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Open Educational Resources: OER Basics

How to find, adopt, adapt, and create open educational resources.

Featured Resource

UCT Open Textbook Journeys

The UCT Open Textbook Journeys monograph tells the stories of 11 academics at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, who embarked on open textbook development initiatives in order to provide their students with more accessible and locally relevant learning materials.



What Are OER

Open Educational Resources are freely available, high quality educational materials that can be downloaded, edited, and shared to better serve all students. They can include any type of educational resource, from textbooks to full courses.

At the core of OER is allowing reuse: as equally important as making educational resources freely available is making them free to reuse in whatever way you would like, whether that be downloading and copying, adding to a course website, or editing and releasing a new version. The Open Education community often refers to the "5R's" when talking about OER: these are the activities you are free to do with OER.

  • Retain: Download and copy
  • Reuse: Use in any way, such as in a class, on a website, in a video
  • Revise: Modify or adapt
  • Remix: Combine original content with other material to make something new
  • Redistribute: Share copies with others

What Makes OER Different

What makes OER different from all the other free educational materials that can be found online? All users are allowed to copy, modify, and share OER without needing to request permission, making them different from other educational materials, which may be freely available online, but do not grant users these rights. Many of these resources can't be legally copied, and users can't update them or build upon them without specific permission from the copyright holder.

What Is Not an OER?
Material Type Freely Available Can Be Copied, Modified, Shared
Open Educational Resources Yes Yes
Free online resources under all rights reserved copyright Yes No
Materials available through the Gordon Library Yes (to WPI) No
Open access articles and books Yes Maybe

Who Makes OER

OER Publishing Efforts often mirror the traditional publishing process, including author compensation and peer review, and release the output under an open license. These efforts may be supported by institutions or grant funding.

  • OpenStax is a nonprofit organization that publishes peer-reviewed open textbooks. It is based at Rice University and supported by philanthropic foundations.
  • OpenSUNY Textbooks is a program established and supported by the State University of New York.

Publicly-Funded Initiatives support the development of OER and ensure that taxpayer-funded educational resources are openly licensed.

  • BCcampus Open Education is a program funded by the British Columbia provincial government to support the development and use of OER in BC higher educational institutions.
  • The U.S. Department of Education has funded an Open Textbook Pilot Program to give grants to institutions and organizations working on open education projects.

Individual Authors who receive support from their institution or a foundation, or write on their own time, share their work freely through OER collections.

  • Steven A. Margulis, from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UCLA, has created an open Introduction to Hydrology textbook, which is freely available on his research group's website.


OER reduce the financial barrier to achievement in higher education for students.

  • The price of college textbooks increased 88% from January 2006 to July 2016, outpacing other consumer goods in the Consumer Price Index. The average student should budget $1,240 - $1,440 for textbooks and course materials per year.
  • The high cost of college textbooks continues to be a barrier for many students in achieving higher education. 65% of students report not purchasing a textbook because of its high price. This barrier disproportionately affects students of less privileged socioeconomic status.

OER improves student grades, especially for traditionally underserved students.

Students can engage with course content before, during, and after a course.

  • Because OER are always free to access online, students who are interested in taking a course you teach can read up on the course ahead of time, and students who have already taken your course can be safe in the knowledge that their course materials will not evaporate at the end of the semester and that they can continue to review the materials you provided to them in future.

OER gives instructors the flexibility to modify and add content according to what they need.

  • OER are by definition shared and licensed with the goal of being reused.
  • Unlike traditional commercial textbooks, instructors can customize OER to their specific instructional needs.
  • OER can also be updated and released at any time, without waiting for publishers to do so.

OER authors can share their work with a global audience and increase their visibility in their fields.

  • OER authors benefit from the advantages of open access: increased visibility and impact.
  • Releasing OER under a license that requires attribution ensures that authors will receive credit for their work.
  • Authors who share their OER in repositories can track usage statistics to measure their work's impact around the globe.

OER supports culturally responsive teaching and the development of more inclusive teaching and learning materials

  • Because OER can be freely adapted, they can incorporate more culturally relevant and inclusive examples, language, and other content to be responsive to individual classroom settings.

OER Effectiveness

The Open Education Group's Review Project provides a summary of all known empirical research that focus on the efficacy of OER or teacher/student perceptions.

A meta-analysis of 9 peer-reviewed research studies that measured student learning outcomes showed that 95% of over 46,000 student participants performed as well or better when OER were used. Measurements varied but included exam scores, pass/fail rates, withdrawal rates, course grades, and national test scores.

Open Education Research and Reports