The Impact of Open Textbooks on Secondary Science Learning Outcomes

It is well-known that the cost of many k-12 textbooks is extremely high and, consequently, constitute a serious financial burden for numerous pupils and their families. Not surprisingly the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement whose goal is to increase the usage of freely available teaching, learning and research materials is growing in importance and popularity. Such free resources might be textbooks, modules, videos, software, tests and a variety of other openly accessible course materials.

Recently T. Jared Robinson, Lane Fischer, David Wiley, and John Hilton III published the article “The Impact of Open Textbooks on Secondary Science Learning Outcomes” in Educational Researcher, 2014 43: 341. This article discussed the educational outcome of the usage by 4,183 students and 43 teachers from the Nebo School District in Utah of open science textbooks.

Given the increasing costs associated with commercial textbooks and decreasing financial support of public schools, it is important to better understand the impacts of open educational resources on student outcomes. The purpose of this quantitative study is to analyze whether the adoption of open science textbooks significantly affects science learning outcomes for secondary students in earth systems, chemistry, and physics.

This study uses a quantitative quasi-experimental design with propensity score matched groups and multiple regression to examine whether student learning was influenced by the adoption of open textbooks instead of traditional publisher produced textbooks. Students who used open textbooks scored .65 points higher on end-of-year state standardized science tests than students using traditional textbooks when controlling for the effects of 10 student and teacher covariates. Further analysis revealed statistically significant positive gains for students using the open chemistry textbooks, with no significant difference in student scores for earth systems of physics courses. Although the effect size of the gains were relatively small, and not consistent across all textbooks, the finding that open textbooks can be as effective or even slightly more effective than their traditional counterparts has important considerations in terms of school district policy in a climate of finite educational funding.