Accessible Course Content & Open Educational Resources

Accessible Course Content and Open Educational Resources

The high cost of commercial textbooks creates financial burdens for many students. A number of recent studies have highlighted the impact on students of rising textbook costs, from financial hardship to academic challenges to social and mental health consequences. A survey conducted in the Fall of 2016 uncovered similar impacts for students at the University of Guelph.

Textbook costs have been estimated to have increased by 82% in the past decade. Furthermore,  publishing industry practices such as the bundling of content, the use of access codes to control access to ancillary materials, and the frequent updating of textbook editions, have virtually eliminated the used textbook market.

Fortunately, there are an increasing number of alternatives to expensive textbooks and course packs when it comes to providing course content for students, such as:

  • Making course materials available to students via the Ares Course Reserve system
  • Linking to licensed Library resources, such as e-journals and e-books
  • Adopting and adapting an open textbook or other OER
  • Creating a new open textbook/OER

What are OER?

Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching and learning materials created by faculty that are freely available and openly licensed, and can be used instead of traditional course materials. OER include textbooks, streaming media, presentation slides, test banks, syllabi, and much more; many are high quality and peer-reviewed resources that can be modified and repurposed to meet specific course learning objectives as well as students’ needs.

OER are licensed in a manner that provides users with free and perpetual permission to engage in the following activities (known as The 5 R’s of Open):

Retain - the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)

Reuse - the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)

Revise - the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)

Remix - the right to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)

Redistribute - the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)

(From David Wiley, The 5 R’s of Open)

Why Use OER?

A survey of undergraduates conducted at the University of Guelph in the Fall of 2016 revealed that students are increasingly opting not to purchase expensive textbooks.  Instead, they are relying on other, often less satisfactory methods of obtaining access to required course materials, or are simply doing without. Students also reported that not purchasing a required textbook had negative consequences in terms of academic success, learning outcomes, and overall university experience. 

Using accessible course content and/or OER instead of commercial textbooks has many benefits:

  • Reduces student costs
  • Ensures more students have access to required course materials
  • Allows content to be customized to the course
  • Improves accessibility for students with perceptual disabilities
  • Enables open teaching practices and improved learning outcomes

What Instructors Can Do

  • Place a copy of required textbooks and other course materials on Course Reserve in the Library using Ares
  • Combine low or no-cost course materials, using library licensed or open content, into an online course pack or course reserve reading list
  • Find Open Educational Resources (OER) to adopt in place of commercial resources. See "Where to Find OER" below.
  • Talk to a member of the ACC/OER Task Force, a librarian, or OpenEd about how to find, remix, create and use OER

What Students Can Do

  • Talk to your instructor about putting the required text on course reserve in the Library, or making course materials available online
  • Talk to your instructor about adopting Open Educational Resources (OER) instead of commercial textbooks
  • Search for course readings on the Library’s Course Reserves ARES website

Where To Find OER

There are a number of collections of open textbooks and other OER that can be adopted and adapted to use in courses at the University of Guelph.

ECampusOntario Open Textbook Library

A curated collection of 180 open textbooks which covers many subject areas in post-secondary education. Many of the textbooks have been reviewed and vetted by educators across the country.

OpenStax (Rice University)

Peer-reviewed open textbooks in science, math, and the social sciences.

Open Textbook Library (University of Minnesota)

A growing catalogue of openly-licensed, peer-reviewed textbooks in all subject areas.

OER Commons

Includes open textbooks for higher education, as well as openly-licensed courses and lessons.

Guides and Resources

Accessible Course Content and OER at the University of Guelph

The University’s Accessible Course Materials and OER Task Force (ACC/OER) is committed to raising awareness of OER and other alternatives to commercial textbooks and course packs, as well as providing support for instructors interested in adopting, adapting or creating OER for their courses.

Our members are Heather Martin (Library), Ali Versluis (Library), Melanie Cassidy (Library), Ron Ward (Library), Natalie Green (Open Learning and Educational Support), and Rebecca Cheskes (Central Students Association VP Academic).

The Task Force is jointly sponsored by the Provost and VP Academic (Charlotte Yates) and the University Librarian (Rebecca Graham).