Research on Student Perceptions of Professors who Assign OER Textbooks

The December 2022 Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy offered papers on the theme of Open Educational Resources, likely of interest in this community.

It’s also fitting that this issue is published by OEG Member CUNY on the open Manifold publishing platform.

I cannot help being drawn in by a clever title! In Don’t Judge a Book—But What about the Professor Who Assigned the Book?, Randi Shedlosky-Shoemaker summarizes research conducted on introduction to psychology students to gauge their perception of hypothetical professors who exercised different options for assigning textbooks:

With the cost of higher education becoming increasingly scrutinized, and specifically, attention being paid to non-tuition costs like textbooks, digital open-educational resources (OER) offer a potential pathway to no- and low-cost course materials. While professors might encounter several concerns related to adopting any OER in their class, less is known about how students perceive the professor’s decision to opt for OER. Limited existing research suggests that assigning open-source textbooks should afford professors positive evaluations from students. The current study aims to replicate and extend upon previous experimental research comparing students’ perceptions of professors based on their textbook choices—specifically, whether they use a low-cost OER or a high-cost traditional textbook, and whether they choose to modify that book or use it as is. Drawing on responses from 153 participants recruited from an undergraduate introductory psychology course and representing a range of majors, findings from the current study provide partial support for previous research, suggesting that professors who use OER might be seen as committed to accessibility. Adding to the existing body of research, the current study finds that modifying the textbook perhaps affords even more positive evaluations from students, including whether participants saw the professor as caring, supportive of students, enthusiastic about teaching, and committed to student learning.

This seems like an interesting perspective on looking at OER impact beyond cost savings. Perhaps one might quibble about how extensible the results are from methodology and/or sample size. Or whether it is viable to compare hypothetical situations.

But I am no research specialist- what do you think about the study, the results? Should we engage in a future series of discussions around papers/projects?

If anything I hope there is some interest in the other papers in this JITP issue.

1 Like

Colleagues of mine here at ISKME published a paper in the issue, Five Faculty and Library Curation Personas to Aid OER Discovery Solutions. I recommend you check it out!

1 Like

Hiya - I think I like that research methodology while recognizing its limitations. Sample is very limited to students of a particular discipline in a particular context.

I wonder if students’ past experiences of actual OER adoption and adaptation can make a huge difference?

But also: I never understood how we can make blanket statements about any of this stuff. What I mean is, for any given course, there are possibly 4 or 5 possible textbooks of varying prices. Of those 4 of 5 textbooks, we probably want to compare them on a number of factors, right? So price being one, but also accessibility of the language, quality of case studies, examples, supporting materials, visuals, etc., and how diverse it is in terms of representation of different countries/cultures. These are just criteria I would use for an education book, but may be different for different subjects and contexts.

My question is: how can someone make a judgment about whether “the OER” (possibly one among several OERs) is better than the expensive one without looking at the particular books available for this course at this level in this context.

For example, I work at the American University in Cairo. We use so many US textbooks that aren’t contextualized to Egypt. But neither will OER probably be. Now, at least we could adapt the OER, right? But some books have “Middle East versions” co-authored by professors from the region and priced reasonably. Those would be a better choice for the local professors who don’t have time, digital literacies or expertise to adapt an OER.

You know what I mean?

Sorry if I’m saying something really obvious, because I also haven’t read the article and don’t know if all those who research OER address those nuances…

1 Like

Thanks for jumping in to a conversation here, Maha. I’d agree that students experiences or even awareness are factors to be or have been considered.

The rationale for the course being in intro psychology is that is a course students from many disciplines take as an elective so it is not strictly discipline specific. Hah I remember that course as a science major where we had to sign up to participate in research studies as participants.

The issues you raise of contextually out of place textbooks are important too. Ideally I’d like to think this raises potential to learn by being critical of readings not just accepting as authority. Ideally.

What interested me in this paper (which I read was that it was not focused on comparing the quality of commercial versus open textbooks, not that one was better or not, but what the practice of an instructor who chooses either one means to students perception of their teacher, the dynamic of the student/teacher/course relationship.

Whether the results of a focused study can be generalized is always a question, but maybe there is more to it than trying to derive a conclusion but just the process of questioning can open understanding (?).

I wonder, though, if the characteristics of a teacher who chooses an open textbook intersect with other elements (like being a risk taker or innovator, or caring about students’ finances, or some other attitudes?). But this here is a theoretical teacher. And these students… had they experienced OER before? I should read the paper!

I am totally happy to read case study research and learn from the depth of the work then see what I can transfer to other contexts. I find that much more useful than a large scale decontextualized study with stats. So it wasn’t about the small numbers or specificity of the context only, but just that the choice of using open or not feels more nuanced… but this study focuses on student attitudes - and they won’t know necessarily why their teacher chose OER or not.

I’d say there are always multiple characteristics / factors that go into a non-hypothetical teacher’ choice. This feels like looking at a nice simply onion on the kitchen counter and just finding more to it when peeling it open.

I would enjoy it to open up more research studies and peel together here, more than the social media scale of “check out my onion!” posts :wink: How do we move that along?