Adopting an Open Psychology Textbook at Chemeketa

By | August 28, 2015

This post was contributed by Adam Privitera, Psychology Program Chair and EXITO Faculty Coordinator, Chemeketa Community College.

Understanding the problem

The psychology department at Chemeketa knew that textbook prices had increased to the point where it was unsustainable for students to purchase them.  However, our department didn’t initially consider an open textbook as the solution. We had (and still have) a high opinion of the book we were using: Psychology by David Myers, $199.99 in hardcover. We also weren’t sure where to begin if we were interested in an OER.

At first we considered ways to make the traditional textbook work. We could have reduced the cost of our current textbook by going with the cheapest print option available for the same high-quality content: loose-leaf, unbound, at $129.99. After much discussion, though, we were unable to agree on this option because of concerns that students might prefer a more durable hardcover book.

So I went directly to my Introduction to Psychology students in order to find out whether our beliefs about their preferences were accurate. I ran an optional, anonymous survey on textbook attitudes with 56 participants. The findings echoed those of the 2012 Florida Virtual Campus survey, with my data showing that:

  • Over 98% of students agreed that textbooks were too expensive.
  • Fewer than 12% felt the usefulness of the textbook justified the cost.
  • 33% of students said they couldn’t afford to purchase the textbook, with 19% indicating that they felt they would have done better in the course if they could have purchased it.
  • 56% of students who bought the book felt their grade would have suffered if they didn’t purchase it.
  • 87% of students said they would buy the cheapest available textbook, regardless of format (hardcover, softcover, loose-leaf).

Annually, we enroll around 3,000 students in a section of our introductory series (PSY 201 or 202). If all of these students bought the textbook new, that adds up to a staggering $587,970.60 a year for a book that the majority of our students didn’t feel was worth the money, assuming they could even afford to purchase it!

It was clear that something more had to be done in order to help students succeed in this class. We could potentially save an estimated $210,000 per year by switching to the looseleaf, but we wanted to go further. Chemeketa has strong campus support for OER, which the psychology department tapped for the next phase of our campaign.

Working Toward a Solution

As a first step, I decided to attend more local conferences in order to network with faculty who might be in a similar situation. I discovered the NOBA project at the Teaching Introductory Psychology Northwest Conference.

NOBA didn’t have resources tailored for a community-college level intro class, though, so there would be some work involved in adapting the existing resources to our needs. After talking with Peter Lindberg, Project Manager at NOBA, I realized that adapting an OER to Chemeketa in the near future was a realistic goal because there were a number of lines of support. NOBA is a nonprofit supported by the Diener Education Fund, which means that I will be able to apply for grant money to supplement investments of time and money made by my college. More than that, I wasn’t alone in the project – Peter and the NOBA community have provided invaluable help.

When initially reviewing NOBA prior to my decision to adapt the content for an OER text for Chemeketa I reviewed the content in a way that was similar to how I reviewed textbooks in the past. There are a few very important sections that are often not presented well in introductory textbooks (e.g. biological psychology, research methods, etc.) that I first evaluate when reviewing a text.

Beyond this informal review, I evaluated NOBA using a rubric developed by the University of Minnesota’s Open Textbook Library:

  1. Comprehensiveness – NOBA provides dozens of modules covering every facet of introductory psychology including a variety of newer topics not currently found in commercial publisher textbooks. Navigating these modules is extremely easy using the detailed table of contents. These tables are customized depending on what the instructor chooses to include in their custom version of NOBA.
  2. Content Accuracy – Modules provided to NOBA are proofread and edited to ensure the highest level of accuracy and scientific objectivity. Each module provides accessible, exciting, unbiased coverage of a topic. Citations provided for stated research findings were accurate.
  3. Relevance/Longevity – The update schedule that NOBA has in place ensures that all material is relevant. One of the benefits of the module organization is that entire new modules can be created in light of new discoveries or subfield creations. The modular design also allows for easy access to specific topics if they need updating.
  4. Clarity – One of the first things that attracted me to NOBA was how clearly written each module is. The style is appropriate for a student that is new to the field of psychology. New terms, when introduced, are defined to prepare students for completing course readings without being left behind.
  5. Consistency – The design of the different modules is universal and doesn’t require students to have to relearn how to read each module simply because the author has changed. Terms introduced in different modules, if referenced elsewhere, are consistent.
  6. Modularity – The entirety of NOBA is provided in a module format. This not only provides a realistic and digestible reading load for the student but can also allow for a faculty member building a custom edition to have more control over specific topics that are included.
  7. Organization/Structure/Flow – The organization of the NOBA materials are comparable to any commercial publisher book. Introductory topics are covered before specific focal points are introduced although this flow could be changed if an instructor wanted to do so with a custom edition. Within each module content is scaffolded so engaged students are eventually able to achieve the stated module outcomes (provided by NOBA).
  8. Interface – Readability of content is very high with a low level of distraction. This in maintained on mobile platforms as well. I was also informed that special editing was done in order to allow for a print version to maintain the same accessible interface.
  9. Grammatical Errors – During my review of different modules, I was unable to find any significant grammatical errors.
  10. Cultural Relevance – Given the diverse group of authors that have contributed modules to NOBA it isn’t a surprise that a wide range of topics are covered from a variety of different viewpoints. There are also entire modules dedicated to cultural difference as well as upcoming modules on the subject as well. The cultural relevance is permeated throughout each module in a way that doesn’t seem superficial. Diverse viewpoints are introduced authentically and openly in a way that maintains the flow of each module.

Implementing the Solution

After a discussion with the other Chemeketa psychology faculty and our division dean, I began to edit and adapt a version of NOBA for a pilot run during the fall 2015 term. We plan to introduce this new resource in a few sections of PSY 201 in order to have a traditional textbook group for comparison. We developed a timeline for complete adoption of an OER text in all introductory psychology courses:

    • Fall 2015
      • 3 sections of PSY 201 (2 face-to-face, 1 online) pilot custom OER.
      • Students take general assessment at the end of the course and compared to students using traditional textbook.
      • Students take exit survey to assess response to new OER text.
      • Interested faculty review OER text.
    • Winter 2016
      • Increase number of PSY 201 sections using OER.
      • 1-2 sections of PSY 202 (face-to-face) pilot custom OER.
      • Students in PSY 202 sections take general assessment at the end of the course and compared to students using traditional textbook.
      • Students take exit survey to assess response to new OER text.
    • Spring 2016
      • Increase number of PSY 201/202 sections using OER.
      • Students take exit survey to assess response to new OER text.
    • Summer 2016
      • Develop maintenance plan.
    • Fall 2016
      • Full adoption of PSY 201/202 OER.

Looking Ahead: Sustainability

Among our biggest concerns when adapting an OER for a course of this scope is the ability to update the resource in a timely and cost-efficient manner. One of the convenient features of a commercial-publisher textbook is that the editors regularly update it every few years; few OERs are updated regularly. In order for us to feel as though we can adopt a long-term OER solution for our college, we must establish a self-sustaining updating plan.

Fortunately, NOBA has an update schedule in place that is geared towards keeping materials current, accessible, and culturally sensitive. Most modules are updated by their authors twice a year, either by editing current material or by developing entirely new modules. In the event of a huge controversy or new finding in the field of psychology (e.g. the APA’s role in CIA interrogation) updates are made much faster to ensure that those materials are available to users. NOBA also solicits readability and usability feedback from users to incorporate into updates.

Following in the footsteps of commercial publishers, our updates will likely take place on a 3-year cycle, taking into account the content changes provided by NOBA. Additionally, the updating cycles will be staggered to provide a more manageable workload for faculty involved. Taking into consideration that PSY 201 is the first course to launch with our OER, it will be the first to be updated in 2018, followed by PSY 202 in 2019. Finalized plans will be written into our department unit plan to ensure that the college as a whole is tracking on our process.

Given the small number of full-time faculty in our department (four), it would be unreasonable to expect that a single faculty member could update all content without course offerings being compromised. Part of the process of adapting an OER for our department will involve building an updating plan that involves all full-time faculty and potentially part-time faculty as well. This allows for a diverse range of experiences and professional areas of expertise to make their way into the OER, while providing a student-centered, collaborative project for all departmental faculty to take ownership of.

Finally, we are faced with the real question of how we will financially support the maintaining and updating of an OER for our PSY 201/202 courses. Our department dean has been extremely encouraging throughout this entire process and has provided needed support throughout. This project, however, will involve resources invested for the long term in order to ensure that materials are up-to-date and of the highest quality. There are a number of ways the department can explore financial support including workload adjustment, adjunct contracts, payment for extra projects, and applying for outside grants. It is unclear which path will be the best fit for this project and we expect to work closely with college administration to ensure that this project is a sustainable success.

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