As instructors face new challenges of redesigning their courses for online instruction, issues of access to materials for students become critical. Without access to library buildings and potential barriers to accessing current periodicals and articles remotely, instructors have to look to other solutions to build their syllabi and lessons.

Open Education Resources (OER) can be a part of that solution.

OERs are accessible online without paywalls to anyone and are designed and licensed to be adapted, remixed, and reused in your own classroom.

What are OERs?

OERs include worksheets, textbooks, videos, syllabi and lesson plans, and assignments or exams created by other instructors and shared openly for others to modify and reuse in their own teaching.

What are the benefits of using OERs in my teaching?

Benefits for instructors:

  • OERs are fully developed by others and do not require you to build your own lesson materials from scratch. Saves time in building lessons, exams, and classwork.
  • OERs are openly licensed to be modified, remixed, and reused in your classroom without paying or requiring copyright permission.
  • OERs can be easily linked to or added to Sakai without requesting permission to duplicate them.

Benefits for students:

  • OERs do not have a cost. Students do not have to pay prohibitive prices for textbooks.
  • Anyone with an internet connection can access the materials without paywalls, so access for students off campus is less problematic (does not require VPN or sign-in).
  • Students can preserve access to class materials after the course ends. No rented textbooks to return or sell.

How can I tell something is OER and not just a website?

You can search purposefully for OER via one of the locations listed in the section below, but if you are looking through the open web, seek out licensing information, generally from the Creative Commons. If you see a CC license somewhere on the site, the resource is there for you to use. See more about Creative Commons licenses. Statements about use can also be found.

How do I find OERs?

There are a number of repositories of OER content across the web. Some best bets with highly rated content are:

  • OER Commons – searchable public digital library of open educational resources.
  • OpenStax – fully open access and peer-reviewed college-level textbooks from Rice University.
  • Open Textbook Network – searchable repository of open textbooks from the Center for Open Education, University of Minnesota.
  • OASIS – searchable database of OERs from SUNY Geneseo.
  • Mason OER Metafinder – search that covers numerous repositories of OERs across the web from George Mason University.

How can I tell the quality of an OER?

Just as you do when designing a syllabus using a textbook or paywalled articles, you need to take the time to assess OERs for their suitability for your instruction. Because OERs are created by other educators rather than publishing companies, their attributes and depth of content vary.

Many of the repositories listed above feature comments and ratings from others who have used and/or adapted that particular OER for their classroom. The OER community relies heavily on such reviews and on sharing modifications you yourself make to a specific OER to tailor it for you class. By reading and contributing reviews, you can make critical decisions about which resources to use and recommend those resources to others.

I want to learn more about OER. Where can I go?

The Duke Libraries have a guide to OER, including how to interpret licenses, more sources for finding OER, and a detailed guide to assessing the quality and applicability of an OER to your course.

I have questions about using OER. Who can I ask?

Haley Walton, Librarian for Education and Open Scholarship, can advise you on tips and tricks for finding and evaluating OERs, as well as best practices for understanding licensing, how to modify existing OER, and how to share your own.

Rethinking your courses for online instruction is an ideal time to reassess the materials for your teaching and consider using free, flexible and reusable OERs instead of textbooks or copyrighted readings and videos.