Chemistry and physics students to save money on textbooks

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University Co-op employee Cameron Ingram sorts through and labels used textbooks in the store’s basement Saturday morning. Some natural sciences professors are requiring online teaching materials instead of the traditional textbook.

Photo Credit: Marisa Vasquez | Daily Texan Staff

This fall, some chemistry and physics students won’t have to wait in line at the University Co-op for their intro-level textbooks, as professors are opting for online teaching materials instead of the traditional book.

Students will be allowed to purchase any general chemistry textbook that covers the higher level chemistry content for Chemistry 301 and 302. By altering this book requirement, around 4,500 undergraduate students will save on steep textbook prices ranging from $100 to $200. Instead of focusing on content delivery in class, students will engage in problem solving and critical thinking. Because of this change, it will now be up to students to find a textbook that will further their understanding of lectures.

Cynthia Labrake, chemistry and biochemistry senior lecturer, said the chemistry department has worked to develop its own learning modules in course websites, Blackboard sites and Quest Learning and Assessment, an online classroom management tool.

“With support from the Course Transformation Project, we have developed in-class activities specifically designed for concept development,” Labrake said. “The best way to develop concepts in chemistry is to construct your own knowledge. A textbook is more of a passive direct teach, whereas an active guided inquiry lesson is much more effective at facilitating the construction of new knowledge.”

Removing textbooks and using online tools is known as “flipping the class,” and a number of courses across the College of Natural Sciences are adopting this teaching method. Quest is used to provide online video lectures, resulting in more in-class time for discussion and critical thinking. Labrake does not think the lack of a required textbook will hinder her students’ ability to completely absorb the material, especially since the curriculum in Chemistry 301 and 302 does not follow one specific textbook.

“I would like to say that our decision to forgo the textbook was made deliberately and with much thought, planning and development,” Labrake said. “Our desire is to increase student learning and actually make it easier for them to be successful now and in the future.”

After student surveys in Chemistry 301 and 302 were completed, chemistry and biochemistry associate professor David Vandenbout said few students thought the textbook was a helpful tool for learning course material. Instead of being a useful resource, the textbook led some students astray.

“In the past, some students would obsess over topics they found in the text that were not covered in class, or in any assignments,” Vandenbout said.

Sacha Kopp, physics professor and associate dean for the College of Natural Sciences, said he discontinued a required text for Physics 302 and 355. He said when his students were asked to rank learning resources, they regarded his Quest materials as very useful but did not think the optional free textbook was much help.

“Most said they didn’t use the text. I don’t think they suffered, and course grades were high,” Kopp said.