The Noba Project for Intro to Psychology

When I first began teaching at Kirkwood as an adjunct in January of 2016, I was handed a traditional textbook for the Developmental Psychology section I was teaching at the Linn County Regional Center. As many users of this blog will know, Academy sections like that one have a set textbook used for a few years. A year or so later, when I began to teach non-Academy sections, I largely carried over the textbooks I had used there as a starting point.

However, my background is in educational psychology, and I have a particular interest in the use of innovative technologies and methods in learning, including open educational resources – my dissertation even examined one aspect of OER use among adult learners! In part because of that background, and in part because I was very familiar with the costs associated with my own textbooks as a graduate student, I started in 2017 to look at more affordable options.

It was during that search that I came across the Noba Project, a collaborative effort bringing together scholars from many areas of psychology to provide open-access, free-to-use, Creative Commons-licensed teaching and learning materials. Noba provides a series of short modules on a wide range of psychological topics, from the biological bases of behavior to social influences, and everywhere in between. Instructors can build their own text from the available modules (what I do) or use a pre-made textbook from the project group. Both options are completely free.

Figure highlighting motor strip mapping from the Noba module The Brain and the Nervous System

In the summer of 2017, I first adopted a Noba text for my Introduction to Psychology course, and I have maintained that use in every Intro to Psych section since – though I’ve adjusted the modules I use over time. The flexibility of the Noba Project allows for me to provide a PDF file for students to download and a browser-based version of the text, and it is also possible to embed (through internal resource links) individual modules into specific topic areas within Talon and other learning management systems. In addition, I’ve worked with some folks in the bookstore to make paper copies available (often for ~$30) for those students who prefer to have a physical book.

Noba’s demonstration of opponent processes in visual perception – stare at the image above for 15-30 seconds, and then shift your gaze to a white background. From the Sensation and Perception module.

Noba is a great option for getting started with OERs in psychology thanks to an easy learning curve and a simple transition from a textbook model. I know one concern that a lot of instructors have in switching is the availability of quizzes, review questions, and the like. One great benefit of Noba’s resources is that registered educators can access pre-made quizzes, lecture notes, assignments, and other traditional instructor resources, while your students can still see and use images and videos that are provided as learning tools within the modules.

The Noba Project model is one that I firmly believe could be useful in nearly any field. It combines what I see as the biggest positives of traditional textbooks (built-in resources, relatively frequent updates, & ease of use from the instructor side) with some of the largest advantages of OERs (reduced cost, portability, & ease of access from the student side). I have had a very positive experience with Noba for Intro to Psych over the last two years, even to the extent of using some modules as supports in my other courses. I am also currently working towards completely converting my sections of Developmental Psychology and Educational Psychology to OERs as a result of that success, so hopefully I’ll be back with another post soon-ish!

OER for Introduction to Sociology

By Jennifer Meehan Brennom, Ph.D.

This is Figure 1.1 from the OpenStax Introd to Sociology 2e textbook. (Photo courtesy of Diego Torres Silvestre/flickr)

I used a traditional hardback textbook provided by a national publisher for my Intro to Sociology class for many years. As the cost of textbooks continued to rise, I realized that students were struggling to pay for their books. In some cases, students would opt not to purchase the book. That makes taking an online class where the majority of the course information comes from the textbook nearly impossible to successfully complete!

I managed to locate a decent paperback textbook from a national publisher for a reasonable cost, so I switched to it. When the new edition of that book came out, the price was about fifty percent higher. I reluctantly adopted it because it was still less expensive than other options, but I knew I needed to seek out other possibilities. I looked into online content provided by book publishers, but was never impressed with what they offered considering the price they charged.

I became aware of OER textbooks through our Distance Learning department meetings, and was particularly impressed by the options available through OpenStax. Although the textbook was different than the format I used in the past, it provided solid information on basic sociological theories and concepts. OpenStax provided a testbank, although it was not in a format that could be easily read in Talon. Emily McWorthy and the Distance Learning department staff helped format the testbank for Talon. I went through the items and selected those I wanted to use for quizzes and exams. I already had a solid foundation to my online course with discussion topics and written assignments I created previously, and I was able to easily integrate them with the new quizzes and exams based on the free OpenStax textbook. The discussion topics I created included a variety of weblinks and videos from both YouTube and the Kirkwood VOD server that students could access for free. I also used free materials from the US Census for a written assignment on poverty.

Things went smoothly the first time I taught the class using the OER. There were a few minor things to deal with, such as a couple of incorrectly coded multiple choice questions, but they were easily fixed. I was a bit surprised when a student asked me if she could purchase a paper copy of the textbook – I thought students would be thrilled to have access to the textbook online for free! I advised her that she could print the pdf of the OpenStax textbook for her personal use, and I learned that it is possible to have paper copies of the OpenStax textbook available for students to purchase at the bookstore.

I think one of my biggest challenges with the OpenStax textbook in the future is to keep up with the continuous updates of the text. I plan to fully revise the quizzes and exams when the third edition of the book becomes available, but it is possible that some of the smaller continuous revisions made in the meantime could make current quiz and exam questions difficult for students to answer. I will need to keep myself informed of those small updates.

Textbook-Free Art Appreciation

by Professor Tonya Kehoe

Art books are notoriously expensive, and like most other texts, have really courted favor with instructors by beefing up their online tools and resources. That seems like progress, however, all of those bells and whistles came with a pretty hefty price tag for the student to bear. And, every year the costs to the student went up and up. Of course, none of this is news to any veteran college faculty.

Art Appreciation students discovering personal (and universal) schemas, part of Lowenfeld’s and Kellogg’s mark-making stages of development activity in class. This activity combines lecture, research in how children develop symbology, hands-on experiments and large group discussion. This research (which addresses the human impulse for Art) is vital but was not covered in the textbook. Now, I include it and it fits perfectly in the course objectives. -2019 photo credit T. Kehoe

In the beginning of my teaching at Kirkwood Community College, back in 2003, I was glad to be handed an art appreciation textbook. It provided more than enough teaching material and was in a way a security blanket, knowing I would not run out of things to teach (an unfounded but real thought for new classes). In reality, I wouldn’t have run out of material, but acknowledging that a text feels like a psychological safety net is a real thing for some of us on the other side of the podium.

Teaching certainly is an art form, not a science. It is a practice. One, after teaching for two-and-a-half decades, I am still honing and polishing in my courses. Funny how that never ends.

Last year, I took a time away from teaching to participate in an artist’s residency. I was able to use this leave to make art, participate in art shows, follow my ideas (hard to do while teaching full-time),and work on building my OER Art Appreciation course. What lead me to do this? Well, a few years ago, when Talon was rolled out, I began putting course content and grades there. I was still utilizing the textbook, and when the online textbook resources came out a couple years back, I even coupled them with my Talon for seamless grading functionality.

Seemed great, maybe too good to be true, at the onset. But after using that format for a year, I was honestly not pleased with how it was going. It was an unsatisfying way for me, personally, to teach. I felt like the students didn’t like it. I didn’t like it either, and it felt disjointed. In hindsight, it all served to distance me from my students, fostering a divide in between me and them. That isn’t how I teach. In my classes, I learn students’ names, I talk to them and get to know them. I create a culture of safe, open communication in order to facilitate the exchange of ideas. The more I used the textbook online stuff, the more stressed the students seemed and the less connected I felt to the material and to them. Nope, this was not for me. I decided I had to go a different direction. Previously, I touted my course as a hybrid course. Now, I wanted liberation. I wanted to do what I could to make college more affordable for them (no more $230 on didactic material). I wanted my connection back with my students and I wanted my curriculum to be curated by me to include less-included artists and art, to include updated and current information and to be able to respond to new developments in the culture if so inspired. It was time to do this myself.

I notified the bookstore that my sections would not be needing a textbook months in advance. I was committed now. I had to do it. With the support of Kate Hess, I began. She sent me so many good links to review. I really got excited about the possibility of a bespoke course, full of what I wanted, and none of the stuff I didn’t want. As I looked up resources, I found everything I wanted, there for free and open educational use. Is my course perfect? No, far from it. Is it a work-in-progress? Absolutely.

I started off the semester telling my students that what was coming was an experiment, a trial of a new way for me to present this course. I told them, there will be some rough edges, maybe some adjustments, that it was important to me to create something for both of our benefit: no textbook cost or canned assignments for them, and a class where I got to be a responsive, adapting, engaged teacher. I ask this of my students- be inventive, make things for yourself that suit you, that excite you, that motivate you to engage in whatever it is you love or are curious about. I tell them to be willing to take creative risks, to flop sometimes and learn what works and what doesn’t, to expand on their current knowledge of something and see where it can take them. Question everything! Change things. I figured that I should be willing to do what I ask of them, so I untethered myself from the textbook mooring, took the leap, did the work (continue to do the work) and here I am: no textbook, a first draft of my course in action and really enjoying how it is going. Class discussions are so much better and my students are telling me they really are loving the class. That said, I have a long list of to-do changes for next semester. Every semester I will learn more about how to make this class sing.

To be sure, I now grade more response papers than before, because I gave up those uninspiring auto-quizzes. Oh well. It is worth it. This OER project is a living, breathing project that will take me time to get just right, and even then, I will continue to tweak it. Perfection is not the goal, increased meaningful teaching and learning engagement is worth all of this work, and my only regret is that I didn’t take the leap sooner.

Thank you to Kate Hess (could not have gotten it started without you!), Dr. Bill Lamb and Dr. Mark Butland for their support in this project.