In recent years, I have been involved in groups at Kirkwood that are interested in free resources for students. These include open educational resources (OER) as well as other articles, videos, and websites that students can access at no cost.

Currently in Introduction to Psychology, I require students to purchase access to a program called LaunchPad that goes with our textbook. LaunchPad includes a variety of online resources to help students learn the material in the textbook, such as videos, adaptive quizzes, simulations, and surveys. The program costs about $55 for the semester and includes an e-book. Most students also choose to purchase a loose-leaf copy of the textbook for another $20.

In attempting to lower the costs that students in this course incur, I have been reviewing free resources over the past few semesters. The most common choice among people in my field is Noba, which is a set of about 100 online modules on various topics in psychology that instructors can arrange as they wish. The modules are published under a Creative Commons license and are available at no cost to instructors and students.

In terms of video supplements, the people behind the Crash Course series have recently produced a set of videos called Crash Course Psychology.

The common perception is that students are concerned about money to the extent that they would appreciate not having to buy a textbook or online code in order to complete their coursework. To test this idea with my students in Introduction to Psychology, I offered them an extra credit opportunity that involved watching a 10-minute video from Crash Course Psychology, then taking a quiz. The quiz included several fact-based questions on the video, then three open-ended questions on their reactions. The questions and a sample of student responses for each appear below.

Although students had varying responses to the questions, I was surprised by the number of students who reported: (a) little concern about the cost of the materials they had purchased for this course, (b) finding LaunchPad to be valuable and/or enjoyable for their learning, and (c) potential downsides to eliminating the paid resources in the course. Regarding the last point, students brought up the fact that they can carry around a paper textbook even when they don’t have internet access, can easily flip back and forth between sections, can mark it up, and can use the embedded quizzes and review pages to reinforce their learning.

My tentative conclusion is that at least for this course, the paid resources are providing value and students assess their purchase as necessary for their learning. I feel a twinge of guilt during the first week of each semester when I explain the items that students need to purchase. This sense of guilt pushes me to use the paid resources fully to ensure that students are getting their money’s worth. But there are always one or two students per class who never purchase the required materials and thus, fail to complete the course. Money may not be the only issue for these students, but it would be nice if I could somehow offer free access to students who could not afford to purchase the materials.

For another perspective on this topic, Regan A. R. Gurung wrote a blog post for the Society for the Teaching of Psychology: He describes a study which found that introductory psychology students using OER materials scored lower on a cumulative test than students using traditional purchased textbooks.

Question: What did you think about the pace of the episode? Did it move too fast or too slow, or was it just right? Explain your response.

Sample Responses:

I did not mind the pace of the episode, I thought I could follow along easily and retained the information. I am also very familiar with crash course videos so the fast pace is something I am now used to.

I did believe the video was a bit fast, however, I paused the video when I needed to take notes and because it is only a ten minute episode there is a lot of material to cover, thoroughly.

I think the episode moved at a good pace. If the episode slowed down, people might be able to remember more things, but those same people will probably get bored and not finish the video, hence missing lots of information.

The pace of the episode was very fast. I paused the video to take notes, and the cue cards on screen helped, but other times it was simply difficult to track what the speaker was saying.

The pace of the video was way too fast. I wanted to take notes and had to pause and replay it. I would rather watch the video even though I have to watch it twice because it goes too fast, but it actually makes it more interesting you pay more attention and its not so boring as reading is.

Question: The content of this episode covered the same material that is discussed in about 5 pages of Chapter 9, and about 5 pages in Chapter 10. For those readings, would you rather read the pages in the textbook, or watch this 10-minute video? Explain your response.

Sample Responses:

I feel like you should give people options, some people do not like crash course videos and some do. I would like to just watch the video and then just review the chapter in the book by going over the power point.

I liked watching the video better than reading. I like the visuals that the video provides, and I’m able to stay focused better during the video than reading out of the textbook. It is also a different way to learn than just reading out of the textbook.

I think that a book is necessary in this class because even when it is boring you can refer to it at any time and place. You do not need internet.

I would rather read the pages. It helps me to move over material at my own pace. Also, the worry of missing a point, or not knowing which points are emphasized (as they would be by the book’s review, vocab, and self-testing sections) stressed me out a little.

In terms of content that will most likely appear on the test, I would personally rather read the textbook because I wouldn’t have to rewind if I missed notes, and I also wouldn’t have to worry about internet issues.

Question: What if the Introduction to Psychology course that you are taking didn’t require a textbook at all, and used many videos similar to this one? You would save money, but you wouldn’t have a book to refer to or any LaunchPad activities. Do you think that would make the course better or worse? Explain your response.

Sample Responses:

I think that switching the content to strictly videos rather than having some reading material would have a negative impact on the course. Launchpad has helped tremendously in this class for me. I like having to do those because I understand the course materials better than I would from a video. A video is nice change of pace in terms of learning, but I would much rather see the course continue as it is.

Honestly, it wouldn’t be too bad. It would be nice to save that money, but I enjoy having a book to see and use as a reference especially for LaunchPad activities. I think it would also be difficult for Discussions because how you have our discussions set up is watching a video and you would have to watch another video for a reference. Also watching a video would take a lot more time of stopping it to take notes, rewinding to go back and relisten to what is being said. You have a lot of activities and assignments based around the book, it would be time consuming for you to create a new lesson plan.

I think it would make the course better. As they cover the main points of everything that we need to know rather then read through book and risk forgetting information because there is so much extra information in the book. I also think it would be good to still have access to an online book just for any extra things.

I think Launch Pad is a great learning tool, so I think without the launch pad this course would be way more difficult. I like how we have the book and launch pad. Crash course videos are not the only way I personally believe you should learn psychology because there is a lot of information you learn and it builds on each other.

I think that at the moment, switching to videos would not be beneficial. Even though the videos are more interesting to learn from, it is always nice to be able to check back in the book for things you have questions over. It is very hard to scroll through a video to find the information you need, when it is fairly simple on how you can find information in the book.

If we only had videos for the class we would provably save some money in books but will have to pay for internet, laptop etc. I think that just having the videos in the class would make it worse. videos are just a small complement for activities.

While I liked the video I think I would miss not having the textbook because I enjoy having a resource to look back on. For the launch pad activities I enjoy using my textbook to look back on and if I did not have that option I think I would feel less confident.

This blog post was authored by Judith Wightman, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Kirkwood Community College.  She is also a Professional Development Fellow  for KCELT (Kirkwood’s Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching).

2 thoughts on “Reflections on Student Reactions to Paid and Free Course Materials

  1. Hi Judith: Thanks so much for sharing your reflection and student insight! I have a comment/question about the use of Launchpad.

    My students also have access to a Launchpad platform called Learning Curve (adaptive quizzing) as part of their book purchase and I’ve honestly had mixed reactions to using it. First week of classes – inevitably, some students lose the paper with the Launchpad code on it. It looks like a receipt. There is NO WAY to retrieve this information expect through a few long, painful phone calls among the vendor/student/me to prove book purchase. Of course, one can argue that this problem is on the students, but the vendor doesn’t provide ways to solve the problem easily. Second, my students tends to enjoy Launchpad as a supplement to the textbook but user/admin dashboards are not user friendly – IMHO. Also related to UX – last year I could not integrate the platform within Talon – supposedly you can this year – but I still don’t know how and I’m scared to mess up things for my students so I keep them separate. Sorry this post turned into a rant, and I’ll certainly claim some potential user error on my part!

    Thanks again for sharing Judith. How are your experiences with Launchpad? Hopefully better than mine.


  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Theresa! I’ve tried different approaches with these codes over the years, and have found that things go better when I:
    1. Require the code and assign many points to the online activities (students tend to be resentful when they buy something and didn’t really need to).
    2. Go over the book and code use on the first day of class. I make a big deal out of not unwrapping shrink wrap until students are sure this is the class for them, and I encourage them to never throw away any paper that comes with a textbook (including the receipt!).
    3. Call the publisher from the classroom with the student right there to resolve technical issues (they can do this on their own, but I don’t mind helping by placing the call, then handing the phone to the student).
    4. Getting the deep embedding thing to work in Talon so that the grade book updates automatically (I agree this is not easy, but it does eventually work).
    I was talking to a textbook rep the other day, and he said it may be possible to add the cost of the online resources to the student’s tuition, such that we would have a site license for the online program within that section. This would help with issue 2 and 3, as the student would not need to enter a code.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.