Frequently Asked Questions



What are Open Educational Resources?

Answer: We utilize the Hewlett Foundation’s definition: “Open Educational Resources are free teaching, learning, and research materials in any medium – digital or otherwise – that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions."

In short, OER are free to access educational resources that can be reused, remixed, and redistributed easily because they are openly licensed.

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.

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

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

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 platform itself will offer a printed and bound textbook which can be ordered directly from the website, or purchase can be brokered through the ISU Book Store, as a traditional textbook would be.

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 traditional textbook. If a printed copy isn't available, or if you are using your own compilation of OER (and/or some copyrighted materials that you've determined fall under fair use), the ISU Book Store can work with you to create a course pack for your students to purchase, again, at a substantially lower cost than a traditional textbook.


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

Creative Commons 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, which are standardized, free-to-use open licenses that have already been used on more than 1 billion copyrighted works.

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. 

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.


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

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. Also, many OER are developed through rigorous peer review and production processes that mirror traditional materials. However, it is important to note that being open or closed does not inherently affect the quality of a resource.

Being open does enable educators to use the resource more effectively, which can lead to better outcomes. For example, OER can be updated, tailored and improved locally to fit the needs of students, and it also eliminates cost as a barrier for students to access their materials.

Are open educational resources peer-reviewed?

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


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.

Furthermore, the open licensing for OER typically means that materials are free online and low-cost to print. This means the Book Store might work with Printing Services to offer a print copy of your open textbook or readings for sale, or it might mean the bookstore works with a publisher of printed and bound OER books to provide copies for sale at a substantially lower price than traditional textbooks. 

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.

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. We are currently exploring a similar system for "protecting" ancillary OER created at ISU.  


This work 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 of SPARC. The original can be found at “#GoOpen: OER for K-12 Educators” by Doug Levin, also available under a CC BY 4.0 license.

Some additional questions were taken from Kirkwood Community College's OER FAQ.