Using Custom Textbooks As Distance Learning Materials: A Pilot Study in the OUHK

Henry M F Choi and Eva Y M Tsang
The Open University of Hong Kong
Hong Kong SAR, China

The Open University of Hong Kong (OUHK) has been providing distance learning programmes for more than a quarter of a century. Over the years, OUHK students have been provided with specifically developed self-study units, regular face-to-face tutorials and online learning support. Students are also directed to read selected textbook chapters or journal articles in the comprehensive study units.

The development of study units, however, is labour-intensive and time- consuming. In view of the advances in the learning support in tertiary level textbooks, the University has considered the possibility of adopting commercial textbook(s) or selected chapters of textbooks to replace the OUHK-developed study units. A total of four courses in the School of Business and Administration were chosen for a pilot study in 2015 and 2016, and the present study is designed to evaluate the new approach to learning support – namely the “custom textbook approach” – to see if it provides comparable learning support to students.

A total of 22 students from the four courses were invited to attend focus group interviews. The interviews were semi-structured, and students were asked to express their opinion about this new approach to learning support. Students who had completed courses with self-study units were asked to compare their learning experience in the two approaches, and express their preference. The expected quality of custom textbooks and possible enhancement to this custom-textbook approach were also explored.

The interviews revealed that the new approach to learning support was in general accepted by students, although some still preferred the conventional study units. The pros and cons of the new approach were also identified by experienced distance learners. Useful suggestions were collected and they could be beneficial for the later development and provision of learning support. Certain qualities of the custom textbooks were also distinguished which were considered to be essential for the success of this approach.