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The online text and the flipped class November 29, 2017

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, physics, teaching.
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I ran into an issue earlier this year when I discovered that the ISBN I’d given to the bookstore for one of my classes was incorrect.  I thought I had provided the number for the full book but it turns out that it was only volume 2.  Since I figured this out a week before class and several students had already purchased the book, I felt like it was too late to go back and ask them to get volume 1 separately (which, I will also add, was a bit more expensive).

I decided this was a perfect time to try an online textbook and see how it went.  I thought this was particularly nice since it was free and no one could say they didn’t have the book.  While there are many advantages to the book, overall I’ve not been happy with it.

The first issue is that, as much as I hate to admit it, the published textbooks are a lot more comprehensive and rigorous.  They provide better overall explanations and the quantity and quality of example problems is much better.

The second and bigger issue, which may be somewhat specific to my class, is that online textbooks don’t really work well in class.  I teach a flipped class format and usually have students do problems out of the book in groups.  With a textbook, it only takes one person in a group to have a textbook, and that seems to work fine.  If they don’t have the tools to work the problems, they can go back into the text and find the answers.

With an online textbook, this process is more of a hassle.  First, only students who have laptops with them can access the book.  This is actually a fairly small percentage of my students (less than a 1/4), and depending on how they are arranged, there may be several groups without a laptop available.  I’ve started printing out the problems and making copies for each group.  The other difficulty is that students don’t have a place to look things up.  While some of my students take copious notes of the readings before class, that is also about a quarter of the class, and the rest don’t have any resources if they don’t have notes or a laptop/phone.

There are a couple positives to the online book, the primary one being that it’s free and so students aren’t going to be coughing up $200-$300 for a text.

Accessibility and convenience is not a clear benefit, contrary to what I thought.  The primary issue is that I have a lot of students who travel for sports.  While I thought the text being online would work better, not all of them carry laptops with them when they travel (for good reason).  They will, however, take textbooks with them.  I’d say the convenience issue is actually a draw between textbooks and online texts.

Overall, when I checked with the class, most of the students said they would rather have a regular textbook despite the cost.  That is my preference, as well, but it always helps to get student feedback.  I am not ruling it out for future classes, but I think the quality of the text would have to be substantially better to overlook the inconvenience caused by using it in a class with this format.

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