What are Open Educational Resources?

By Michael Moore | September 15, 2022
A stack of books and a caption that says What are open educational resources?

What are Open Educational Resources?

In light of my recent article reflecting on Dr. David Wiley’s blog post, I thought discussing OER would be the most logical next article on what I consider the main drivers of the current course materials revolution.  Most of my research is focused on Inclusive Access and Equitable Access, but there is another intervention with a promise to increase affordability and access to course materials for students across higher education. This intervention is called Open Educational Resources or OER. Admittedly, I do not have a lot of personal experience with OER, but you cannot talk about course materials interventions or course materials intervention research without recognizing the potential impact of OER.

OER Defined

According to Creative Commons, Open Educational Resources are defined as “teaching, learning, and research materials that are either (a) in the public domain or (b) licensed in a manner that provides everyone with free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities”. The 5R activities are retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute.  OER may be defined differently by different organizations, but what doesn’t change is that OER is mostly accessible for free online.

Content Creation

Open Educational Resources differs from Inclusive Access in how the content is created. OER content is independently created and curated by higher education faculty or subject matter experts rather than publishing companies. These faculty and subject matter experts may be highly qualified to author these materials, but there is question as to whether free Open Educational Resources receive the same rigorous peer-review as publisher content. Another challenge to OER content is a potential lack of supplemental/support material. Most publisher content includes test/quiz banks, student performance tracking, and interactive material. These may not be widely available with Open Educational Resources material.

Delivery Mechanism

Inclusive Access shares similarities in the delivery mechanism of content. Because OER is largely digital, links to the content, or the content itself, can be loaded in the Learning Management System (LMS) or posted in the faculty member’s syllabus. Like Inclusive Access, this removes the student from the acquisitions process and provides access on or before the first day of class.

OER Costs

This is another area where Inclusive Access differs from Open Educational Resources. The main benefit espoused of OER is that the course material content is free to students. Students are, mostly, not required to pay for OER is because the content is largely grant funded. Faculty or institutions that want to develop OER apply for grant funding from third parties to develop this content. With OER, if students want physical copies of the book, they can pay extra to get a physical copy. While OER is generally free, if grant funding for these materials dry up, the content may no longer be free.

Wrap Up

It may seem as if I am opposed to Open Educational Resources because of some of my criticisms. However, I strongly believe that Open Educational Resources have a rightful place in the current course materials revolution. I think OER has the ability to change the lives of students in the same way Inclusive Access can. What I am concerned about is the scalability of OER. Inclusive Access by design and implementation mechanism are much more scalable and can immediately impact millions of students. Open Educational Resources and Inclusive Access advocates are privately and publicly dueling and feuding unnecessarily. Both paradigm shifting models can coexist if they recognize their missions are the same: save students money and help students succeed in the classroom. To learn more about OER, you can visit OER Commons. As always, thanks for checking in and I’ll see you next time.