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What are Open Educational Resources?

"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."

In other words, an OER can be any teaching & learning resource (lab books, videos, exercises, software, and more) that is both free to access and available under an open license.

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.

ccbyIf 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).

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 (e.g. OpenStax) will offer a print book that can be ordered from their website or purchased through the ISU Book Store. Because students are only paying for the print and distribution costs, the price of the printed OER will still be substantially lower than that of a commercial print textbook. If a print copy isn't available, or if you are using your own compilation of OER, our team can work with you to create a custom printed course pack.

What is the difference between OER and Immediate Access texts? 

The Open & Affordable Education Committee 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. However, unlike OER, Immediate Access texts are not free.

Want to explore other affordable course material options for your course? Check out our page: Explore Other Affordable Content

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, ensure that resources are up-to-date, and 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.

    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.

    Other 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.

    Learn More

    Additional resources are pulled into a list below: 

    • The OER Starter KitThis 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.  

    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.