I posted some resources for improving student success in college math courses over on the POD list, copied below:

I highly recommend this free ebook that MAA (mathematical association of america) put out last year: Instructional Practices Guide: Guide to Evidence-Based Instructional Practices in Undergraduate Mathematics.

If you have an engineering program in which a high percentage of students are underprepared or failing calculus & physics, see the Wright State Model for Engineering Mathematics Education. 89% of students who took their engineering math course went on to pass Calculus, vs. only 60% of students who did not.  There are other examples out there of teaching math in context (biology, business, etc.) to improve student success.

Adopting open (free) textbooks can improve student success in math and other disciplines, perhaps partly because a significant percentage of students don’t even buy the textbook. See for example the free math books offered by OpenStax and Active Calculus.  See also my previous post on The Case for Open Textbooks.

Adaptive learning tools such as ALEKS can help.  Here’s information about a precalc class that went from 45% passing to 55% when adopting active learning methods, and then 70% passing when adopting ALEKS. ALEKS can be integrated with the OpenStax precalculus textbook.

Some also combine the use of adaptive learning tools with the ’emporium’ lab classroom model which has been shown to increase student success, although an increasing number of colleges and states are abandoning traditional remedial math courses and doing co-requisite remediation instead, which appears to be more effective.

Freshmen college success courses can help improve student success but vary widely in their impact on graduation rates.  Some (extended orientation courses) can be worse than not having any course at all.  Whereas for example Ohio State students who took Bruce Tuckman’s Learning and Motivation Strategies course were 45% more likely to graduate.

There are more ideas specific to math education in conferences like RUME and math education journals like PRIMUS.

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Here is an article summarizing some of the research and data on the benefits of open textbooks that I posted over on the circles of innovation site:

The Open Textbook Alliance created a nice handout explaining The Case for Open Textbooks.  Open textbooks are textbooks that are free for students to use and openly licensed so that instructors are free to revise and redistribute them, with attribution.

Below are some arguments for open textbooks explained in more detail and updated with more recent research and data.  But the gist is – open textbooks not only save students money, they can help improve student success, as well.

Background – The High Cost of Textbooks

How many students do you think have avoided purchasing a required textbook for a course?

Recent surveys and studies have found that over two thirds (66%) of students report not purchasing a required textbook because of cost (Florida Virtual Campus, 2016, Martin et al., 2017).  94% of those students recognized that doing so would impact their grade in the course (Student PIRGS, 2016).  26% of students occasionally or frequently drop a course because of high textbook cost (Open Textbook Alliance, 2016).

Textbook prices have increased 88% in the past decade, compared with a 63% increase in tuition.  37% of community college courses require students to purchase an access code (Student PIRGS, 2016).  Faculty report the average prices of their textbook is $97, and only 9% of faculty report adopting an open textbook (Seaman & Seaman, 2017).  Students spend an average of over $1200 a year on textbooks (College Board, 2017).

The consequences of the high price of textbooks include scenarios such as students having to decide between textbooks and food or rent, students’ learning and grades suffering, and hurting time to graduation and access to courses.  Search #TextbookBroke on Twitter for some stories.

Benefits of Open Textbooks

1. Saving Students Money

Individual faculty, colleges, and states adopting open textbooks are saving students millions of dollars every year, with the total approaching $1 billion in savings worldwide.  See this list of the amount of money saved at some institutions:

Just one open textbook, Introductory Statistics from OpenStax, saved California community college students over $3 million over the past 10 years.

Since 2012, use of OpenStax textbooks has saved students over $155 million.

Four states (California, Oregon, Texas and Washington) recently passed legislation requiring the labeling of courses that use open textbooks and open educational resources (OERs), and colleges like Tidewater Community College are creating entire degree programs that utilize free resources.  Students in these open textbook courses persisted at a 6% higher rate and take more credits each semester than students in traditional courses (InsideHigherEd, 2017).

2. Increasing Student Success

But saving money for students isn’t the only benefit of open textbooks – student grades and course passing rates may increase, as well.

  • A 2018 study of over 22,000 students at UGA found that switching to open textbooks resulted in a significant increase in student grades and course passing rates (Colvard et al., 2018; summary).  They used OpenStax textbooks in that study.  OpenStax books can be used in conjunction with some commercial publisher tools.
  • A 2015 study of over 15,000 students in 15 courses found that in 4 of the courses students had better grades with open textbooks and 9 showed no significant difference.  Students in courses using open textbooks also enrolled in a higher number of credits in the following semester (Fischer et al., 2015).  What about that one course where students had better grades with the commercial textbook (Business 110)?  It turns out that “21% of students in the commercial textbook condition withdrew from the course while only 6% of students in the OER condition withdrew from the course” (p. 165, ibid).
  • A 2018 study of over 10,000 students found that ”students using the print format of the open textbook perceive its quality to be superior to the commercial textbook. Moreover, students assigned an open textbook in either format [paper or online] perform either no differently from or better than those assigned a commercial textbook” (Jhangiani et al., 2018).
  • In 2016, John Hilton III reviewed 16 studies on open textbooks and found that “students generally achieve the same learning outcomes when OER are utilized and simultaneously save significant amounts of money. Studies across a variety of settings indicate that both students and faculty are generally positive regarding OER” (Hilton, 2016).
  • Virginia Clinton has compiled as list of several other published studies on the use of open textbooks.

3. Customizing, Creating, Finding Open Textbooks

If an open textbook is licensed with a Creative Commons license and available in a standard format, you are free to revise and remix the textbook however you see fit.

Pressbooks is a popular choice for authoring open textbooks that also makes it easy to clone and edit existing open textbooks.

OpenStax has become a premier “vendor” of high quality open textbooks for high enrollment courses, and they are working on an adaptive learning tool called OpenTutor.  But as mentioned earlier, OpenStax integrates with some commercial publisher tools, too.

Search through the largest list of existing open textbooks at the Open Textbook Library.  Browse through the subject-based directory of thousands of open textbooks at College Open Textbooks.  See if there are textbooks related to your courses!

Check out the Rebus Community to connect with other folks interested in creating or editing open textbooks.

A Florida OER Summit and OER summits in other states are held each year to discuss issues surrounding the adoption of open textbooks and other open educational resources (OERs).  See also the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources (CCCOER), which has regular webinars on adopting and creating OERs.

The University of Hawaii has an online OER training guide for bringing higher education instructors up to speed with Open Educational Resources (OER).


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I’m starting to lose track of all the different rubrics and checklists related to course design that I’ve come across, and some new ones have come out very recently, so I’d thought I’d list them here.  If you know of others, please comment below.  Thank you

Canvas Checklists

Course Design

Course Delivery




Learning Objectives/Outcomes





Open Educational Resources (OER)



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I’ve shared a resource in Canvas Commons with some examples of brief, research-based teaching strategies implemented in Canvas, such as: transparent assignments, minute papers, values affirmation, social belonging, goal setting, student testimonials, nudges, discussion protocols, wrappers, and midterm student feedback.   You can preview this resource here.

Some Categories of Evidence-Based Teaching Strategies & Principles

Briefer, Targeted Strategies Broader or More Comprehensive Techniques
More Concrete Strategies These are some of the strategies covered in this Canvas resource:

  • Minute Paper
  • Student Testimonials
  • Transparent Assignments
  • Value Affirmation
  • Discussion Protocols
  • Nudges
  • Wrappers
  • Midterm Student Feedback

Examples of some face-to-face in-class strategies (which are not addressed in this Canvas resource):

Many of these broader teaching techniques derive from discipline-based educational research and development.

More General Principles/Techniques These are some strategies that primarily derive from cognitive psychology and mainly apply to practice and memory.

  • Retrieval Practice / Testing Effect
  • Spacing
  • Interleaving
These are links to more comprehensive Canvas-related resources on effective teaching practices.

More Online Resources about Evidence-based Teaching Practices

Books for Further Reading on Evidence-based Teaching Practices

Some Other Potential Canvas Activities that Could be Included in the Future

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I shared a self-assessment for faculty preparing to teach online.  You can try the Online Teaching Readiness Self-Assessment here, or import it from Canvas Commons.

It’s based on Penn State’s Faculty Self-Assessment: Preparing for Online Teaching.  I also like the Online Teaching Self-Efficacy Inventory (OTSEI), but forgot about it until too late to incorporate it.

Student can self-assess their readiness for online learning with UNC’s Online Learning Readiness Questionnaire or else see some other student online readiness surveys listed here.

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