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Open Educational Resources

What are Open Educational Resources?

As defined by UNESCO, "Open Educational Resources (OER) are learning, teaching and research materials in any format and medium that reside in the public domain or are under copyright that have been released under an open license, that permit no-cost access, re-use, re-purpose, adaptation and redistribution by others. Open license refers to a license that respects the intellectual property rights of the copyright owner and provides permissions granting the public the rights to access, re-use, re-purpose, adapt and redistribute educational materials."

The definition of Open Educational Resources encompasses much more than just open access textbooks! Monographs, articles, online modules, videos, and other instructional materials can also be considered OER if they are in the public domain or made available by the rights holder(s) under an open license.

Why use Open Educational Resources?

This video summarizes the findings of a 2016 review article which examined the efficacy and perceptions of OER among faculty. Key findings include:

1. Students generally perform better in class assessments when using OER as compared to traditional textbooks.

2. Both students and faculty generally perceive OER to be "as good as, if not better than, traditional textbooks."

For more research on Open Educational Resources, see our "Research & Discussion" page linked on the left.

Getting started with Open Educational Resources

Start Small!

Remember that you don't need to switch out all of your course materials for OER equivalents at once. Consider experimenting by assigning a single chapter of an OER textbook, a YouTube video, an Open Access article, etc. As you figure out which OER materials work (or don't work) for your students, you can build up your use of OER over time.

Evaluate OER

The British Columbia Open Education Librarians (BCOEL) have developed this excellent guide for evaluating the usefulness and quality of various OER. Consider their criteria (and any additional criteria of your own) when deciding which OER to adopt.

Confer with Colleagues

How are other educators in your discipline(s) using OER? Talk to your colleagues at St. Olaf and across your professional networks to learn how they have implemented OER with their students. Colleagues may also be able to recommend specific OER textbooks, articles, and other materials.

What else can faculty members do?

Sometimes a traditional text is still your best option. In that case, you can still take a few steps to help with the cost issue.

1. Consider small publishers that may be new to the textbook market 
We need more competition in the textbook industry and some small players have more reasonable prices.

2. Submit your required readings info as early as possible
There is high demand for used texts across the country. The earlier the bookstore can place orders, the more likely they will be able to obtain used copies for your students.

3. Inform students of viable alternatives
Is your text available in a cheaper electronic form? Can students rent the text? Will a previous edition work for your course? Informing students of options can help them to save money, or to obtain the book when bookstores are out of stock.

4. Avoid assigning code packaged textbooks
Code packaged texts can make it difficult for students to save money with a used text. Although publishers are required by federal law to sell the codes separately, in practice they don’t always provide this option to students or sometimes charge exorbitant prices for the codes. By law publishers must inform instructors of the code cost. If you assign code-required options, ask for price and availability of the access code before you adopt a text.

5. Check the bookstore website to see the price listed for your text
Publishers sometimes quote faculty the wholesale price at adoption, but then copies in stock at the bookstore have higher prices. Some faculty have questioned this and gotten price reductions for students.

6. Give students time to obtain the text
Some professors assign an online article from the library or other free reading during the first week and wait until the second week to use the text.

7. If you author a textbook:
Find a publisher that sells books at reasonable prices. Or, consider publishing an open textbook.