Did a workshop on Finding and Using Open Educational Resources (#OER) on Learning Day.  Here some of the resources we checked out: http://bit.ly/oervalencia

We also tried to make the case for open textbooks and OER to the Learning Council and at the Big Meeting. Here are the slides: https://bit.ly/insightmaterials

This all builds on a post I did last September on The Case for Open Textbooks.

There have long been calls for using evidence-based teaching techniques and technologies in the classroom to improve student success.  For example the 2012 “Engage to Excel” report by the Presidential Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) notes that “Classroom approaches that engage students in ‘active learning’ improve retention of information and critical thinking skills.”

Sometimes it may seem risky to try something new or nontraditional in your class, however, partly because of the uncertainty about how students may react. And even when you are not trying anything new at all, some students may passively or even actively show signs of resistance or dissatisfaction, for various reasons.

There are actually many potential barriers to the adoption of evidence-based teaching techniques and technologies, such as: lack of time, insufficient resources or support, and, the topic of this post, the possibility of student resistance, which in turn might negatively impact student satisfaction and ratings.

How can we design and facilitate our courses in order to anticipate and reduce the potential for student resistance?  There are several techniques one may employ, many of which are backed by research.  First, however, let’s look at the causes and types of student resistance, and then we’ll look at strategies for addressing it.

What is Student Resistance?

The editors of a recent book, Why Students Resist Learning, define student resistance like so:

Student resistance is an outcome, a motivational state in which students reject learning opportunities due to systemic factors.

The kinds of systemic factors that may influence resistance are presented in the book’s diagram model of student resistance:

diagram of factors influencing student resistance

(This image and the one below are via an interview with the book’s editors)

Examples of Student Resistance

Several examples of student resistance are listed in the book. They divide the examples by the type of the resistance (passive or active) and the motivation for the resistance (asserting autonomy or self-preservation):

forms of student resistance

Resistance to Group Work

Group work, group projects, group presentations have long been a special source of complaints by students.  Here are some common ones from the article “Group Work Can Be Gratifying: Understanding & Overcoming Resistance to Cooperative Learning“:

  • “I’ve had bad experiences with group work. Why don’t you just lecture?”
  • “I don’t want to rely on strangers. Why can’t I form a group with my friends?”
  • “We waste a lot of time in meetings. No one wants to take responsibility.”
  • “I don’t know what we are supposed to do or why we are doing it.”
  • “I have to do all the work and don’t get the credit. I feel exploited.”
  • “The group work just feels like busy work to me. What’s the point?”
  • “I worked harder than other people in my group but I got the same grade. That’s unfair.”

If you are using student groups in your courses, consider some of these resources for improving their effectiveness:

Measuring Student Resistance

There has recently been some new research on measuring student resistance that began with the creation of the Student Response to Instructional Practices Survey (StRIP), which includes items related to student resistance:

  • I did not actually participate in the activity.
  • I gave the activity minimal effort.
  • I distracted my peers during the activity.
  • I pretended to participate in the activity.
  • I surfed the internet, social media, or did something else instead of doing the activity.
  • I rushed through the activity.

Other Examples of Student Resistance?

Are there other examples not listed above?  Is plagiarism a form of student resistance?  Copying homework problems?

Feel free to share your thoughts below.

How Prevalent is Student Resistance?

The good news is that student resistance is not as widespread as you may think.  Several studies and surveys have shown that on average, most students like and prefer when instructors adopt active learning and other innovative teaching strategies and tools (see, e.g., the article “Students’ Expectations, Types of Instruction, and Instructor Strategies Predicting Student Response to Active Learning“).

So it is not as bad a problem as we might think. However, there is still a likelihood of student resistance, especially when you first adopt a new technique. This may be why, for example, some instructors may abandon a new technique after the first semester of trying it.

What can we do to anticipate and address the potential for student resistance in our courses?  Again, feel free to share your own thoughts and ideas below, and here is a list of some strategies that have been identified by others.

Strategies for Addressing Student Resistance

Richard Felder and Rebecca Brent, authors of the book Teaching and Learning STEM: A Practical Guide, identify Eight Ways to Defuse Student Resistance, including:

  • Ease into new teaching techniques or technologies.  For example, if you are trying out flipping the classroom, try it out one week at first before switching the whole course to the technique.
  • Explain what you are doing, why you are doing it, and what the benefits are to the students.  I’ll share some example explanations below.
  • Survey your students about their experiences to get their feedback.  I’ll share some example techniques for collecting student feedback below, as well.

In recent research on strategies to mitigate student resistance to active learning (Tharayil et al., 2018), both explanation strategies and facilitation strategies have been identified:

Explanation Strategies

  • Providing students with a rationale for using active learning in the classroom by explaining how the activities relate to their learning, connecting the activities with course topics, discussing their relevance to industry
  • Communicating overall course expectations for student participation at the beginning of the semester
  • Providing explicit instructions about what students are expected to do for a specific active learning exercise

Facilitation Strategies

  • Establishing verbal or non-verbal cues such as setting a tone for risk taking, caring about students’ success, encouraging responses by using uncomfortable silences, etc.
  • Confronting students who are not participating in activities by physically approaching them, calling on them during more structured lecture, etc.
  • Using points or grades to encourage participation
  • Walking around the room during active learning instruction
  • Encouraging students to provide feedback about an in-class activity
  • Prompting students to ask questions about an activity during that activity
  • Establishing an “active learning” routine by having a standard type of “bell work,”
  • Creating student groups, reframing tasks, etc
  • Use incremental activities: giving hints, decomposing a problem into parts,…

Some more concrete details about strategies are listed below.

1. Framing: Explaining to Your Students

Here are some examples of instructors explaining to their students the rationale for using some new teaching technique or technology:

See the Physport series on productively engaging students in active learning for more resources and examples related to framing.

2. Student Testimonials

Instead of you trying to explain the rationale, have former students explain what it takes to succeed in your course.

This is a technique that may not only help reduce potential student anxiety and resistance, but it also has been shown in studies to improve students’ sense of belonging, which in turn reduces equity gaps, including for international students and minority students.

2a. Video Testimonials

You can create or have your students create video testimonials.  Here is a “realistic job preview” video by and for students taking courses online:

Here also is a video of students in first year engineering at Ohio State.

2b. Text and Letter Testimonials

In a college success course I taught, I had students at the end of the semester write letters of advice to next year’s freshmen.

In a research article on “Closing global achievement gaps in MOOCs,” students read testimonials, such as this one:

“When I first started the course, I worried that I was different from the other students. Everyone else seemed so certain it was the right level for them and were so happy to take it. But I wasn’t sure I fit in – if I would make friends, if people would respect me. Several days after I started, I came to realize that almost everyone who takes the course feels uncertain at first about whether they fit in. It’s something everyone goes through. Now it seems ironic – everybody feels different at first, when really we’re all going through the same things.”

2c. Ask Students to Reflect on the Explanation/Testimonials – Not Just Watch or Read

If you just have students passively watch or read an explanation or testimonial, it may have no impact on improving their success in the course. Here is a sample writing activity students did after reading the aforementioned student testimonial:

Now consider the strategies and insights for how to learn best that you just read. What are your own strategies and insights about how to learn best? And, how are they similar or different to the ones that you just heard about from other students? Please write at least a paragraph. Focus on your thoughts and feelings, and don’t worry about spelling, grammar, or how well written it is.

2d. Generating / Creating Student Testimonials

You’ll also have to think about how you will collect and present student testimonials. Will you ask former students to visit your class and speak with the current students?  Or create a video or collect written testimonials?  Here is how student testimonials were collected in the aforementioned article:

New students really appreciate hearing directly from students who already have some experience with learning in an online course. To give the new incoming learners a chance to hear directly from somewhat more experienced learners, we would like you to write a note to an incoming learner about your experience and what you’ve learned so far. Write about how they may feel unsure at first of their belonging in the online course but ultimately come to feel that they belong. We will give your note to a student who enrolls in the course for similar reasons as yourself, so you can imagine it is a student like you. We know it can be difficult to write that way, but we believe it will be particularly meaningful for new learners if they feel as though a more experienced learner is speaking directly to them.

The remaining strategies for addressing student resistance are related to soliciting feedback from your students about your teaching and the course.  By getting their feedback early and throughout the semester, you can make adjustments that will help improve student satisfaction and learning and reduce student resistance, as opposed to waiting for the traditional end of course survey when it is too late to make changes for those students.

3. Midterm Student Feedback

Midterm Student Feedback (MSF) involves collecting feedback from students near the start or middle of a course in order to give the instructor an opportunity to make adjustments and improvements.  Usually an outside consultant collects the feedback and provides guidance for the instructor on translating the feedback into positive changes in the course. The entire process is confidential to the instructor and anonymous for the students.

You can also survey students yourself. See this Stop-Go-Change activity.

Here are some different examples of questions that you might ask of your students:

  • via Clark & Redmond (1982)
    • What do you like about the course?
    • What do you think needs improvement?
    • What suggestions do you have for bringing about those improvements?
  • via Simmons College and others
    • What do you like most about this course and/or the instructor’s teaching of it?
    • What about this course and/or the instructor’s teaching of it needs change or improvement?
    • What suggestions can you offer that would help make this course a better learning experience for you?
  • via U. Michigan
    • What are the major strengths in this course?
    • What changes could be made in the course to assist you in learning?

See the MSF Guidebook for more examples and details: bit.ly/msfguidebook

4. Minute Papers, Exit Tickets

You can also collect feedback from students yourself by asking students to answer questions at the end of class (exit ticket) or the end of an assignment or module.  Here are some examples of the types of questions you might be interested in asking.

  • What was the most important point of the class?
  • What question remains unanswered in your mind?
  • What question from this class might appear on the next quiz/test?
  • What was the muddiest point of the class?
  • What was the main concept illustrated by the in-class demonstration/experiment?

Here are some of the types of questions you might want to ask when your students turn in a paper assignment:

  • Paper 1: I’m most satisfied with . . . I’m least satisfied with . . . I’m having problems with . . .
  • Paper 2: In writing this essay, what did you learn that surprised you? When editing your paper, what were you unsure about?
  • Paper 3: Point out specific places in your argument at which you were aware of accommodating your audience (their knowledge or attitudes). Point out places in which you used sentences for rhetorical effect.
  • Paper 4: Why did you choose this particular arrangement?
    What would you do differently if you had more time?

See bit.ly/minutepapers for a longer list of potential questions.

How will you collect feedback from students to improve upon what you are doing in your courses?  Doing so may also help reduce student resistance, as well.

More Resources

You can find some handouts and slides related to the topic of addressing student resistance here: bit.ly/studentresist


Here are a few resources related to supporting students (and others) in psychological distress:

1. Trauma-Informed Practices for Postsecondary Education: A Guide (pdf)

2. Mental Health First Aid (MFHA), an 8 hour face-to-face training course:

MHFA is an evidence-based training program designed to instill participants with the necessary skills to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. MHFA’s action plan, summarized by the acronym ALGEE, is simple and easy to remember.
  • Assess for risk of suicide or harm
  • Listen non-judgmentally
  • Give reassurance and information
  • Encourage appropriate professional help
  • Encourage self-help and other support strategies

The primary focus of MHFA is not what the specific mental health issue is or naming the problem, but how to recognize when someone may be experiencing an issue and how provide assistance. MHFA is often compared to Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) since both programs focus on training individuals to become first aiders, not medical experts. Since the goal is to assess warning signs of mental health and substance abuse issues, and not become mental health experts, participants concern themselves with providing resources and encouraging professional-help and self-help. Remember, individuals trained in CPR don’t know if someone has had a heart attack, or some other medical issue, but they do know something is wrong. According to research studies, MHFA participants:

  • Understand the signs, symptoms, and risk factors of mental illnesses and addictions
  • Can identify multiple professional and self-help resources for individuals experiencing a mental health illness or addiction
  • Have increased confidence in assisting someone in distress
  • Demonstrate increased mental health wellness themselves

3. And see the article “Psychology And Trauma In Schools: How Can Teachers Help?

Dr. Raviv: From my perspective, the most important role a teacher plays is developing a strong relationship and intimate knowledge of his or her students: as learners, as individuals, and as members of their classroom community.
The first step of becoming trauma-informed is to understand the ways in which some of the behaviors that concern teachers–reactivity, social withdrawal, tardiness, and absenteeism—may be manifestations of traumatic exposure.  Viewing student behaviors through a “trauma lens” rather than labeling students as defiant, disengaged, or unmotivated opens the door for considering alternative strategies to connect to and support students and respond to these behaviors.
In our work with teachers and schools, we emphasize three key components that form the foundation for a trauma-sensitive classroom:
  • Creating safety (physical and emotional)
  • Emphasizing positive relationships
  • Supporting and teaching emotion regulation.
Tips & Tools for Family Safe Device Usage (Google Docs)

Tips & Tools for Family-Safe Usage of Devices A copy of this document is online at: bit.ly/ortonasafe General Tips Talk to your kids about their use of devices: time limits, rules, online dangers Read the description, content rating, and user reviews of apps & games Try them for yourself & play…

I updated an old handout I made for parents at the elementary school where my wife used to work: Tips & Tools for Family-Safe Usage of Devices.

It has suggestions for parents to help monitor and support their children’s use of devices such as smart phones, tablets, and laptops.  If you have any additional suggestions, please let me know.

You can access the handout here:



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.

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).


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)



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