What are Open Educational Resources?
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."
Other OER Definitions:
- OER Commons: “Open Educational Resources are teaching and learning materials that you may freely use and reuse, without charge. OER often have a Creative Commons or GNU license that state specifically how the material may be used, reused, adapted, and shared.”
- The Cape Town Open Education Declaration: “Open educational resources should be freely shared through open licences which facilitate use, revision, translation, improvement and sharing by anyone. Resources should be published in formats that facilitate both use and editing, and that accommodate a diversity of technical platforms. Whenever possible, they should also be available in formats that are accessible to people with disabilities and people who do not yet have access to the Internet.”
- UNESCO: "Open Educational Resources (OER) are any type of educational materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license. The nature of these open materials means that anyone can legally and freely copy, use, adapt and re-share them. OER range from textbooks to curricula, syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, tests, projects, audio, video and animation."
- William and Flora Hewlett Foundation: "Open Educational Resources are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and repurposing by others. OER include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge."
How do you tell if a free resource is "open?"
The key distinguishing characteristic of OER is its intellectual property license and the freedoms the license grants to others to share and adapt it. These freedoms include:
- Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)
- Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
- Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
- Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
- Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)
This material is adapted from "Defining the 'Open' in Open Content and Open Educational Resources" by David Wiley, which was published freely under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.
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).
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.
What is the difference between OER and other free online resources?
All OER are free to access, but not all free resources are OER. What makes OER different is their copyright licenses. Free-but-not-open resources cannot be edited without obtaining permission from the copyright holder.
Can I get OER in print?
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 print 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.
What is the difference between OER and Immediate Access texts?
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.
Want to explore other affordable course material options for your course? Check out our page: Explore Other Affordable Content
Why Use OER?
OER has been shown to increase student learning while breaking down barriers of affordability and accessibility. Feldstein et al. (2012) conducted a research study at Virginia State University, where OER were implemented across nine different courses in the business department. Researchers found that students in courses that used OER more frequently had better grades and lower failure and withdrawal rates than their counterparts in courses that did not use OER.
- According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, 7 in 10 students didn’t purchase a textbook because it was too expensive.
- One in five college students has skipped or deferred a class due to the price of the required learning resources.
- The cost of textbooks is rising at roughly 4 times the rate of inflation.
- 60% of students have delayed purchasing textbooks until they’ve received their financial aid.
OER give faculty the ability to customize course materials, creating the “perfect” course packet or textbook instead of being bound to a traditional one-size-fits-all model. Customization gives faculty control over the quality of their course materials as well as the type and timing of updates to textbooks and other resources.
Advantages of using OER include:
- Expanded access to learning. Students anywhere in the world can access OER at any time, and they can access the material repeatedly.
- Scalability. OER are easy to distribute widely with little or no cost.
- Augmentation of class materials. OER can supplement textbooks and lectures where deficiencies in information are evident.
- Enhancement of regular course content. For example, multimedia material such as videos can accompany text. Presenting information in multiple formats may help students to more easily learn the material being taught.
- Quick circulation. Information may be disseminated rapidly (especially when compared to information published in textbooks or journals, which may take months or even years to become available). Quick availability of material may increase the timeliness and/or relevance of the material being presented.
- Showcasing of innovation and talent. A wide audience may learn of faculty research interests and expertise. Potential students and donors may be impressed, and student and faculty recruitment efforts may be enhanced.
- Ties for alumni. OER provide an excellent way for alumni to stay connected to the institution and continue with a program of lifelong learning.
- Continually improved resources. Unlike textbooks and other static sources of information, OER can be improved quickly through direct editing by users or through solicitation and incorporation of user feedback. Instructors can take an existing OER, adapt it for a class, and make the modified OER available for others to use.
How do OER help educators and students?
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.
Peggy Brickman, a biology professor at the University of Georgia, chose OpenStax College’s Concepts of Biology to use in her non-majors biology course:
Hilton, J. (2016) Open educational resources and college textbook choices: a review of research on efficacy and perceptions synthesizes the results of 16 studies that examine either (1) the influence of OER on student learning outcomes in higher education settings or (2) the perceptions of college students and instructors of OER. Results across multiple studies indicate that students generally achieve the same learning outcomes when OER are utilized and simultaneously save significant amounts of money.
Additional resources are pulled into a list below:
- The OER Starter Kit: This starter kit has been created to provide instructors with an introduction to the use and creation of open educational resources (OER). The text is broken into five sections: Getting Started, Copyright, Finding OER, Teaching with OER, and Creating OER. A workbook version with accompanying worksheets is also available.
- Accessibility Toolkit – 2nd Edition: The goal of the Accessibility Toolkit – 2nd Edition is to provide resources for each content creator, instructional designer, educational technologist, librarian, administrator, and teaching assistant to create a truly open textbook—one that is free and accessible for all students.
- Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for OER: Educators can apply fair use confidently within a consistent legal framework while authoring, adapting, and adopting open educational resources. The Code describes an approach to reasoning the application of fair use to issues both familiar and emergent.
- Adaptation Guide: A reference to adapting or revising an open textbook: The Adaptation Guide is a practical reference about how to customize — or adapt — an open textbook so that it better fits your needs in the classroom and elsewhere. This guide defines the term adaptation and discusses reasons for revising a book, why this is possible with an open textbook, and the challenges involved.
- The Rebus Guide to Publishing Open Textbooks (So Far): This is a living repository of collective knowledge, written to equip all those who want to publish open textbooks with the resources they need. Representing two years of collaboration, innumerable conversations, and a wide range of collective knowledge and experience, the Guide is a book-in-progress and will evolve and grow over time.
- A Guide to Making Open Textbooks with Students: A handbook for faculty interested in practicing open pedagogy by involving students in the making of open textbooks, ancillary materials, or other Open Educational Resources. This is a first edition, compiled by Rebus Community, and we welcome feedback and ideas to expand the text.
The image used for the button on the Resources & Support page leading to this page was retrieved from LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash.