"Open Educational Resources (OER), are teaching, learning, and research resources that are free of cost and access barriers, and which also carry legal permission for open use. Generally, this permission is granted by use of an open license (for example, Creative Commons licenses) which allows anyone to freely use, adapt and share the resource—anytime, anywhere" (SPARC). OER include learning content (e.g. textbooks, lesson plans, assignments, exams, and videos) as well as tools for learning (e.g. software for creating videos and websites, course management systems, word processing programs, and training materials).
On this page, you will find some reasons to use OER in your classroom. On the tabs across the top of this guide, you can find resources for finding, adopting, creating, and researching the effects of OER.
This guide will introduce you to OER and suggest ways to incorporate these and other quality low-cost (for your students) materials into your teaching. If you have additional questions, contact your liaison librarian.
Textbooks are prohibitively expensive for some students, especially those who rely on grants and student loans to attend college. Studies have shown that 66.6% of students have not bought a textbook because it is too expensive, and 47.6% occasionally or frequently take fewer courses because of the cost of the required texts. The BCcampus Open Textbook project in British Columbia showed that adoption of just 12 open textbooks in classes saved their students more than $350,000 in one year. A study of eight colleges from around the United States showed that students saved an average of $900 per year on textbooks when their professors used open textbooks or open educational resources in place of commercial textbooks.
OER include not just textbooks, but also lesson plans, assignments, exams, and in-class activities. OER are created by instructors from all around the world and shared with others teaching similar topics. Instead of creating course content all on their own, instructors can take advantage of high-quality course materials already made by others. Instructors can then spend more time on their personalized lectures, feedback, and one-on-one assistance for students.
Students frequently borrow textbooks from the library or rent them from the bookstore instead of purchasing them. Many students who actually do purchase textbooks try to recover some of their costs by selling the books back to the bookstore or online after the course is over. OER are free and available. Students can take their materials with them after class ends, which means that they will always have access to learning materials for future use.
Textbooks and educational materials are often covered by stringent copyright restrictions, which does not allow reuse in other contexts or modifications or derivations. With OER, students and instructors can re-use and re-purpose the materials not just during the class, but in the future as well.
OER are free and available online, which means that anyone with internet access can access and use them. When instructors make their teaching material openly available, they can teach far beyond their own classroom. Students can also access these materials, whether they are supplementing a course they are already taking or starting out on an educational journey.
By creating and adopting OER, students and teachers can connect around the world, opening up networks of learning and enhancing collaboration opportunities. To see one example of how far this reach can extend, read this story about a yak herder in Tibet learning poetry from a Stanford professor.
Research has shown that OER are at least as effective as traditional commercial textbooks. The video below provides an overview of an article that synthesized 16 empirical studies examining the effectiveness of OER compared to traditional commercial textbooks. Most of the studies showed a connection between the use of OER and higher test scores, lower failure rates, and lower dropout rates. Additionally, the majority of teachers and students who used OER viewed them positively. You can read other studies about OER here.
Are you unsure about using OER? There are a lot of myths out there about OER. This guide addresses them.
One of the hallmarks of OER is their reusability. OER are generally offered with Creative Commons licenses that allow the content to be freely reused and remixed with attribution to the original author. This means that you can take a great resource and tweak it to fit your needs.
OER are being adopted by faculty at universities around the country. Even just a few faculty using OER rather than costly textbooks and course materials can have an incredible impact on the student experience. The infographic below shows some figures from the BCcampus Open Textbook project in British Columbia.
This guide is adapted from resources created by the University of Pittsburgh, Portland Community College, Virginia Tech, UMass Amherst Libraries, and the University of Texas at Arlington.