CNX2013 at Rice University (Picture Credit: Beck Pitt CC-BY)

CNX2013 at Rice University (Picture Credit: Beck Pitt CC-BY)

Exciting times! I’m currently in Houston and about to head on over to Rice University for CNX2014 tomorrow. I was lucky enough to attend last year’s conference and am returning this year to present some of our research findings on OpenStax College (OSC) textbooks as part of 1 April’s Rapid Fire panel session Efficacy: Are they Learning? with Denise Domizi (UGA) and John Hilton III (BYU). For more info on the conference check out the schedule here.

Over the past year or so I’ve been working with Daniel Williamson of OSC/Connexions to conduct research into the impact of OSC textbooks on both educators and students. To date, we’ve run questionnaires with both user groups and I’ve also interviewed a small number of educators about their use of the textbooks. Work is ongoing and I’m currently focused on creating case studies and looking for examples of impact (from comparative data, e.g. test scores before/after using OSC, to statements from educators about the impact OSC has had on their students).

Here are the preliminary results of the surveys conducted. As you can imagine, there’s quite a lot to report; I’ve therefore split the results into two blog posts with the forthcoming “Part II” examining the student questionnaire responses.


Originally OER Research Hub (OERRH) project work planned to focus on the Connexions platform, with a view to finding out who users were and how they were using OER available on the site. However, with the growing interest and take up of OSC textbooks we switched our focus, scheduling research on Connexions to early 2014, following planned changes to the platform.

As with all of the project’s research, we are looking at the impact of OSC on student performance and satisfaction and what role, if any, the “open” aspect of OER plays in the use and adaptation of this type of resource. In addition, we are also looking at whether use of OER/OSC leads to educator critical reflection/changes in practice and whether adopting OER at an institutional level leads to financial benefits for students and/or institutions.


The questionnaire was advertised to educators as follows: 1) via an OSC adopter email list, 2) via the OpenStax newsletter (incentivised) and 3) through direct introductions to individual educators by OSC. We received 97 useable survey results from these three sources. These responses were filtered according to whether the educator told us they had used, or currently use, OSC textbooks. It is this group of 82 respondents (47 of which are drawn from the adopter email list, 31 from the OSC newsletter survey and 4 from direct introduction) which the following preliminary results focus on.

Over 75% of respondents were male (75.3%, n=61). The majority of respondents live in the United States (86.4%, n=70) with the remainder living in Canada, Singapore, Malaysia and Australia (13.6%, n=11). Over 90% of respondents stated that their highest education qualification was either a Masters degree or PhD/Professional Doctorate (38.3%, n=31 and 54.3%, n=44 respectively).

95.1% of respondents describe themselves (in full or part) as a Classroom Teacher. Almost 60% of respondents told us that they spend at least some of their time working in the HE/University sector (57.3%, n=47) with just under a third of respondents teaching in the K-12 sector (31.75, n=36) and just under a quarter in the college/FE sector (24.4%, n=20). Nearly 70% of survey respondents have been teaching for more than 10 years (67.5%, n=54).

Over 80% of respondents teach Science (82.7%, n=67). Whilst further work is needed to understand the relationship between those who teach a particular subject, use OER in that subject area and create OER in that subject, over three quarters of respondents told us that they use Science related OER (77.8%, n=63) and over a third of respondents create OER in this subject area (34.6%, n=28). The need to examine these results in more detail is highlighted by the second most popular subject choice: Social Science. In this subject area a slightly higher number of educators use Social Science related OER (19.8%, n=16) than teach in that subject area (18.5%, n=15). As might perhaps be expected, however, there appears to be a relationship between the subjects taught by respondents and what OSC textbooks they are using: 61.0% of respondents told us they were using College Physics with their students (n=50) whilst 15.9% told us they were currently using Introduction to Sociology (n=13).

Use of the Internet and Open Educational Resources (OER)

Over 95% of respondents reported accessing the internet during the past three months at work and/or at home via broadband connection (96.3%, n=78 and 95.1%, n=77 respectively). Over 70% of educator respondents who have, or currently use, OpenStax College textbooks accessed the Internet via a tablet computer or iPad (71.6%, n=58) and/or via a smartphone (72.8%, n=59) over this period.  Only 1.2% of respondents reported accessing the Internet via a dial-up connection (n=1).

We asked respondents to tell us what they had done over the past year (response choices ranged from use of particular software packages to online activities such as shopping online or sending an email). Although over 60% of respondents had contributed to a social network such as Facebook (63.0%, n=51) and/or shared an image online (e.g. via Pinterest or Instagram) (60.5%, n=49), a smaller number of respondents reported participation in other types of social media. Just under 15% of respondents had contributed to a Wiki (14.8%, n=12), whilst just over a quarter of respondents had published a blog post (27.2%, n=22). Similarly 17.3% of respondents told us they had used microblogging platforms such as Twitter (n=14). A higher percentage of respondents reported contributing to an Internet Forum in the last year (37.0%, n=30).

Although further analysis of the data is needed, it is of note that whilst 55.6% of people had downloaded a podcast, only 21.0% of respondents had recorded and uploaded their a podcast (n=45 and n=17 respectively). Elsewhere in the survey we asked respondents about the creation and adoption of OER. Whilst over 90% of respondents had adapted OER to fit their needs (92.6%, n=75) and just under half of respondents had created OER for study or teaching (48.1%, n=39) a much smaller number of respondents had created resources themselves and published them on an open license (13.6%, n=11) or added resources to a repository (30.9%, n=25).

The top three challenges faced when using OER were reported as as follows: Finding resources of sufficiently high quality (67.5%, n=54), knowing where to find resources (58.8%, n=47) and not having enough time to look for suitable resources (56.3%, n=45).

OER and Teaching 

The top three types of OER used for teaching/training by respondents were reported as follows: open textbooks (98.8%, n=81), videos (78.0%, n=64) and images (72.0%, n=59). The former (and number one) response is perhaps no surprise considering the filtering of survey responses (e.g. 100% of respondents have or currently use OSC textbooks) although it is of note that one respondent did not associate OSC textbooks with the term “open textbook” (whether a mistake/oversight or for another reason, unfortunately we don’t know why this was the case.)

The top three purposes for using OER in the context of teaching/training were reported as follows: 1) as a supplement to one’s own existing lessons or coursework (96.3%, n=78) 2) to get new ideas and inspiration (81.5%, n=66) and 3) as “assets” (e.g. images) within a classroom lesson (80.2%, n=65). Of note is that a third of educators reported using OER to interest hard-to-engage learners (34.6%, n=28) and a quarter reported that they use OER to make their teaching more culturally diverse (or responsive) (25.9%, n=21).

Almost 90% of respondents thought their students saved money by using OER (89.0%, n=73), whilst almost 60% thought their institution benefited financially by using OER (59.3%, n=48).

OpenStax College Textbooks 

Just over a third of respondents first became aware of OSC textbooks via an internet search (34.6%, n=28) whilst over a quarter of respondents became aware of OSC via a colleague or other recommendation (25.9%, n=21).

Screenshot of Presentation (Photo credit: Beck Pitt, CC-BY)

Screenshot of CNX 2014 Presentation Slide (Beck Pitt, CC-BY)

Although elsewhere in the survey just over a third of respondents told us that they use OER to interest hard-to-engage learners and a quarter of respondents use OER to make their teaching more diverse/responsive, in response to the question shown in the above presentation slide (which I’ll be using at CNX2014), when asked to tell us whether they agreed/disagreed with a variety of statements about OER/OSC textbooks, almost 70% of respondents strongly agreed or agreed that OER allows them to better accommodate diverse learners’ needs. To better understand these responses, more work on the research findings is required.

The Impact of OpenStax College Textbooks on Teaching Practice 

I am currently working on categorising responses to two questions which asked respondents to tell us about the impact of using OSC on their own teaching practice and on their students.

In the instance of the former question, some educators reported no impact on their practice, or told us it was too early in their use of the textbooks to comment on any impact. However, there were a range of impacts on teaching practice noted by other respondents; a selection of these are given below. That OSC textbooks enable educators to be more responsive to their students’ needs is reflected in a number of educators’ responses to this question. One respondent noted:

“I am able to think a little more creatively of what new experiences I can design for my students using resources in the text or other online resources. I think the text is a great foundation, but I don’t feel constrained to shy away from employing other teaching tools for fear they might ask: “Well, if you were going to have us watch this video or do this online tutorial- why did we have to pay $250 for the textbook?””

Elsewhere others similarly commented:

“More satisfying to offer free materials and have the freedom to modify them as I wish, to make the product students receive more like how class operates.”

“I have become more intentional about tailoring my course to my students, having been at least somewhat released from the constraints imposed by the commercial publishing industry”

“Greatly increased my enjoyment in teaching physics as I can personalize lessons to match my own interests and our lab facilities…”

Other responses to this question include:

“I feel that I am now part of a larger body of teachers in the international context who are teaching the same topic with the same or modified text…”

“I appreciate the resources that OpenStax provides (e.g. PPT, quiz questions, videos) as well as the ease with which I can quickly find a full chapter written on a topic I am teaching or a very specific topic, along with media. I also really like to expose my students to other images and tables in addition to their textbooks’ images, and OpenStax allows me to do this without worrying about copyrights. I find myself comparing my lecture notes that I am about to present to my students with OpenStax books, and am gaining an interest in developing more and more OERs myself.”

“I am able to do many more in-class activities, hand-on engagement with the “concepts” of the course AND I can feel good about insisting on students reading and engaging with the text, when I know that cost is eliminated as a limiting factor for students.”

Looking for examples of impact on practice elsewhere in the survey, it is worth reporting responses to several of the activities we asked respondents to tell us whether they were more or less likely to do, following use of OSC textbooks. Over 90% of respondents told us they were more likely to make OSC textbooks the required text for students (91.1%, n=72). Over three quarters of respondents told us they were more likely to use other OER for teaching as a result of using OSC textbooks (77.9%, n=60) whilst over 80% of educators who have used/are using OSC textbooks are more likely to discuss using OSC materials with their institution’s administrators (81.0%, n=64). Over 40% of respondents also told us they were more likely to remix OSC textbooks using the Connexions platform (42.9%, n=33) following use of OSC materials.

NB. The top three responses from students are in red font on the above slide. Please note, however, that students were not asked to rate their agreement with similar statements but instead asked to check/tick the options they felt applied to them. For more on the student questionnaire look out for Part II of this post!

Educators’ Perceptions of the Impact of OpenStax College Textbooks on Students 

Regarding their perception of the impact of OSC textbooks on their students, educators again had a range of responses. A preliminary analysis of remarks/comments reveals that financial savings was most frequently referenced (by 56.0%, n=42 of educators), followed by just under 30% of respondents noting the accessibility/flexibility of materials (29.3%, n=22). For example:

“It saves all 800 students per year about $120. One student told me that she had to work 15 hours for each book that she has to buy. That really put it in perspective.”

“They are free, so they definitely save money. They are online, so we save trees. They are accessible anytime, anywhere there is Internet, so they do not need to carry them around. Also, they can never go for the `I left it at home` excuse …”

“The resource gave them a sound understanding of the topic and they were able to do self-directed study from it. The result is that seniors have excelled in their exams.”

Whilst these (and other) comments are great examples of the types of impact OSC textbooks have had, it is useful to examine respondents’ comments for any evidence that it is “open” rather than “digital” which makes a difference. Whilst cost savings are one benefit highlighted by survey respondents, it is also of note that several educators referenced the way in which OSC textbooks gave students the opportunity for earlier and/or continued use of study materials. I have cited three such responses below. Further research into what kinds of (if any) impact results from earlier/continued access to resources in comparison with other materials is needed. For example, does earlier access to study materials (as students don’t have to save up or wait for funding) lead to better performance? Moreover, does continued access to learning resources (rather than, for example, an online textbook available for a set period of access) lead to better grades/more interest in one’s subject etc. both within the context of current and future studies?

“They have the book as a resource after leaving class.  With another text they would most likely sell it back…”

“Increased reading of the textbook, and a portable textbook that can go with them for review. Unlike other e-textbooks, this one can stay with them.”

“They are able to access the textbook and start doing homework immediately rather than being delayed until weeks after the start of the course due to lack of finances.”

More to follow shortly!