3%, n=29). These respondents were then asked both how they had made changes and why they had made the changes.
In response to these questions, we received a range of responses. Some respondents reported making corrections to the content when they spotted errors, others added “background info” or their “own personal notes” to tailor the books to their own learners. One respondent reported that they had “added own content” because “as a private school, the content is not always taught in the same order and content is enhanced.”
Elsewhere another respondent commented that they had used the online version of Everything Science as an “extra resource”, making changes to the text prior to it being available in multiple languages by “translat[ing] it into Afrikaans (2009 – 2010)…” as there were Afrikaans speaking students in their class.
Siyavula has also worked with a group of Physical Sciences educators from private schools based in Johannesburg to remix the Siyavula textbooks with some of their own notes and content from OpenStax to make their own version of the content to suit their needs. As mentioned previously, the private schools in South Africa are run independently from government, public schools and therefore also have their own assessment guidelines. This process was really exciting for Siyavula as it was driven by the educators and became a community process. Colleen Henning, the main educator driving the process, has been a volunteer on many of the Siyavula textbooks prior to this and you can read her thoughts on the process here. Kathi Fletcher and her OERPUB team also took part in the workshop, which you can read about here.
Impact of Siyavula on Students
We asked respondents in what ways, if any, using Siyavula textbooks had impacted on their students. Whilst for some respondents they were still at the early stages of using Siyavula materials, others didn’t perceive a difference and some made general comments about the materials, we did receive a range of comments which noted perceived impact on students:
“For underperforming students to improve their results.” (Educator teaching in work based training context)
“Have to carry the i pad, so less ‘books’ to carry. I can monitor progress on some homework tasks set through intelligent practice.” (F/T educator working Private School)
“Widened their exposure to resources.” (F/T educator working Private School)
“They enjoy being able to incorporate the internet and cellphones into their studying.” (P/T educator teaching in Public School and FE and Training context)
“Improved their results in Math & Science – measured over a period of 1 academic year.” (Educator in Western Cape)
“>>> They always have access (pdf, online, mobile phone, MXit etc.) so they don’t need to miss an opportunity to work. >>> They can leave the hard copy of the textbook in class because there are so many ways they can access it at home – this way there is always a copy in the classroom and the books can’t be forgotten at home 🙂 >>> It means that my Matric students still have access to the Grade 11 content (via the electronic versions). This is important as much of the Grade 11 syllabus is examinable at the end of Matric.” (F/T educator teaching in Private and Public Schools)
“Students have the freedom to copy the book legally and pass on sections of the book. They also have the free to share the book online or read them online as they need to. It made it convenient from a reference point of view.” (Educator working in Public School, work based training and personal tutoring)
Impact of Siyavula on Educators
We asked respondents in what ways, if any, using Siyavula textbooks had impacted on their teaching practice. Whilst some educators did not feel that Siyavula had changed their practice, or had other comments about the materials, there are a number of points of interest to be mentioned here before further analysis is done of these results.
A couple of educators remarked on the sense of connectedness that they felt as a result of using Siyavula materials:
“The teachers book is the same as the learners book and that help so you can see the question as well, and where they found the answers. The video links is great and the blue blocks with advice for the teacher is great. I am so glad I am teaching NS [Natural Sciences], we have the best subject resources available with these books as you can see teachers were assisting in compiling of the book.” (F/T educator in Public School)
“Been more aware of different approaches and been more part of a global community of teachers.” (F/T educator teaching in both Private School and Further Education and Training)
One respondent summarised their experiences, which touch on a number of experiences of other respondents:
“>>> Greater flexibility when it comes to assigning exercises or sections to read through for homework. >>> Having electronic versions is great for sourcing diagrams for tests, exams, notes, worksheets etc. >>> I don’t have to take a set of heavy textbooks home and I can still do prep from home using the electronic versions or on my iPad. >>> Getting involved in proofreading has been a great way to really engage with the content as well as textbook pedagogy.” (F/T educator teaching in Private and Public Schools and Tutoring)
Other respondents noted:
“Taught me how to work with Adobe Pro. We are finally going forward with a paperless classroom, Ipads, SharePoint. This is inspiring! Free, excellent, paperless content – I could sing it is so beautiful!” (F/T educator in Private School)
“Letting kids mark up their textbooks like workbooks is great. Printing textbooks cheaply (bound photocopying can be done really cheaply) and then allowing kids to keep them is good for multi-year courses (rather than handing back the Gr10 book, when the material is examinable in Gr12!) (F/T educator teaching in both Private and Public Schools)
Following this question we asked educators to tell us how likely they were to do a range of activities as a result of using Siyavula textbooks. Highlights include:
- 90.2% of respondents told us they were “more likely” to use other free educational resources for teaching (n=55);*
- Almost 80% of respondents told us they were “more likely” to submit details of any errata/corrections to Siyavula (78.9%, n=45) which perhaps points to feeling a sense of collective responsibility for the resource;
- This interpretation is echoed by the finding that 70.5% of respondents were “more likely” to volunteer on a Siyavula project as a result of using Siyavula materials;
- 90.8% of respondents told us they were more likely to recommend Siyavula textbooks to fellow educators/teachers (n=59);
- Whilst 92.3% of educators told us they would recommend Siyavula textbooks to students as an additional/optional study aid (n=60).
*This question saw the replacement of “OER” for “other free educational resources”. The reason for doing this is that OER is not a well recognised term in South Africa. Also, as part of the survey we wanted to determine what educators understood by open licenses, which was determined at the end of the survey.
These responses are really encouraging and affirm what we are striving to achieve at Siyavula, namely to build a thriving, sharing community around the use of our open resources. This feeds back into our own processes at Siyavula, for example in updating content and building a community of volunteers for the production of new textbooks, it facilitates adoption and spread of open educational resources, it benefits educators as they reflect on their teaching practices and share ideas amongst each other, and most importantly, it breaks down the barriers to education in South Africa, by providing learners with relevant, accessible resources.