a self-paced, unfaciliated introductory course created by Open UAS

Module 3: Understanding OER

We will start the lesson discussing what open educational resources are. Please watch the video first and read through the content. It is important to understand the concept of open educational resources as it will be the base for the rest of the modules.

What (on earth) are “OPEN” educational resources?

“Why OER” by The Council of Chief State School Officers is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Have you ever found something from the internet that could be a perfect resource (image, video, quiz, etc.) for your course, and you spent hours trying to figure out the copyright issues with that resource? You couldn’t find any Terms of Use, and there was no author information, so you didn’t know who to contact to get the permission?

Wouldn’t it have been nice if that resource somehow said “I’m free to use, no strings attached, you don’t need to ask for my permission because it is already granted”?

Open Educational Resources (OER) are an answer to that need.

There are millions of educational resources out there that are available for others to freely use. There are all kinds: full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and many other tools, materials and techniques used to support access to knowledge.

Here is how OER is defined in more specific and fancy terms:

Open educational resources (OER) are educational materials that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others (definition by Hewlett Foundation).

To put it another way. OER meet these criteria in:

    • Format: materials in any medium, digital or otherwise
    • Conditions: that either
      • reside in the public domain or
      • have been released under an open license,
    • Nature: permits its free use and re-purposing by others.

To see how others define OER, please visit What is OER by Creative Commons.

What are the benefits in using OER?

Why do open educational resources matter? What is the point of using OER? Below are some of the benefits of using open educational resources that I have seen while working with OER over the past several years.

Saves costs and outcomes for students

OER can offer drastic savings in the cost of education. Some students, who otherwise cannot afford to buy expensive textbooks or other course materials, will appreciate this affordable option when taking your course. A faculty member from a community college said during an interview

“Many of my students are struggling. They are working adults trying to make ends meet. I used to use a $150 textbook from a publisher and I switched to an open textbook. My students love it because it costs nothing. They are now asking if my next course will use the free textbook too.”

“I made my own course materials package for my students. It is free to download and a printed version is only 40 dollars. I could not find a ready-made open textbook for my course. So I combined the open resources out there and developed my own. It was a lot of work, but my students are happy to save good money.”

  • All students get free access to course materials on Day 1
  • Improved end of course outcomes and decreased DFW (drop, fail, withdrawal) rates, particularly from under-served populations (Colvard, Watson & Park, 2018).
  • A multi-institutional study (Fisher, Hilton, Robinson and Wiley, 2015) found that students taking courses using OER enrolled in a significantly higher number of credits the next semester.
  • OER Review Project: a summary of all known empirical research on the impacts of OER adoption.

Grants access to high-quality choices

There are thousands of free OER, from textbooks and videos to full courses, created and in many cases, peer-reviewed by faculty at leading universities that have been openly licensed. Students in low-resource environments can enjoy these materials as well as recorded lectures and video to supplement their learning.

OpenStacks (from  Rice University),
BC Campus OpenEd (from the University of British Columbia and other BC universities),
Open Textbook Library (from University of Minnesota Center for Open Education and Open Textbook Network),
MIT OpenCourseWare (from MIT, includes open assignments, syllabi).

This is just to name a few. Many other universities, colleges, and other educational institutions in higher education are supporting the creation of OER. Educators are happily sharing their life’s work with students and enjoying the greater influence their materials have on larger audiences.

Helps prior learning and after learning

If an instructor opens his/her own course materials, and shares them with the public it greatly enhances opportunities for learning for both students who already took the course and the prospective students.

Students often would like to look over course materials before the term begins. If students have that opportunity to take a look at the course materials it will help them make more informed decisions in choosing their courses, and will give them the opportunity to prepare themselves for the class.

Students also would like to revisit their course materials after the quarter/semester is over to refresh their memories or to further study the topics. Open course materials will help them reinforce what they have learned and further develop their level of understanding in the area.

Provides peace of mind for all users

If you’re re-using someone else’s materials, one of the best reasons for using OER is for peace of mind about attribution. The resources are licensed to allow the sharing of content and so you will not need to contact the author about making use of his or her work provided that what you want to do falls within the ‘open’ license. OERs are free at the point of use, so you will not need to provide monetary compensation for using them. Then there is the opportunity of discovering alternative ideas for presenting and teaching your subject matter or being able to point your students to the alternative explanations for further study (text in this paragraph is from “Why OER” by Kabils, CC BY).

Other benefits

• Showcases research to widest possible audience
• Enhances a school’s reputation as well as that of the teacher or researcher
• Social responsibility – provides education for all
• Shares best practice internationally
• Creates additional opportunities for peer review
• Maximizes the use and increases availability of educational materials
• Raises the quality standards for educational resources by gathering more contributors

What do you see? Do they make sense? Think about what OER can do for you and your students.

What are the challenges in using OER?

Below are some of the challenges of using/providing open educational resources.

Quality Assurance

A growing number of digital resources are available. Teachers, students and self-learners looking for resources will not have trouble finding resources but might have a harder time judging their quality and relevance. Many institutions that supply OER go through an internal review process before releasing them to the public but these processes are not open in the sense that the user of the resource can follow them (text from “Open Educational Resources” by Jan Hylen, CC-BY). Also there is a lack of research data focusing on comparing the amount students learn from OER compared to the amount they learn from prevailing publisher materials. Whether the material is free or expensive, quality does matter.

Sustainability of OER

Many OER initiatives begun in recent years were dependent on one-time start-up funding. Although some projects have a strong institutional backing, it is likely that the initial funding will cease after a few years and maintaining the resources will be difficult and expensive. Without maintenance the resources will become obsolete and the quality could be lost. Therefore it is critical to figure out how to sustain these initiatives in the long run.

Lack of public understanding about OER

At just over ten years old OER is a very recent development in education. It requires a huge paradigm shift and attitude change and this is a much bigger challenge than introducing a new tool or knowledge. Many in education do not understand the potential of OER and feel that it threatens their ownership of intellectual property. It takes some time to understand that open licenses, such as Creative Commons licenses, clearly recognize and can reinforce someone’s intellectual ownership. The open licenses are simply to make the sharing process easy while protecting the copyright.

What other challenges do you see?

Below are presentation slides that discuss the benefits and challenges of OER prepared by Washington State Community and Technical College faculty.

Check Your Knowledge (quiz)


Next | Module 4: Open License