Society for the Teaching of Psychology: Division 2 of the American Psychological Association

Developing an IPI Aligned Introductory Psychology Course Without a Textbook

05 Apr 2022 3:03 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Julie Lazzara (Paradise Valley Community College)

When I began my career as an adjunct professor, I clutched tightly to the first introductory text put in my hands. Like a good professor, I assigned every chapter for the students to read and was committed to reading one chapter ahead throughout the course. I quickly found out that reading these long chapters on top of my full-time job and teaching prep was nearly impossible. I gave up and succumbed to skimming the chapters and reading the summaries. I wondered how many of my students did the same. After talking to colleagues, I found many omitted chapters to make the course more manageable. I was told which chapters to leave out was a matter of preference. Although this was a reasonable solution, it did not sit well with me. This was the beginning of the downfall of my relationship with "the textbook."

As semesters came and went, I felt that "the textbook" was not pulling its weight. As my teaching and expertise grew, "the textbook" stayed stagnant. Who was running the class, I wondered. Was it me, or was it "the textbook" that was the glue that held the class together? There was so much material to cover that I was unsure what was most important to emphasize to my students. If I was unsure, how could I expect my students to have the foresight to what would be on the test? I would often tell students that it was big themes that I hoped they took away from the class but they still got caught up in the minute details. I gradually decided to be more authentic and intentional with what I teach my introductory students and assess them. For me, this meant migrating away from the traditional textbook.

APA IPI and Backward Design

In October 2021, the APA adopted universal learning outcomes for Introductory Psychology for the first time through the Introductory Psychology Initiative (IPI). One of the key recommendations to strengthen your course to meet the new goals is to use Backward Design. Specifically, it is recommended that instructors "design course content and instruction around desired learning outcomes." However, many instructors structure their course around their chosen textbook, and thus the majority of classroom instruction is centered on the textbook (Hilton, 2020). Instructors who want to implement Backward Design may hit a roadblock because of copyright laws if they desire to edit and adapt their current commercial textbook.

The APA IPI does not recommend a universal text for introductory psychology. This gives instructors the freedom to build their course from the ground up. They do not need to be bound by a textbook already produced and adjust their pedagogy around it. Instead, they can choose to build their course materials by starting with the IPI learning objectives and intentionally choosing the context to support them. If a textbook is not used, what would be the cornerstone of the course? As an alternative, Landrum (2012) proposed that course readings could be used as course materials. Instructors in the past have also built their courses around non-fiction books and journal articles. If we begin to think about course materials instead of textbooks, then there is space to use various materials to generate content for the course.

OER as Course Materials

One consideration for course materials is the use of Open Educational Resources (OER). Many assume that OER is only used as a textbook replacement, but open and shared resources can go beyond a traditional textbook (Van Allen & Katz, 2020). Any materials that include a Creative Commons license are free to use without permission as long as proper attribution is given (Kim, 2007). This means that a more robust remixing and editing of the text is encouraged. The text is fully adaptable to meet the instructor's or institution's needs. While there has been a significant amount of coverage of the use of open educational resources as a content delivery system that lowers cost, there needs to be a shift in focus on using open education as a part of a design strategy that supports student learning (Paskevicius & Irvine, 2019). While course materials in college courses traditionally consisted of commercial textbooks, there are many more options today.

Sure, it’s free, but is it high quality?

One commonly cited drawback to OER is the question of quality. However, several recent studies have found that students achieve the same or better learning outcomes with OER than traditional textbooks (Hilton, 2019; Clinton & Khan, 2019; Bol et al., 2021). Most faculty may agree that the perfect textbook does not exist. However, there is no standard for judging textbook quality, and it is often interpreted as content accuracy (Martin & Kimmons, 2020). To choose the best textbook lies subjectively in the eye of the beholder.

If OER is so great, then why doesn’t everyone use it?

Using a commercial textbook may be the easier option for faculty, but at what cost? Faculty typically do not want students to take the easier route in their learning. Perhaps course materials customized by the instructor show effort and commitment to the course as a model to the students. The extra effort that faculty put in at the beginning of their course in preparing their course materials may have a significant payoff. Vojtech and Grissett (2017) found that undergraduate psychology students rated an instructor who used an open textbook higher on kindness, encouragement, and creativity than an instructor who used a commercial textbook. Davis and Fromuth (2019) found that students reported higher satisfaction with the custom psychology textbook than a traditional text. In another study, faculty reported that in customizing their materials specifically for their courses, there was more engagement and buy-in for the materials from their students (Lantrip & Ray, 2020). When faculty were asked about the impact of adopting OER on their teaching, they reported using a broader range of teaching and learning methods and engaged in more reflective practices (Weller et al., 2015).

OER in Psychology

Momentum has increased for OER use in psychology, and studies have measured its impact on students. Multiple studies have shown no statistically significant difference between performance in psychology courses between OER and publisher textbooks (Grissett & Huffman, 2019). Students preferred the OER to traditional textbooks in health psychology and program evaluation courses (Cooney, 2017; Philips et al., 2021). Cuttler (2019) found that the students using OER were twice as likely to report using their textbooks, reported using them more frequently, and perceived more overlap across all materials in comparison to a traditional textbook. Students may use the OER texts more because they are more relevant and contain more information directly impacting their quiz and test scores. Another benefit to the students besides cost is the ability to have less restricted access to course materials (Grissett & Huffman, 2019). Increased student accessibility is one of the APA IPI’s core goals to transform Introductory Psychology (Gurung & Neufeld, 2021).

Studies have also shown benefits to adopting OER instructors of psychology. Magro and Tabaei (2020) found that faculty directly appreciated adding their content to the OER text. Hardin et al. (2019) discovered that even novice professors could meet course objectives by using OER. This indicates that OER is not reserved for only more experienced professors. Students may even be more likely to enroll in psychology courses that require OER instead of a commercial textbook (Nusbaum & Cuttler 2020). The researchers also posit that instructors who use OER may be evaluated more positively than instructors who do not. These examples highlight the importance of considering the role of the textbook on faculty and how it affects students.

Build Your Own Introductory Psychology “Textbook” Resources

The following is a starting place of the most common OER for introductory psychology to build the base of your course materials with OER. Most of these come with instructor resources but look no further than the plethora of resources on the STP website if you need more.
  • 1.      OpenStax Psychology 2e- This edition was published in April 2020, and it continues to be updated if corrections are found. You can use the textbook precisely as it is online, in print, or via a PDF download. They now offer an add-on homework solution program called Openstax Tutor, but there is a small fee for students to enroll. Instructor resources are included.  
    a.     Canvas Cartridge of OpenStax Psychology 2e- If your college uses Canvas as their LMS, you can drop in this free cartridge to load into your course
  • 2.      Noba Project- This free online platform allows you to pick and choose modules you like written by renowned experts. Here is an example of an introductory psychology textbook that I put together for my students. They can access it online with a link you give them and download it for offline use.
  • 3.     Lumen Learning- You can access Lumen courses and materials for free and even link directly to them. Most of their materials are remixed from Openstax and Noba with additional authored content. Students can pay a fee to use their online homework management system.
  • 4.     Pressbooks version of OpenStax Psychology 2e- I took the OpenStax text and put it into Pressbooks, making it easier to edit and make it your own. Anyone can access this version with the link, and there are also several download options.
    a.     Maricopa’s Edition of OpenStax Psychology 2e- As part of a grant project, I modified the Pressbook text previously mentioned and revised it to align with the course objectives for my college district. You can do something similar to make it your own.
    b.     University of Albert’s Version of OpenStax Psychology 2e- Here is an example of another college that remixed the Openstax text to make it their own.
    c. Hardcopy of Curated Text- There are typically a few students a semester who want to buy a hard copy of a text. One option is for them to pay to have the PDF printed, or you can offer a hard copy available to purchase for just the cost of printing.

Assess the “Textbook” you Created

After selecting or creating your course materials, you may wonder if it is up to par. Although Gurung and Martin’s (2011) Textbook Assessment and Usage Scale (TAUS) is geared toward students, it can also be adapted for faculty to use. Compare the traditional textbook you typically use to the curated materials you prepared for your course. The beauty is that in the areas that you scored low, you can fix and adapt them to your liking. For example, are the photographs not reflective of the people and places you teach? You can swap them out with open access images or even include your photography.


The way the world receives information has drastically changed in the last 50 years. This shift directly affects how teachers gather information and share it with their students. Weitien (1988) recognized that selecting a textbook in psychology is a difficult process partly because of the saturation in the market. Today there are even more choices than ever before, along with ever-changing modalities to access the text. The new APA IPI gives psychology instructors more academic freedom to pick the most relevant content to the context of their classroom within the framework of the themes and SLOs. Engler and Shedlosky-Shoemaker (2019) report that content mastery in introductory psychology depends not on whether the course text is commercial or OER. Hardin et al. (2019) found a slight increase in content knowledge in a general psychology OER course. As a department chair or committee often decides on course materials, some instructors may not get the opportunity to choose what text they use for introductory psychology. It is prudent for departments to review their criteria for selecting an introductory text (Altman et al., 2006). When weighing the options of commercial texts, consider alternatives for course materials that may best serve both your students and faculty.


Altman, W. S., Ericksen, K., & Pena-Shaff, J. B. (2006). An inclusive process for departmental textbook selection. Teaching of Psychology, 33(4), 228-231.

American Psychological Association. (2020). The APA Introductory Psychology Initiative.

Bol, L., Esqueda, M. C., Ryan, D., & Kimmel, S. C. (2021). A Comparison of Academic Outcomes in Courses Taught With Open Educational Resources and Publisher Content. Educational Researcher,

Clinton, V., & Khan, S. (2019). Efficacy of open textbook adoption on learning performance and course withdrawal rates: a meta-analysis. AERA Open, 5(3),

Cooney, C. (2017). What impacts do OER have on students? Students share their experiences with a health psychology OER at New York City College of Technology. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 18(4), 155-178.

Davis, T. L., & Fromuth, M. E. (2019). Creating and Evaluating a General Psychology Custom Textbook: A Goal-Oriented Approach. Psychology Learning & Teaching, 18(3), 305-316.

Engler, J. N., & Shedlosky-Shoemaker, R. (2019). Facilitating student success: The role of open educational resources in introductory psychology courses. Psychology Learning & Teaching, 18(1), 36-47.

Grissett, J. O., & Huffman, C. (2019). An open versus traditional psychology textbook: Student performance, perceptions, and use. Psychology Learning & Teaching, 18(1), 21-35.

Gurung, R. A., & Neufeld, G. (2021). Transforming introductory psychology: Expert advice on teacher training, course design, and student success. American Psychological Association.

Gurung, R. A. R., & Martin, R. C. (2011). Predicting textbook reading: The textbook assessment and usage scale. Teaching of Psychology, 38, 22-28.

Hardin, E. E., Eschman, B., Spengler, E. S., Grizzell, J. A., Moody, A. T., Ross-Sheehy, S., & Fry, K. M. (2019). What happens when trained graduate student instructors switch to an open textbook? A controlled study of the impact on student learning outcomes. Psychology Learning & Teaching, 18(1), 48-64.

Hilton, J. (2020). Open educational resources, student efficacy, and user perceptions: a synthesis of research published between 2015 and 2018. Educational Technology Research and Development, 68(3), 853-876.

Landrum, R. E. (2012). Selection of textbooks or readings for your course. In B. M. Schwartz & R. A. R. Gurung (Eds.), Evidence-based teaching for higher education (pp. 117–129). American Psychological Association.

Kim, M. (2007). The Creative Commons and copyright protection in the digital era: Uses of Creative Commons licenses. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), 187-209.

Martin, T., & Kimmons, R. (2020). Faculty members' lived experiences with choosing open educational resources. Open Praxis, 12(1), 131-144.

Magro, J., & Tabaei, S. V. (2020). Results from a Psychology OER pilot program: faculty and student perceptions, cost savings, and academic outcomes. Open Praxis, 12(1), 83-99.

Nusbaum, A. T., & Cuttler, C. (2020). Hidden Impacts of OER: Effects of OER on Instructor Ratings and Course Selection. In Frontiers in Education (Vol. 5, p. 72).

Vojtech, G., & Grissett, J. (2017). Student perceptions of college faculty who use OER. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 18(4), 155-171.

Weller, M., De Los Arcos, B., Farrow, R., Pitt, B., & McAndrew, P. (2015). The impact of OER on teaching and learning practice. Open Praxis, 7(4), 351-361.

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