Things have been quiet this winter as our teachers have worked hard with their students and the BYU team has been working hard on several projects. We are nearing completion of a paper that addresses the cost portion of what we are studying. It has been interesting to dig into the literature and data about costs associated with OER textbooks and traditional textbooks. We’ve also learned a lot about the textbook adoption process, how school districts pay for their textbooks, and a lot of other good, nitty gritty information.
We’ve also become interested in teacher empowerment and how this project relates to the ongoing conversation about it. Teacher empowerment has been a significant part of educational reform discussions for a few decades and there have been some interesting conversations about curriculum development and teacher empowerment as well as how much an empowered teacher can strengthen a school and its students’ education.
When we’re finished with our analysis of the costs associated with printing textbooks in our OER pilot study, then we hope to delve a lot deeper into student learning and teacher empowerment as both topics are very interesting and relevant.
The week before Thanksgiving Tiffany and Shelley went to visit some teachers and see how the textbooks were working for the students. Two teachers were kind enough to let us come in and observe how students were using the textbooks and ask the students some questions.
The first class they visited had the option of using the textbook on an iPad or using the paper version we printed for them at the beginning of the year. That day the teacher was giving a lesson on highlighting and writing notes using the iPad. He showed the students how to do it, had them follow along and then had them look up specific genetics vocabulary words to highlight and make notes on. As he was showing students how to write a note in the margin of their digital textbook one of the students exclaimed in excitement, “I wish our regular textbooks could do this!” The teacher smiled and said “Oh they can.” He then described how you can take a highlighter and drag it across the page to highlight a section and then write a note in the margin.
As Shelley and Tiffany watched the students in both classes work and asked questions, they continually heard the other students echo the same sentiment. They kept saying how useful it was that they could write in their science textbooks and that they wished they could write in other textbooks too. Several of them talked about how it helped them group ideas (many students highlighted with multiple colors and assigned specific colors to specific ideas) and others talked about how it helped them work through difficult concepts.
Tiffany asked students what other courses they would like to have write-able textbooks in. Math was the overwhelming consensus with other science classes close behind. One student also mentioned how much it would help in her music theory class.
When Shelley went into the classroom, she had been skeptical that students would write in their textbooks and she was pleased to find that students were writing and marking up the textbooks a lot. And when she asked them if they were marking it up in response to teacher assignments, they gave her funny looks and explained that they did it on their own for their own learning.
For the next steps in the study, the BYU team will identify what constructs they want to measure and put together questions to get at those constructs. They’ll spend more time in the classrooms with students and teachers and get more information about how students are using the textbooks.
Last week we had a very exciting teacher meeting. Besides getting to see each other again, we talked about how the students have been responding to their textbooks, how technology is working in the classrooms, and what questions we are interested in asking the students and the parents about this project.
The students have responded well to their new textbooks. We discussed some of the pedagogical reasons that the teachers made the choices they did and it seems as if the students are excited to hear the new reading and learning strategies that the teachers have planned. One of the ideas we talked about is student ownership of the textbook and student ownership of learning. Do students feel more ownership when they get to write in and keep their own textbook? Do they feel more ownership of their learning when their book was customized for them and they get to further customize it by writing in it and highlighting it?
Tracy shared an experience with us that when she asked her students to answer the questions at the end of the chapter, one of her students voiced a concern that she hadn’t brought her notebook and she didn’t know where to write the answers. Tracy explained that the students were supposed to write their answers in the books–in the margins. She got stunned looks from students and it took them a few minutes to get used to the idea. Once students do get used to writing in their books, might they start taking notes in their books, tracking their thoughts, or asking their own questions?
Several of the teachers participating are having their students use the textbooks online–with PCs or iPads–and using online note-taking applications (i.e. diigo). Even though it has only been a few weeks, it seems as if the students are taking to the new technology well.
As we discussed what we are interested in knowing from students and parents, we discussed many of the specifics that we are interested in knowing.
How might online interactivity change the way students use a textbook?
Does online availability change the way parents are involved with student learning?
Does a smaller, more customized textbook change the way students perceive it and its contents?
Will the students engage in the textbook and in their learning on a deeper level since they have ownership of their textbooks?
In what ways are students using the textbook that they haven’t before?
Are students reading the textbook more this year than previous years?
Do students feel like this years textbook is more ‘useful’ than previous years’ textbooks?
For those students with no physical textbook, how do the parents feel about that?
For those students whose teacher highly customized and even wrote the textbook, how do parents feel about that?
Do the parents notice a higher level of student engagement with the textbook and the course?
These questions gave us a good idea of what our teachers are interested to know. As we get closer to our data gathering, we will use these thoughts to craft the questions we want to ask and to learn more about how the open textbooks are affecting the schools.
For some of our teachers school has just started and for others, it will begin in the next few days. Over the last few weeks we’ve been frantically trying to get everything printed on time but alas it hasn’t happened quite like we imagined. Several of our books are still out to the printers and most of them are already printed, sitting, and waiting for binders to arrive. It has been interesting to try and juggle all of the different printing options that we made available. We’ve printed and delivered “starter kits” for teachers to get going, and will be delivering completed books soon.
Some of the teachers decided to go with regular paper 3-hole punched and loaded into a 3-ring binder, and others chose to print a more traditional textbook-look by printing it paperback with a ‘perfect bind.’ Unfortunately there was some confusion about the technical terms in book binding and what exactly they meant. There were also unforeseen delays in ordering binders and in getting the manuscripts completely prepared. In the future, having fewer options (perhaps even dictating what kind of printing a teacher will get) could eliminate confusion and make the process go better. Furthermore, misunderstandings and disappointment is also less likely with fewer choices.
On the other hand, teachers make the choices they make for pedagogical reasons. It would be interesting to look at questions surrounding learning, pedagogy, and book binding. Do teachers and students use their textbooks differently depending on what form they take? Do they use a loose-leaf 3-ring binder textbook differently from one that is perfect-bound? What pedagogical goals are teachers considering when they make the decisions about how they want their books bound? What difference do they think it will make to the students and will it make a difference to the students in the end? –All interesting questions for further research.
On August 9, 2010 we convened the second meeting of participating teachers. Having had a month to dig into their textbooks and the adaptation process, we were excited to see the progress teachers had made. It was incredible!
For example, the teachers working on adapting the Chemistry textbook reported on their work. They began with the stock CK-12 chemistry book which is an extremely thorough 1200 pages long! They then went through the book, pulling out material they didn’t need. They next searched the web for other open educational resources, inserting supplemental material directly into the textbook as they found what they were looking for. The end result: a 100% Utah-specific textbook, tailored precisely to the needs of these teachers’ students, that is less than 250 pages long! It looks like printing this book in paperback form will cost just over $5.
What happens when you empower teachers with open educational resources? First, you end up with a highly customized textbook. Second, you end up with a teacher who has read every word of the textbook she is using. Third, you save a huge amount of money. How will student learning be affected? That’s what we’re going to find out…
On July 8-9, 2010, we held the first teacher training sessions for the project. Neeru Khosla and other members of the CK-12 team came to the BYU campus for the two days. David Wiley of BYU opened the training by teaching about open educational resources, what they are, what they allow us to do, and why they’re important, and provided an overview of the project. Tiffany Hall (also of BYU) provided training on active learning strategies that can be employed with textbooks. Neeru Khosla and her team then provided nuts-and-bolts training on the CK-12 system. Teachers spent the second day digging into the CK-12 books and beginning the adaptation process, with CK-12 folks on hand to provide support when we ran into technical issues.
Overall, the first training was a great success. Everyone left energized about the project, empowered by the idea of actually being in control of their textbook, and with a good understanding of the CK-12 system.