Expert TA Blog

Shining a Light on OpenStax

Our goal at Expert TA is to improve the learning experience for both educators and students. Whenever we have a chance to associate with someone working toward the same end, we are delighted. And with that in mind, we want to shine a light on a partner with whom we feel so grateful to work. You probably have heard of Rice University-based OpenStax — a nonprofit that is revolutionizing the education world by offering free, peer-reviewed textbooks to students in a variety of subjects.

Although most working in education continue to be dismayed by soaring textbook prices, many immediately dismiss open education resources (OER) because they assume “free” must also mean “low quality.” Unlike many OER providers, OpenStax is backed by a host of serious funders including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This allows OpenStax to make roughly the same investment in its product as other traditional publishers, but without the profitability requirement following production. According to an article distributed by Rice University in January 2016, “Free textbooks from Rice University-based publisher OpenStax are now in use at one-in-five degree-granting U.S. colleges and universities and have already saved college students $39 million in the 2015-16 academic year."

Not only is the content of OpenStax material comparable with many major textbooks, the organization has partnered with select tech companies in order to provide a full range of educational tools for the modern classroom. Online homework, provided by partners like Expert TA, are among the most needed technology resources and can be instrumental in helping instructors smoothly transition to a new textbook. Instructors want the most sophisticated and cost-effective option to ensure automation of grading doesn’t come at a high cost for their students.

Expert TA’s partnership with OpenStax began with the coding of every end-of-chapter homework problem/exercise from their College Physics textbook. All of the nearly 2,000 problems have been enhanced with hints and feedback, and where possible intermediate symbolic steps are added, which require students to complete homework in an approach that more closely aligns with how they are tested. Instructors adopting the OpenStax College Physics textbook also have access to Expert TA’s independent library of introductory Physics questions; when creating an assignment in the system, instructors see an abundance of multi-step, symbolic questions available at the end of each section.

The OpenStax College Physics textbook has been adopted by nearly 1,000 instructors to date, and remains their most popular textbook. Published under a Creative Commons license, instructors can modify and further develop the textbook and free materials in order to match the specific needs of their class.

Expert TA currently supports the following textbooks published by OpenStax: College Physics, Biology, Sociology, Psychology, Anatomy & Physiology, and US History. Additionally, the much-anticipated University Physics Volume I is now available. 

Not surprisingly, as more professors realize the tremendous quality and savings that OpenStax offers, adoption rates are dramatically increasing.  We have seen this success firsthand at institutions like Auburn University, University of Hawaii, University of Kansas, Collin College, Grand Canyon University and others, where OpenStax’s College Physics textbook is used in conjunction with the Expert TA online homework system. The partnership allows OpenStax and Expert TA to create a superior, more holistic solution for student learning at an affordable price.

OpenStax is leading the way for quality, open source material, and we could not be happier to see their success. We look forward to a bright future where every student has access to educational materials that will encourage learning, discovery and innovation.

At the Expert TA, it is our honor to offer products that assist students and teachers in the learning process, in part by a concerted attack designed to improve the integrity of our system against student cheating. If you’d like to learn more about our system, we'd love to talk more.

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Formed from the belief that a homework system should help instructors teach and students learn, Expert TA harnesses the power of technology to encourage practice during homework, while also giving meaningful feedback to both instructors and students. The Expert TA blog was created to serve as a hub of information to help educators track and discuss trends in education, software and student performance.

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  • I like the idea of guiding students, giving them a little more information each time they ask for help. I also think they should get the right answer. I am big about partial credit. If they got a number wrong, they got a number wrong. But I also believe in giving them a lot of credit if they have the right steps. With Expert TA’s true partial credit grading system, instructors can do both.

    Ellen Siem, PhD., Senior Instructor, Department of Physics, Southern Oregon University, Ashland, OR
  • With my students, I found that Expert TA was a way for them to help themselves, rather than seeing it as something that is just being assigned so they can get a grade. Initially, I set it up so they lose very little for clicking hints. I also gave them up to 10 different times to submit an answer. They are able to work through a problem on their own rather than being worried that asking for hints would get them a zero.

    Matt Evans, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Physics, University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire