Teaching with OER

While implementing OER within a course has numerous benefits for both students and instructors, navigating the complexity of these resources can be daunting. This page has been put together to help orient instructors to these resources.

The navigation of OER includes more than simply saving students money, however—though easing students’ heavy financial burden  does make measurable differences. Implementing OER is only one element in a larger open pedagogical practice. Before locating then implementing OER within a course, instructors should consider how these types of materials reflect their pedagogical approach as well as consider the material’s larger responsibility and context.

The following six questions are meant to help instructors better understand the facets of OER implementation, focusing on preliminary considerations such as location, evaluation, licensing and attribution, design and accessibility for students, and administrative support along with how to integrate OER within a course.

1: Where can I find OER?

As instructors, institutions, and organizations consider OER as an educational alternative more materials will become available. Already there is a robust and diverse collection of OER available for use as found on the sites collected here.

2: How do I evaluate OER?

When considering the use of materials found through OER repositories or open banks keep in mind that they have been developed by other educators, meaning those individuals share common learning goals through the use of educational materials. Additionally, on most open textbook repositories—such as OTN—the resources have been peer-reviewed by faculty or other subject-matter experts. The source of the original materials and the open textbook reviews can further guide an instructor in choosing a text that best reflects their own teaching practices and standards.

For an instructor who wants to review a work for themselves, a more thorough evaluation rubric for OER has been offered by the educational nonprofit, Achieve. 

Lastly, when integrating OER into a course it’s important to consider diversity and inclusivity of the material; after all, in addition to using OER as an educational tool, it can also be used to fill-in gaps found within other course materials that don’t accurately represent student experiences.

The following are resources to consider when evaluating OER through the lens of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI):

-The Association of College and University Educators: Classroom Diversity and Inclusive Pedagogy

-University of Delaware: Diversity and Inclusive Teaching 

3: What should I know about licensing and attribution of OER?

One of the most challenging aspects of OER is understanding the different licenses behind open materials. These licenses provide guidance in how to use, adapt, attribute, and distribute OER.  Guidance is especially needed when remixing and revising content from various creators as each of those pieces of content may have a different license.   

Once an instructor moves from evaluating OER materials, and considers their implantation within a course, the following resources should be consulted to ensure lawful use within the different licenses:

+Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization dedicated to globally-accessible public commons of knowledge and culture, offers a thorough understanding and breakdown of the various licenses

+The University of Texas at Austin offers a step-by-step consideration for implementing OER which includes an abbreviated understanding of open licensing, copyright, and fair use

[A graphic illustrating the different licenses and what they mean for OER use and creation as offered by the library systems of the University of Pittsburgh.]

4. What are the ways I can integrate OER into my course?

A course could integrate open-materials as either the main content or supplemental content—OER is not an all-or-nothing practice. As with any other materials used in an educational setting the implementation of OER is a process of refinement and experimentation, yet this process can occur with little to no cost for students and can lead to larger educational gains. As discussed throughout this site, OER allows for massive and immediate customization of materials as instructors work with students, creating a more fluid and mutual learning environment. 

After an instructor decides to use OER as part of their pedagogy there are three main approaches for course integration: adoption, adaptation, and creation. Within the OER context these three approaches can be defined as:

  • Adoption=taking readymade, complete materials found with open licensing and creative commons and replacing previously used materials not found with these licenses—which often include a financial burden for students. This replacement could take the form of individual examples, assignments, lessons, and textbooks. Additionally, adoption of OER can fill gaps found within and around other non-open materials. Though all courses and instruction include labor for the appropriate stakeholder, this adoption approach is arguably the easiest to enact.

          Example: An Art Appreciation instructor is teaching a unit on the Italian Renaissance. While the non-open textbook offers several examples of art and              architecture during this time, the survey-nature of the course and text does not allow for additional contextual examples which could benefit student              understanding. The instructor feels this gap in examples could undermine future units that rely on this period. They locate an open-source slide deck              composed completely of public domain images and connect students to that resource via their Learning Management System (LMS) or as an email                  attachment.


[Image courtesy of Pxfuel, a repository of royalty-free stock photos available for personal and commercial use.]

  • Adaptation=taking readymade, complete materials found with open licensing and creative commons and altering the content to better suit localized needs for both the instructor and students. Once instructors better understand the licensing behind OER (through marking and attribution), the adaptation approach can be viewed as a space of knowledge creation—taking existing knowledge, questioning it, reflecting upon it, then adding to it—which ultimately widens the knowledge base. This approach also allows for materials to better reflect local and exigent contexts as well as opportunities for students to modify content, allowing mutual knowledge to enter the classroom. After adapting OER materials, instructors should make those alterations available for future OER use on the appropriate open repositories


[Image courtesy of QUBES, a community of math and biology educators.] 

          Example: An instructor in the Finance department wants to conduct a lesson on “unicorns,” privately held startup companies valued at over $1                          billion. On an open repository site they find a complete 20-minute lesson on the term and its implications. However, they feel the examples provided              are slightly dated and the structure of the lesson doesn’t fit within the larger unit. The licensing of the lesson allows for remixing as long as the                        original creator is attributed. The Finance instructor updates the examples, restructures the material in order to make stronger connections to previous            and future lessons, and adds an in-class assignment asking for small groups to develop their own “unicorn” based on class discussion.

          Here is a small list of assignments with open pedagogy/adaptation in mind. 

  • Creation=developing own course materials. While instructors often create course materials for many facets of their pedagogy—from modules/units to assignments to examples—what sets this approach firmly in OER is the creation of major materials that the course revolves around, typically required for students to use within the course (i.e. textbooks, readers, etc.), and that are marked as open license or creative commons. This approach allows for the most instructor autonomy, using material that more closely aligns with course goals and learning outcomes, yet is arguably the most labor intensive.

         Example: The chemistry textbook an instructor has been using as their main course material is updating to a newer edition which means higher prices             for students. The instructor has a review copy of the new edition and feels the updates don’t warrant the new price. Additionally, past students have                 told them the “older” required text has been harder and harder to find outside the university bookstore, with even that edition carrying a high cost.                 After discussing their concern regarding the textbook with their department chair, the instructor is taking the summer to create their own material                   under an open license. They’ve decided to focus only on concepts that the course covers, rather than students paying for materials never discussed,                 and to use examples with the local setting in mind. They are supported by the university’s OER organization which manifests in a two-month stipend                and editing services from a graduate student.

5. How will my students interact with OER?

Though OER can be implemented through a variety of mediums the most common appear online in digital formats, allowing for optimum shareability and adaptation. When using digital OER materials (in the form of PDFs, ePubs, videos, course websites, etc.) it is important that design and accessibility are taken into consideration, ensuring that all students can use the materials successfully.

The University of Washington offers approaches to considering accessibility and design for instructional material and the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design, an Irish-based organization sponsored by the National Disability Authority, offers 7 Principles of consideration. For online instruction in general, the Online Writing Instruction Community has compiled a list of resources concerning content quality, design, usability, and digital instruction.

When it comes to design and accessibility for student use, OER should be aided through the relevant stakeholders found within an institution, such as the bookstore, library, IT help desk, and those who operate the localized Learning Management System (LMS). Bookstores specifically can help students navigate low-cost printing of required OER textbooks, often with institutional printing services, if the digital format isn’t preferred. When it comes to student use, the more stakeholders that know about OER and its possibilities the higher the chances of successful OER implementation.  

6. Who can help me with OER?

Adoption, adaptation, and creation of OER will require multiple degrees of deliberation and labor with ‘Creation’ requiring the most commitment. Before implementing OER within a course determine if any approval is necessary from the relevant stakeholders across the localized institution or organization. At the very least, relevant committee members and department chairs should be apprised of OER implantation for the reasons described next.

Determine if there are any initiatives sponsored by the institution or organization that support the adoption, adaptation, or creation of OER materials. This support could manifest through assisting the transition from past materials to OER materials, monetary stipends to compensate the additional labor, or, depending on the level of the project, course releases. Initiatives that recognize the labor involved when implementing OER within a course could motivate others to implement OER and emphasize the benefits to learners and the institution as a whole.