Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

Online and Campus College Students Like Using an Open Educational Resource Instead of a Traditional Textbook

This paper is published on MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, authored by Brian L. Lindshield and Koushik Adhikari, Kansas State University.

open educational resources, OER


There has been little research on student use and perception of open educational resources that are used to replace traditional textbooks/e-textbooks. The creation of the Kansas State University Human Nutrition Flexbook, and online and campus students’ perceptions and usage of the flexbook, have been reported previously based survey results from a single semester. Results from multiple online and campus semesters are reported in this paper. Both online and campus students rated the flexbook favorably, but online students used the flexbook more frequently, liked the idea of the flexbook more, and rated it as being of higher quality. Online students also liked and used the animations, videos, and links more and liked the appearance and flexibility of the flexbook more than campus students. The majority of students used an electronic flexbook format and more than one flexbook format. The Portable Document Format version, followed by the Google Docs version, were the most commonly used primary formats. Overall, responses across multiple semesters confirm the authors’ original findings that students like using the flexbook instead of a traditional textbook.


The results of this study support the proposition that students are willing to move beyond traditional print textbooks. But before OERs are designed and/or adopted to replace traditional textbooks it is important to have an understanding of what students want from this type of OER. A survey of Florida college students found that from a text they want “unlimited accessibility for multiple devices, an affordable print edition, self-print access to the entire book, and online study aids” (Morris-Babb & Henderson, 2011, p. 149). The flexbook along with course assignments meets all these desires, which might be why students perceive it positively.

The authors believe that the multiple formats available are the primary reason why so many students use electronic formats instead of hard copies of the flexbook. For example, even though the PDF format was the most commonly used, if the other electronic formats were not available, more students who used a different primary format likely would have used a hard copy as their primary format. The ability to use more than one format, which the majority of students indicated they did, might also provide flexibility that contributes to a high number of students using electronic flexbook formats. If other OER textbook replacements provide multiple formats, and unrestricted access to them, it remains to be seen whether they will also find that students primarily use the electronic formats.

While the results reported in this paper suggest that students are willing to accept an OER as a replacement for a traditional textbook, there are barriers that will have to be overcome for widespread use of similar OERs. A majority of both administrators and faculty members indicate that individual faculty members have the primary role in the decision to adopt OER. Difficulty in searching, lack of a comprehensive catalog, and concerns about the time to learn and use were listed as the primary barriers to OER adoption by faculty. In addition most faculty members do not think that their institutions have fair systems of rewarding contributions to digital pedagogy (Allen & Seaman, 2012). In another survey faculty indicated that the biggest barriers are no reward for time or energy invested, no support from administration, and lack of time (Humbert, Rébillard, & Rennard, 2008). Another barrier is that most faculty are not familiar with OERs and do not consider them when deciding what textbook or learning resource(s) to use for their course(s) (Morris-Babb & Henderson, 2011).

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3 Responses »


  1. What is an open educational resource? | BMedSci : Student-led OER on Obesity
  2. Online and Campus College Students Like Using a...

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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
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