The Perceived Value of College Physics Textbooks: Students and Instructors May Not See Eye to Eye

Noah Podolefsky and Noah Finkelstein


This paper describes a study of student textbook use in four introductory college physics courses.  Students were surveyed to find out how much they read their physics textbook, when they read, what effect (if any) this had on their performance, and if different instructors/textbooks made a difference. Survey results indicate that while over 97% of our students buy the required textbook, less than 41% regularly read, 60% read after lecture rather than before, and there is little (or no) correlation between reading habits and course grade. Further analysis of how and why students read indicates little or no variation in the perceived value of the textbook for course components tightly coupled to grades. We found that these results were strikingly similar across conceptual-, algebra-, and calculus-based courses with different instructors and textbooks.