October 7th, 2011

Student Perceptions of Textbooks and the Features that Influence Reading


Most students don’t read their textbooks as well as they should. It’s a topic we’ve dealt with before in this blog and because it’s pervasive and persistent, I keep my eyes open for any ideas, information or resources that instructors might find helpful. I found one this week in an issue of Teaching of Psychology. It’s an instrument developed to solicit student feedback on the textbook.

The authors report that research on textbooks typically falls into three categories. First, it examines the content of books, generally documenting extensive similarity between topics covered in introductory texts (the discipline in reference here is psychology, but my guess is the same could be said of introductory books in most fields). Second, there is research that looks at the effectiveness of the pedagogical aids provided by the textbooks including how students use those aids. Finally, there is research which assesses how instructors rate and select textbooks.

But the authors report they found no research “that has assessed student perceptions of textbooks.” (p. 23) In other words, the group using the textbooks has not be asked to identify those features of a textbook that make them read it more.

These faculty researchers developed and empirically tested the Textbook Assessment and Usage Scale (TAUS) to redress this omission. The instrument is included in the article and contains items that solicit feedback on various aspects of the text such its figures, tables, photographs, examples (from research and real life), study aids, visual appeal and writing quality. They recommend having students complete the TAUS either during the semester or after it’s over, suggesting it “may provide instructors with valuable data on how to use the textbook more effectively in the future.” (p. 27)

After developing and validating the instrument, they explored whether scores on certain items predicted the frequency of textbook reading. They found that “student perceptions of the textbook significantly predicted how much they said they read.” (p. 26) More specifically the quality of visuals and photographs, instructor involvement (how the instructor enforced reading the text. as in using quizzes, asking questions in class about the reading and/or including questions about the reading on tests), the quality of the research examples and pedagogical (study) aids predicted the percentage of the textbook read.

These faculty researchers were also interested in whether reading of the text resulted in learning. To ascertain this they assessed the relation of textbook factors and learning as measured by exam scores. The only two textbook factors that positively influenced exam scores were the writing quality and the quality of the pedagogical (study) aids.

The authors suggest that faculty should consider student perceptions when selecting a text. If some of these factors make a difference in how many students read the text, they are worth considering. They are especially worth considering given how much of the textbook students reported reading.

Students were surveyed in nine different introductory psychology and human development courses and the percentage of the text they said they read ranged from 32% to 69% with most of the percentages around 50. That means half the text not read. Of course, if students discover they can do well on exams without reading the text—if most of what they need to know is presented in class — then it’s highly unlikely that they will read the text. They also will read less if the instructor does not use the text in class. There is research cited in the article reporting that 33% of instructors teaching courses for beginning students do not use the texts that they require for class. That’s an amazing statistic. If it’s true, it means teachers are part of the problem. Or, if you don’t buy that, they certainly could part of the solution.

Reference: Gurung, R. A. R. and Martin, R. C. (2011). Predicting textbook reading: The textbook assessment and usage scale. Teaching of Psychology, 38 (1), 22-28.