Frequently Asked Questions


Common Questions

Question: What are Open Educational Resources?

Answer: We utilize the SPARC definition: "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 the use of an open license (for example, Creative Commons licenses) which allows anyone to freely use, adapt and share the resource—anytime, anywhere."


Question: How do OER help educators and students?

Answer: Open educational resources give instructors the ability to adapt instructional resources to the individual needs of their students, to ensure that resources are up-to-date, and to ensure that cost is not a barrier to accessing high-quality standards-aligned resources. OER are already being used across America in K-12, higher education, workforce training, informal learning, and more.


Question: What is the difference between OER and other free online resources?

Answer: All OER are free to access, but not all free resources are OER. What makes OER different is their open licenses, copyright licenses that allow users to edit, redistribute, and remix content as long as the author is properly cited and attributed. Free-but-not-open resources cannot be edited without obtaining permission from the copyright holder.


Question: What is the difference between OER and Immediate Access texts? 

Answer: The Open & Affordable Education Committee on campus supports OER as well as other affordable course content options, such as Immediate Access resources. Immediate Access is a program between the ISU Book Store, faculty and publishers. This program allows instructors to use their usual publisher-provided textbooks to their students at a discounted rate by opting in all students to pay for their books through their U-Bill. The Immediate Access program is called "immediate" because it ensures that all students have access to content digitally on the first day of class. 


Question: My students prefer to use print books. Doesn't that mean I need to stick with traditional textbook publishers?

Answer: Most OER start as digital files, but like traditional resources, OER can be made available to students in both digital and print formats. Sometimes the OER publisher will offer a printed and bound textbook which can be ordered directly from their website or purchased through the ISU Book Store. Because students are only paying for the actual print and distribution costs, the price of the printed OER will still be substantially lower than that of a commercial textbook. If a printed copy isn't available, or if you are using your own compilation of OER, the ISU Book Store can work with you to create a coursepack.

Copyright Questions

Question: How do you tell if an educational resource is an OER?

Creative Commons Attribution license imageAnswer: The key distinguishing characteristic of OER is its intellectual property license and the freedoms the license grants to others to share and adapt it. If a lesson plan or activity is not clearly tagged or marked as being in the public domain or having an open license, it is not OER. The most common way to release materials as OER is through Creative Commons copyright licenses (pictured on the right).


Question: What are Creative Commons licenses?

Answer: Creative Commons licenses are customizable copyright licenses that work alongside copyright law to give explicit permission for users to reuse items under specific circumstances. Applying a Creative Commons license to your work changes the familiar "All rights reserved" to "Some rights reserved," with explicit rules about what can and cannot be done with the item. See our Copyright Support page for more help with this topic. 


Question: Are OER authors credited for their work?

Answer: Openly licensed content can be reused without the need to contact an author for permission; however, this does not mean that OER can be used without proper attribution. All Creative Commons licenses contain an Attribution element which requires that users who edit, redistribute, or remix a work provide information about its original author, license, and source. You can learn more about these licenses on the Creative Commons website.

Quality Concerns

Question: Can open educational resources be high quality if they are free?

Answer: OER may be free to access, but that doesn't mean that they were produced for free. Often, OER production is funded by institutional or national grants, such as those provided by the US Department of Education. Instructors, support staff, and publishers work together to make open educational resources as good as they can be. That being said, there is no single level of quality for all open educational resources. There are some materials available openly online that are low quality and require care and attention to meet standards and there are some resources that are equal to (and even rival) their commercial counterparts. The quality of resources tends to vary across disciplinary lines and content levels, and we recommend that faculty use their experience and content expertise when assessing these materials' fit for a course. 


Question: How does using OER affect learning outcomes for students? 

Answer: Studies at both the K-12 and higher education levels show that students who use OER do as well, and often better, than their peers using traditional resources. In some cases, this is believed to be the case because all students are able to access their learning materials when they are free. However, being open or closed does not inherently affect the quality of a resource. What matters is that the materials meet the needs of a course and are integrated into a curriculum well.

NOTE: Being open does enable educators to use a resource more effectively because they can be adapted. OER can be updated, tailored, and improved locally to fit the needs of students.


Question: Are open educational resources peer-reviewed?

Answer: Many OER, especially open textbooks like those created by OpenStax, are developed through a rigorous production and peer review process that mirrors traditional methods. After production, OER can be updated, tailored, and improved locally to fit the needs of students. 

Other Topics

Question: I understand that textbooks can be very expensive, but I don't want to take business away from our bookstore. Doesn't the bookstore need us?

Answer: There are a few different responses to this concern. Using OER doesn't necessarily mean e-book only, and doesn't necessarily mean the ISU Book Store won't have any profits. The ISU Book Store makes a substantial portion of their profits from selling merchandise and clothing, not textbooks.


Question: Do I need to use a code or special software to access OER?

Answer: Users have the right to adapt OER into any format they wish. As a result, OER are not tied to a particular type of device or software. This gives students and instructors freedom in what technology they purchase and how they interact with the resource. OER can be hosted on a Canvas course site, accessed via the publisher-provided online version, or downloaded as a pdf. If the resource is not interactive or web-based, there is always the option to print.

NOTE: There are some commercial publishers and providers offering "OER Courseware" that is not free to access and requires a fee or access code to use. These are not actually OER, but are commercial resources created to "add onto" or support open content that is free to access online. In some cases, these resources are relatively affordable and give back to those who created the original resource, but we recommend that you reach out to our staff before agreeing to purchase any of these resources for your students. 


Question: I depend on the test banks that publishers provide with their textbooks. Do OER include test banks, and if they're open, what's to prevent a student for getting access to them?

Answer: Some open textbooks do include test banks as well as presentation slides and other resources we're used to getting from a publisher. To answer the question about "protected resources" we went to Nicole Finkbeiner, Associate Director of Institutional Relations for OpenStax

"In terms of "protected" resources such as test banks, you have to find a way for students to not be able to access these. And, you don't want to openly license these because then you have no way to combat them being published. At Rice University’s OpenStax, our website is set-up so faculty have to first register for an account and then request faculty access prior to being able to download them. We check every single account to ensure the right official email is used, they are in fact teaching a course where they would need the resources, etc. Sometimes we even call the department chair directly to make sure we should be providing access, so this is definitely a labor-intensive process, but I think it is worth it to protect the resources."

Depending on the OER you plan on using, there may be similar provisions in place.


This page is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 International License. It was adapted by Abbey Elder from FAQ: Open Educational Resources [pdf] by Nicole Allen and Kirkwood Community College's OER FAQ.