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Open Educational Resources

Why use Open Educational Resources?

Over the last 20 years, textbook costs have increased at three times the rate of inflation, making them 200% more expensive. Futhermore, standard publishing industry practices such as bundling of content, using access codes to control access to ancillary materials, and frequently updating textbook editions, have virtually eliminated the used textbook market (U.S. PIRG, "Fixing the Broken Textbook Market," 2014). Traditional, commercial textbooks often have restrictions around electronic availability and usage, making them largely inaccessible in an alternative teaching delivery environment.

In the Fall of 2016, the library partnered with the Central Student Association to better understand the impact of textbook affordability and associated issues on our campus. More than 4000 students completed the survey, providing 3,200 free-text comments for further analysis. Read about student responses in Textbookbroke: Findings of a University of Guelph student survey on textbook purchasing behaviours and outcomes (PDF - 748kb).

The survey revealed that a majority of our students are 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. 

All of this means that it's a great time to consider using Open Educational Resources (OER) in your classroom. Using OER instead of commercial textbooks or other traditional materials will:

  • Reduce student costs
  • Ensure students have access to required course materials from the first day of class
  • Allows content to be customized to the unique structure or content of the course
  • Improve accessibility for students with perceptual disabilities
  • Enable equal or improved learning outcomes (Jhangiani et al. 2018, Allen et al. 2015)

Still not convinced? Watch this short video from U of G colleagues who have used OER and learn why it matters to them.

What are OER?

OER are more than just freely accessible resources and different than library-licensed resources (content that is not free and has a number of restrictions around how it can be accessed or shared).

OER are educational materials (including textbooks, streaming video, test banks, podcasts, modules, and much more) that are openly licensed and freely available for anyone to use. Many are high-quality and peer-reviewed resources that can be modified and repurposed to meet specific course learning objectives and student 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 colleague)

How to get started

If you are considering using OER in your classroom, here are some steps to get you started.

  • Search for openly licensed material through an aggregator or subject-specific resources (see the "Where to find OER" section below).
  • Evaluate the resource for suitability and accessibility. Consider the criteria laid out in this OER evaluation checklist.
  • Assess the licensing options for each resource. Is it able to be remixed and shared? This information is usually available through a Copyright / Terms of Use / FAQ section or the appearance / language of a Creative Commons License.
  • Link to the OER in your syllabi, CourseLink, and through Ares and/or integrate materials into the Open Books at Guelph open publishing platform.

If you have existing course resources that you have created (such as PDFs, word documents), we are happy to support you to migrate them into a more accessible, interactive format. To get started with this, please contact us for more assistance.

OER support at U of G

There are two kinds of support available for U of G instructors looking to implement OER in their courses:

  • Support for OERs is available at any time and includes assistance with finding and using OER from the library, the Office of Teaching and Learning and Open Learning and Educational Support. To learn more about how we can support your creation and use of OERs, book an appointment.
  • The OER Support Program provides both in-kind and funding support for the creation and adaption of OER. Applications for this program typically open in March.

Where to find OER

There are a number of collections of open textbooks and other resources that can be adopted and adapted to use in your course.

The resources listed below are just a small sample of the many platforms hosting openly-licensed content, many, many others exist! If you are unable to find openly licensed resources that meet your needs, please reach out for support.


Science and Engineering

Business and Economics

  • LearningEdge Cases (MIT): case studies touching on areas such as strategy, sustainability, operations management and more.

Social Sciences and Humanities

How to evaluate OER

All instructional materials, whether OER or not, need to be evaluated for their usefulness, appropriateness, quality, usability, and accessibility. When evaluating OER specifically, there are additional criteria to consider to ensure that it meets your needs as an instructor as well and the learners’ needs. If you respond “yes” to the questions below, you can continue to evaluate the OER as you would any other instructional material. If you respond “no”, consider how you might adapt the resource, address the issue(s), or select additional or alternative resources.


  • Is the resource licensed under Creative Commons
  • Does the license allow modifications or adaptations of the materials? 

Content Alignment and Relevance 

  • Does the resource address one or more course learning outcomes? 
  • If the resource does not directly address any course learning outcomes, does it meet another learning need (e.g., supporting knowledge or skill development)? 
  • Is the content written at the appropriate level for the course?  
  • Is it clear to learners which materials they should interact with to demonstrate mastery of specific outcomes? 
  • If relevant, is the resource relevant to the Canadian context (e.g., units of measure, spelling)? 

Accessibility and Access 

  • If the resource or any accompanying materials do not comply with AODA standards, are they editable so that you can bring them to AODA standards? 
  • Does the resource and accompanying digital materials comply with WCAG 2.0 requirements
  • Are all images and graphics described in alternative text or long description format? 
  • Is there a transcript or captions for audio or video resources? 
  • Is this resource equitably accessible to all learners (e.g., technology, service)? If not, what alternatives will learners be provided? 
  • Is the resource and any accompanying materials available in alternative formats (e.g., .doc or .pdf) and multiple modes (e.g., for downloading, printing, mobile technology)? 
  • Will learners have access to the material and support for its use from the first day of class? 
  • Does the resource have a layout and interface that is easy to navigate? 

This resource has been adapted from the following:

 Other guides and resources

Open and Affordable Course Content Task Force

The University’s Open and Affordable Course Content Task Force 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. The Task Force is jointly sponsored by the Provost and VP Academic, the Executive Director of Open Learning and Educational Support, and the University Librarian.

For more information about the Task Force or Open Educational Resources please contact us

The library is committed to ensuring that members of our user community with disabilities have equal access to our services and resources and that their dignity and independence is always respected. If you encounter a barrier and/or need an alternate format, please fill out our Library Print and Multimedia Alternate-Format Request Form. Contact us if you’d like to provide feedback: lib.a11y@uoguelph.ca