Open Educational Resources

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What are OER?

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) 

Why use OER?

The current model of commercial textbooks has become unsustainable and has negative consequences for students. The cost of textbooks has been rising at three times the rate of inflation, making them 200% more expensive than they were 20 years ago. A recent Public Research Interest Group (2021) report on the impact of textbooks highlights how new publishing practices have worsened the issue. Electronic versions of textbooks are often bundled with other content, such as access codes to homework assignments and quizzes that are part of a student’s grade. As well, students may not have perpetual access to an electronic textbook; in some cases, they are purchasing access to the textbook for a limited period of time. Libraries often face challenges in providing reserve copies of textbooks for students, as approximately 76% of requested textbooks cannot be purchased electronically by the library (read the Library Statement on the Use of Commercial Textbooks in Classes to learn more) and the library cannot supply access codes. In a time of increasing food insecurity among students and the rising cost of education, students are choosing to not purchase their textbooks.  

This trend can be seen at the University of Guelph. In a 2016 textbook survey, 57% of students reported that they had chosen to not purchase at least one of their textbooks. This figure has remained consistent over time and in 2023 54% of students reported that they had not purchased at least one textbook. Students report that not having access to the required textbook has a negative affect on their academic goals, and their mental and social wellbeing.  

Switching from commercial textbooks to Open Educational Resources addresses these issues. OER has already had an impact on student savings; eCampus Ontario keeps a running calculation of student savings and estimates that Ontario post-secondary students have saved $18.8 million from OER. In addition to removing the cost barrier, OER will: 

  • 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

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

Resources for getting started

  • Search for OER: if you are looking for OER that can be used in your class, consult this LibGuide for places to search and tips for searching. 
  • OER Evaluation Checklist: if you have found a few OER options, use the criteria in this guide to assess their suitability and accessibility. 
  • Pressbooks Open Book Publishing: if you would like to create an OER or have existing course resources that could be turned into an OER, consider using Pressbooks to publish the material. 
  • Pressbooks Accessibility Guide: if you have chosen to create an OER in Pressbooks, this guide will provide step by step instructions to ensure your OER is accessible. Not using Pressbooks? The principles outlined in this guide can still be a valuable resource for ensuring accessibility in OER. 
  • Creative Commons Guide: OER can be used and remixed because of their open licenses. This guide explains the different creative commons open licenses and helps you assess the licenses on OER. 
  • Ares Course Reserves: another option for replacing expensive commercial textbooks can be library licensed materials. Using the Ares system allows you to create a customized course pack of readings using materials that the library already licenses. 
  • Suggest a New Resource: submit a request for the library to purchase specific e-books, journals, or other materials you need. 

Additional resources 

  • The Rebus Guide to Publishing Open Textbooks (So Far): this book by the Rebus Community helps you develop and implement a plan when creating a new OER. It prompts you to appropriately scope your project, work with a team, and create and give feedback on content. 
  • Faculty OER Toolkit: BCCampus’ toolkit covers the basics of what OER are and the different licenses. It is a useful resource for getting started, especially for adopting or adapting OER. 

Get assistance

The library can assist you with an OER project including: 

  • assistance with identifying openly licensed resources  
  • assistance with identifying course readings from the library collection which are no-cost for students  
  • advice on copyright requirements and Creative Commons licensing  
  • assistance with ensuring that an OER is accessible  
  • instruction in selected software applications to create images, infographics, videos, or recordings  
  • access to and support for Pressbooks open publishing software  
  • assistance with identifying appropriate repositories and requirements for future access  

Book an appointment to learn more about how the library can support you. 

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: