There are classes in which a textbook is followed closely, some in which it is not followed at all, and anything in between. However a textbook is always required. Studies show that students feel more comfortable in â??textbook basedâ? classes than in classes without one, in spite of the high cost of textbooks. Unfortunately, in todayâ??s technological word it is impossible to cover current knowledge in a single monograph and thus it is becoming more important to explore alternatives to a textbook in engineering classes. Three years ago, we started a study to determine the effect of textbook free classes on the development of lifelong learners. It became evident that it was necessary first to evaluate the epistemological beliefs of the students and their ability to understand primary sources. A three-years-long study was started and an online survey for alumni was developed. We have now collected data for two and half years from sophomore, junior and senior classes. A survey borrowed (and modified) from C.R.E.A.T.E. was used. This survey is based in the previous work by Schommer (1990) but it has been modified to adapt to a different discipline. This survey was modified further to include questions about the use of textbooks and lifelong learning perceptions. The classes affected were Thermodynamics 1 (first semester sophomore), Thermodynamics 2 (Second semester sophomore), Bioseparations (second semester junior), and Bioreactors (second semester senior). The surveys were administered to current students in class (20 minutes) or as a â??homeworkâ?. More than 95% of the students participated in the surveys. A separate on-line survey addressing primary sources reading, use of textbooks and epistemological believes was prepared for alumni (approximately 300) of the Biochemical Engineering Emphasis Program. The longitudinal study will be completed in one more years.
A few results from the surveys can be highlighted. The difference between the same group of students in a textbook-free environment at the beginning and at the end of the semester are striking and several factors and aspects related to their epistemological sophistication show differences that are statistically significant. However, their ability to decode primary sources is still quite limited at the end of the semester. This group of students will be tested again in Fall 2016. There is a drastic (and positive) change in their epistemological beliefs after one semester of being exposed to a class that uses primary sources as the main teaching material. Their scientific curiosity has improved from 62% to 73% (P(T<=t)= 0.04). In conclusion we noticed a drastic change in the epistemological believes and in the ability of reading primary sources in one group of students as they were introduced to a text free course for first time in their lives.