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Open Educational Resources (OER)

A guide defining Open Educational Resources (OER), including information on finding, evaluating, and creating OER, with additional resources for using OER to support Open Pedagogy.

What are Open Educational Resources?

William Butler Yeats famously quipped “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” A true education is an insatiable spark to learn, discover, and push oneself to new academic and personal heights. A major obstacle in this journey has been the exponential increase in the cost of a college education. 

One particularly egregious example is the cost of a traditional textbook. Between 2006 and 2016, the average textbook price increased 88 percent, outpacing cost increases of tuition, food and housing. Students  are forced to choose between feeding their minds or feeding themselves. Higher education is veering dangerously close to a stifling atmosphere where “the truth is paywalled but the lies are free.” 

Educators and students do not have to acquiesce to this grim world of paywalls and price increases. Instead, by utilizing Open Educational Resources (OERs), academic institutions can pave the way for true equity in education. 

UNESCO defines OERs as “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.” (UNESCO Open Educational Resources (OER) Programme).

Open Educational Resources are part of a broader movement of open access to education. The philosophy, history and pedagogy of this movement are described in detail by Dr. Peter Suber’s Open Access Overview

The OER movement has a proven track record and enormous potential. OER eliminates unnecessary costs for students, equalizes  access to higher education, empowers faculty to adjust their curriculum to fit the needs of their classes, and enables students and teachers to collaborate together as fellow researchers contributing to a shared work of scholarship. 

Why OER? A Diverse and Growing Resource

OER is diverse and flexible. This short selection of OER material highlights the versatility of OER creation and utilization.

Knowledge Evolved | Noba  --Noba highlights the flexibility of OER resources. Unlike traditional “one size fits all” textbooks, platforms such as Noba encourage teachers to reuse and reconstruct their modules to fit specifically to the needs of their classes.

Smart History: The Center for Public Art Smart History’s purpose is to give students the highest quality educational and cultural heritage resources for free. Collaborating with a global team of academics, libraries and museums, Smart History is an incredible example of how OER can become global --to paraphrase the British Museum’s logo, OER can truly be made “by the world and for the world."

Introduction to Oceanography – Simple Book Publishing  --An OER textbook written by a single professor supported by his home institution, Roger Williams University. Much to the creator’s delight, this textbook has been incorporated into college classes around the world.

The American Yawp --a fantastic example of collaborative OER research contributing to academic excellence. Curated by Stanford University Press, The American Yawp is a “massively collaborative” peer-reviewed textbook of American history written by over 300 professors.

The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature – Simple Book Production  --Anthologies are often relied upon by most literature and philosophy professors. Vast amounts of material in anthologies is already in the public domain. (Some works, like The Iliad have been in the “public domain” in some form for thousands of years!) Instead of having students pay to use an anthology, why not have them work with their professor to contribute to their discipline by creating one? Students have vital role in creating and spreading OER.

Why OER? The Current Textbook Market Is Broken

The rising costs of higher education alongside the exponential increases in student debt are reason enough to pivot from the traditional textbook market to OER material.

Textbook costs have increased 88% between 2006 and 2016. Between 1997 and 2018, the CPI (Consumer Price Index) of textbooks jumped 204%, nearly four times as fast as the dollar’s inflation rate during the same period of time.

Source: The CD 'chart of the century' makes the rounds at the Federal Reserve 

The status quo of rising textbook prices divides college students into two classes: those who can afford to buy a textbook and those who cannot. Incorporating OER removes this unnecessary distinction, giving all students equal opportunity to learn the material and engage in class, a critical first step in creating true equity in education.

“I tell my students, “When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.”

-Toni Morrison

OER empowers students by freeing them from unnecessary and onerous textbook costs; thereby enabling further equity in education.