I always wince a bit when I do my regular search of my textbooks to see what if anything people are saying and I get a notice of a new scholarly paper that cites my books. These articles usually have a title such as “What Introductory Psychology textbooks get wrong,” or something along those lines. I’m happy to report that we generally do quite well in these analyses, but they still make me super nervous.
Most recently, a search of Cacioppo Freberg brought up a new article by Regan Gurung called “Predicting learning: Comparing an open educational resource and standard textbooks.” My first reaction was “Great! Somebody should have done this a long time ago!” My second reaction was “Oh no! What if we don’t measure up to something free?” So it was with some trepidation that I retrieved the article and hurriedly began to read.
The very good news for us, but not for Noba, is that Gurung’s data make a pretty strong case for the superiority of performance by students using a traditional textbook over OER, whether the materials were in print or electronic form. In addition to Cacioppo Freberg, Gurung included students using Hockenbury, Nolan, and Hockenbury. Gurung controlled for ACT scores and assessed students’ understanding of the two most difficult topics in intro–learning and biopsych. In all cases. performance on the tests was superior for students using standard texts compared to those using OER. Perhaps there is something going on here that is similar to the superior outcomes for people who pay for a gym, weight loss program, or smoking cessation program. Maybe you just take something more seriously when you’ve invested in it.
Standard textbooks have been under fire for their perceived contributions to the cost of higher ed, but in many ways, I think this is unfair. For fun, I did a quick comparison of the percentage of my first year costs at UCLA (1970-1971; and yes, I was paying my own way through school so I know) taken up by textbooks–6%–with the percentage of costs at Cal Poly taken up by textbooks–5%. Hmmm. This is not to say that tuition increases have been reasonable. They are not. But as many have pointed out, the biggest driving factor in cost increases has been a remarkable administrative bloat. Still, I’m happy to see the publishers work on reducing costs to students, especially via electronic sources. The fact that these worked as well as print books in Gurung (2017) helps dispel the “I can’t learn from a screen” phobia many students still face.
Personally, I think textbook choices are a bit like car choices. There should be a range. Some people want a Mercedes, while others are happy with a Honda. But understanding differences in student outcomes should be an important part of that choice process. Gurung (2017) gives us a start in understanding student outcomes, but more research is definitely necessary.
Gurung, R. A. R. (2017). Predicting learning: Comparing an open educational resource and standard textbooks. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 3(3), 233-248.