Perusall online textbook program introduced in Department of Physics and Earth-Space Science courses

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The University of Indianapolis Department of Physics and Earth-Space Science introduced a new online textbook program called Perusall at the beginning of the Fall 2019 semester. The implementation of the program is meant to help students be better prepared for several physics courses in the department.

Timothy Duman, department chair and associate professor of physics and earth-space science, said the reason for the change from using a standard textbook to using an online textbook program was due to students being unprepared for the courses. Several sections of the PHYS 150, 153, 160, 163 and 390 courses are using the program, according to Duman.

“The problem that we experience in our classes is that the students don’t come prepared to actually work on the material,” Duman said. “If they don’t come prepared to work on the material, they get very little benefit from what comes out of the class. And so this was a mechanism we were trying to use to get them to prepare [to] read the material before coming to class, so that they could start practicing and using it while we were in class.”

According to Duman, professors in the department can benefit from the program through a specific tool that is embedded within the program. The tool gives more insight to professors about how students interpret the reading of the online book.

“One of the advantages that we thought we’d use… [is] what’s called a confusion report,” Duman said. “It gives you the top difficulties students are having in the readings, so then you can hit those points harder than you would everything else.”

Senior biology major Derby Roan said that the transition from a physical textbook to an online textbook created some difficulties when navigating the online book.

“It’s really hard to get from section to section especially within assignments, you can’t just scroll normally throughout the online book,” Roan said. “It’s also got a lot of resources we don’t seem to have access to. There are video links that are broken and [when] I reached out to Perusall, they said that’s something on Pearson’s end…. We’ve had a whole semester of broken links and resources that we have paid for that we didn’t have access to.”

Roan said that if adjustments to the program were made after listening to student feedback,
she could see it working really well in the department. She said with the right adjustments, the program could be beneficial to student learning.

“I think there’s definitely hope for an online program,” Roan said. “I’ve seen online textbooks that work well. I think that Pearson’s mastering [of] their online textbook access is really nice, so I think there is hope for it. Right now, it’s just not great for students.”

Having spent an entire semester learning the course material through a new method, Roan said she hopes to see improvements in the online program in the near future.

“I think it’s really good that they’ve made an effort to try to reach students that aren’t connecting with the material or engaging with the material,” Roan said. “I’m not sure that it landed right, but I’d like to see improvements and I do want to see if they do respond to student feedback.”

According to Duman, surveys for student feedback on the program will be conducted before the beginning of next semester. The department plans to continue using Perusall in the spring for the PHYS 150, 160 and 163 courses. He said the results of the survey will allow the department to determine if the program is helping students learn the material from the courses.

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