Open Educational Resources (OERs) are instructional materials such as textbooks that are available online for free. Types of OERs include textbooks, which are the most common example seen, but also includes such items as lesson plans, homework exercises, course readings, and quizzes. For students, these free resources present significant cost savings over traditional textbooks.

There have been many studies documenting the skyrocketing costs of college textbooks. One major governmental study shows an 89% increase in the cost of textbooks in just ten years from 2002 to 2012, while consumer prices in general only rose 28% in the same period.

A recent study of Florida students [link no longer available] showed that the high cost of textbooks adversely affects students learning. Two-thirds of students surveyed chose not to purchase a textbook due to high costs, and 37.6% of students had performed poorly in a class due to an inability to afford a textbook.

It is easy for faculty to find OERs for their subject areas. There are many high-quality providers of open textbooks and other items. A few are listed below:

  • MERLOT (California State University) 
    MERLOT contains over 40,000 items including open textbooks and other learning materials. Each goes through a peer review process before inclusion in MERLOT.
  • Open Textbook Library (Minnesota)
    Open Textbook Library contains hundreds of open textbooks on a wide variety of subjects. About 60% of textbooks in the Open Textbook Library have been reviewed.
  • OpenCourseWare (MIT)
    OpenCourseWare contains materials from over 2,400 MIT courses, on a wide variety of subjects.
  • OpenStax (Rice)
    OpenStax is a collection of about 40 online textbooks for college and AP courses that focuses on the most common college courses. All OpenStax books go through a rigorous peer review process.
  • Orange Grove (Florida)
    Orange Grove is a repository of instructional resources by faculty members at Florida educational institutions, both in K-12 and in higher education.

Look at the websites above for information about their respective quality control methods. For example, each OER on the Rice OpenStax site is peer reviewed by other educators. Ultimately, it is up to the faculty member using the resource to determine its quality.

The term OER implies more than just being free to use. The “open” in Open Educational Resources also implies that the resource carries legal permissions for re-use, distribution, and adaptation. This means that a faculty member can modify an OER to suit their own purposes. One possibility is that a faculty member could take parts of two different OERs and combine them to make a new one, or could simply add a new chapter to an existing OER. This flexibility in modifying OERs allows a faculty member to customize it to a particular course’s needs. Then the new OER can be uploaded to a website similar to those above for others to use.

What about copyright? In most cases this is not a concern because the OER has a specific license that gives all users certain legal permissions. It is normally required for the person modifying the work to give credit to the original author of the work.

To adopt an OER such as a textbook for a course, it is a simple matter of sending the link for the resource to the students in the class. Students can view the resource online or can download it for free to their own devices. Some OER websites also sell print copies of OER textbooks at reduced prices for those students who prefer a print edition.

Both the federal government and Texas state government have recently passed legislation to support the use of OERs. The federal government, as part of its Fiscal Year 2018 Omnibus legislation, budgeted $5 million to establish a grant program to assist faculty who want to create their own OERs. The Texas state government has also passed legislation, allocating up to $200,000 for a similar grant program. The state legislation also initiates a feasibility study to consider whether the state should establish a repository of OERs.

Would you like to learn more? Please contact me at and I would enjoy discussing OERs and how you can incorporate them into your classroom.

Additional links about OER:
Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC):
Modifying an Open Textbook: What You Need to Know

This article was written by Jeff Bond, Scholarly Communication Librarian, for the Fall 2018 Issue of Insights.