Open Educational resources are considered free because they are available under open licenses, which allow anyone to use and modify them, under specific conditions, for free. They can be free in terms of cost for the end user, although it doesn’t mean they are always totally gratis. But we have to distinguish costs of investments, production, distribution and costs for end users. For individual users like students and teachers, OER should have no monetary costs (if available online) or as little cost as possible for a print version.
There are no educational resources that cost nothing. There is always the cost or production, distribution or adoption, as they need financial or human resources to be created or adapted. The difference is in where and how do we distribute OERs more efficiently and lower the costs for each group of users.
Open Educational Resources do that by lowering costs of updates (they can be made by anyone, any time, and without copyright barriers) and/or costs of distribution (encouraging online publications and supporting competitive and cheaper print and production).
There are also many different production of educational resources. For textbooks that should be created and reviewed by professional authors, they can by funded in many ways. From national funding, private funding, or even commercially funded by selling services around open content, many traditional publishers are shifting from selling content to selling services built upon freely available resources. Of course it is hard to say that OER are free of production costs and that there are already ideal new business models for its sustainability. But it’s part of a much bigger picture of a pedagogical shift in open education and use of open educational resources.
Though it is not as easy as simply using the material your school or department chooses to use from a ‘closed’ publisher, there are many repositories filled with OER for every level of education, most with some sort of review and rating system. There are many examples and starting points right here in this guide!
The beauty of Open Education is that if you cannot find exactly what you are looking for, you can combine and create the thing that you need, and upload it somewhere for a colleague to use and perhaps improve.
It is true that there is currently more quantity of OER in certain fields over others, but as OER becomes more mainstream and accepted, the quantity -- and quality -- of OER is growing across disciplines. For some areas, there is such a wide variety of OER -- from textbooks to complete courses to videos to instructor materials -- that it can be overwhelming to find the most relevant and high-quality OER needed. That's where your OER librarian can help provide some starting points or put together a customized list of potential OER to fit your needs.
Check out the "Find OER" section of this guide, which includes links to TCC OER Subject Guides, discipline-specific OER, and more!
The level of assurance you can get from OER materials can be the same as with traditional materials: high when from an institutionally reviewed process, lower when not reviewed or just found on the web. It depends on the institution, region, state, or country, but most faculty are allowed to use own materials and textbooks. They are also using their reasonable judgment before using any learning resources (even many reviewed and edited textbooks have errors). The truth is that the quality of “OER depends on which resources they choose to use, how they choose to adapt them to make them contextually relevant, and how they integrate them into teaching and learning activities of different kinds” (COL, UNESCO, 2011).
OER and open licensing models introduce strong approaches to respect the rights of authors and to support effective online sharing of open materials. Modified OER (and any openly licensed material) have to be attributed properly and described with changes and reference to original material. Of course there will be situations when this will not happen, but this does not differ from any authorized edited copy of other, closed materials available on the web right now. There are also growing outlets for peer-reviewed OER, including those linked on the Finding OER > OER Repositories & Reviews page of this guide.
Discussing sustainability of OER is a rather complex issue and depends on many factors. Sustainability becomes a priority when there is a critical mass of OER initiatives. As OER is not "cost free," their production may entail a large-scale investment. Currently, the majority of OER development is undertaken on a project basis, and often with donor support; when the funding ends, further development of OER is often suspended.
A key aspect in making OER sustainable is integration into policies and procedure – as well as integrated into regular budgets – of an organization.
Supporting actions include modifications to institutional policies and processes, with the aim of making open resources an expected part of the educational resources creation and adoption cycle. The aim of OER-directed initiatives should be focused not only on production of OER and but also maintaining or revising existing OER as well as embedding processes and transforming practices to support ongoing OER production and release (JISC OER InfoKit, 2014).
In most circumstances and for most faculty, the level of assurance you get from OER materials is enough. We should evaluate all resources we use, especially those available on the internet, including but not limited to OER. Openly licensed materials are based on a clear copyright and creation process, with information provided up-front about what rights apply to such resource, e.g. is it original or is it a transformation of other work. Such an open and transparent culture is safer and more reliable, but it also necessitates evaluation competencies from teachers (and students as well). That is why it is often said that OER are also part of media literacy, information literacy, and copyright education.
In the case of using open textbooks, complexity starts when we want to re-use such materials and begin assessing if an open textbook was created properly and follows open-licensing and copyright guidelines, with all sources cleared and acknowledged.
"There are many OERs available under different licenses, which makes it too complex and confusing. It’s the same level of difficulty to recognize and legally use compatible materials."
It is true that OER published under particular open licenses may not be compatible with each other (Creative Commons licenses v. GNU licenses v. open access, for example), but traditional copyright is not straightforward either and may lead to even more questions than the compatibility of CC licenses.
The first step is to understand the conditions and licensing rules. In fact, they are clearly described so a user can see how the work is available for reuse. Then it is highly unlikely that the user will face immediate legal action for violating the terms of an OER license.
There are some ways to help acting in line with those rules. Those who do best to understand the license, can use tools providing support in differentiating their compatibility such as a Compatibility Chart developed by Creative Commons, linked below. If the user is still uncertain whether found materials can be merged or not, one solution is to use only materials published under the same license. Although it may limit the range of available content, the user gains assurance of acting legally. Most OER databases’ suppliers provide a possibility to publish the content on various conditions. Thus, OER are labeled properly according to the license chosen by its author.
OER services and even general search engines, like Google, or media repositories, like Flickr or YouTube, offer filtering options by type of use or even exact open license. This is possible due to “three-layer” design of CC licenses that contains: a traditional legal tool (understandable for lawyers), a “human readable” version of the license (a format understandable by ordinary users) and the last layer – a “machine readable” version that provides summary of the key freedoms and obligations written into a format which is recognized by software systems, search engines, and other kinds of technology. This approach to CC license design guarantees OER to be searched easily and filtered by the type of license. The user is able to search the content published under compatible licenses in order to remix them.
Though a lot of OER are presented initially online or created digitally, as it allows for easier cooperation during the creation phase, there is no rule that OER should be digital-only. OER can be a video, a pdf, a printed book, or any form you might like. It is not about the fact that it is online or in a hard copy -- it is about the ability to adapt, improve and use. Therefore it is recommended that OER is available in an open, editable format that can be used in many different, accessible contexts.
In fact, the core of the OER concept assumes that OER should be multi-platform. In practice, this means that they are produced as such or are able to be easily adaptable to: print version, low bandwidth, different devices, as well as accessible for users with disabilities.
Here's OER guru David Wiley's take on this issue:
"Now, OER are born digital, and are completely free for students to access and use. There’s no publisher’s percentage, no ordering, no shipping, no receiving, no shelving, no cashiers, no refunds, no sending extra books back to a publisher, etc. But there’s also no revenue returned to the college by the bookstore. So while OER are great for students, they’re the natural born enemy of the bookstore, right?
Actually, I think there’s an opportunity for very productive collaboration between campus-wide OER initiatives and bookstores. Specifically, I think there’s a huge opportunity for bookstores to offer optional print-on-demand to students when faculty adopt OER in place of commercial textbooks."
The National Association of College Stores (NACS) also supports OER, as demonstrated in their official statement and position on OER, linked below:
"The National Association of College Stores (NACS) supports the expansion of research, development, use, and evaluation of Open Educational Resources (OER), including open access course materials that may be combined with, or supplement, copyrighted course materials."
At TCC, we are lucky to have our own on-campus bookstore. On TCC, we work *with* our bookstore to support OER efforts on campus and make print copies of OER texts available. The bookstore manager and staff are part of the OE Steering Group, which you can read more about on the "OER support @ TCC" tab above.
Although the use of OER very often supports ICT education and many popular OER projects are digital-born, OER and digital resources are not synonyms. Openly licensed content is produced in any medium: paper-based text, video, audio, or computer-based multimedia. Faculty can harness OER to enhance e-learning courses, but this does not mean that OER is necessarily synonymous with e-learning or any other kind of online learning/teaching.
The core of the OER concept assumes that OER should be multi-platform. In practice, this means that they are produced as such or are able to be easily adaptable to: print version, low bandwidth, different devices, as well as accessible for users with disabilities.
A common impression of forcing educational institutions and faculty to buy new hardware might have been caused on the one hand by the scope of different OER initiatives and programs in which development of OER happens alongside the process of equipping schools in computer technology (like the Digital School program in Poland). On the other hand, OER is available in a variety of formats that supports flexibility of resources’ usage, but may also have influence on the way people think about it – the more formats, the more technology is required.
Open Educational Resources are, at their core, tool-independent. This independency is clearly stated in the definition of free cultural works that define free works as those which can be used without any technical restrictions. The work must be available in a form where no technical measures are used to limit the freedoms enumerated above.
Most OERs are in line with the definition above, or at the very least compatible with different operating systems and web browsers and different formats. What is more, OERs usually are available in widely used in (if not open) most common formats, that can be opened and read on different kinds of software. Open source software can be found as alternative solutions to commercial ones, and high-quality OER as teaching/learning materials should be able to be downloaded, printed, and supplied to schools not well-equipped with ICT and broadband Internet connection.
OER is dedicated to eliminate the education divide by making high-quality learning materials freely available to educators and learners around the world. A common mistake made when talking about OER is that they are the same as digital resources. Even if OERs are digital-born, publishing under free license makes it possible for them to be modified and used as analog resources by anyone. Apart from that, OER policies like UNESCO’s or OECD’s recommend that OER should support lowering access barriers to education. This can be done only by making resources both easy to print (cheaply) as well as be used with computers or mobile devices. Which way of distribution is cheaper and more effective depends on the institution.
What can deepen the digital divide when it comes to OER is implementations focused on technologies, not the needs of students.
Considering this issue from the very formal point of view, authors by signing a contract for creating a work (or by developing it as part of their duties) very often agree to transfer copyrights on fields of use defined in the agreement. As a result, they may waive intellectual property rights to their work (on a particular field of use) and may not be able to make a decision of independent distribution of their own works anymore.
Creative Commons (CC) licenses are a completely different type of contract. By publishing under CC, authors grant permission to others to use the work, but authors still retain the rights to the work and still can be in charge of its distribution. An open publication is much more convenient for the author than the transfer of the property rights to others (i.e. publishers). Creative Commons licenses are non-exclusive so they give the author a right, for instance, to sign the contract with publishing house on distribution of the work in traditional way (through selling printed copies) ,while at the same time the work can be available online for free on open conditions.
However, when it comes to open sharing, authors can be wary of losing the control over their work. They may consider open publication as giving the work for free and receiving nothing in return. These concerns, while understandable, rarely turn out to be justified. There is always a risk even if the work is copyrighted, that it may be used, without asking for permission, by someone acting illegally. Such situation may happen regardless the type of legal protection of authors’ intellectual rights.
On the other hand, publishing under open conditions increases the visibility and the availability of their work. The clearly defined conditions of Creative Commons licenses make the usage, with regard to the rules, much easier to understand. It is the author who has the right to decide on ways other people can use his/her work. By choosing a particular Creative Commons license, the author has control over the usage of the work as he/she informs publicly how the work can be re-used under specific conditions. This very often results in greater respect for the law, and generates less unauthorized actions. What is more, the author can specify how the work should be attributed e.g. by adding reference link to the source information.
Authors also have concerns that open publication after re-use will distort the meaning and decrease the quality of the work. It may likely happen that derived work doesn’t meet the expectations of the quality or aesthetics. However, if an author of a derived work does act according to Creative Commons license (attributes the authorship), it is clear for users of the derived work which elements of it are developed by whom and if the users would like to, they may use the original instead of derived version of the work.
The OER concept is built upon high respect for both authors’ and users’ rights. Common use of Creative Commons (and other similar open licenses) for licensing open materials is a guarantee of precise information about rights and proper attribution. Authors on their own or customers buying resources (like government agencies or publishers) can decide if they want to publish them as OER. If so, they can negotiate wages for creation and rights as in traditional, closed publishing model. The only change, which affects only a small group of authors, is that they cannot be paid in royalties as open licenses exclude that option (it is impossible, as free and open licenses cannot be revoked).
In some cases, using Creative Commons licenses (which are non-exclusive) can protect authors' rights even better than the exclusive agreements with publishers that restrict authors' rights to reuse their own materials.
One of the main values of OER is that they can be used worldwide independently of the system of education and national curricula frameworks. Those OERs which licenses guarantee freedom of re-use and distribution can be localized and adapted to the conditions, formal requirements, and needs of students and teachers stated in national educational systems. The localization process is at the heart of the OER – it exemplifies its diversity, openness and reusability. By making content relevant and transferable, the barriers to implementation of OER on the local context are eliminated (Kurshan, 2008).
When re-using OER, it’s often desirable to apply the procedure of localization, which refers to the process of taking educational resources developed for one context and adapting them for the other (geographical, pedagogical, political, or technical). There are many reasons why educators and learners would like to localize materials – e.g. to accommodate a particular teaching style or learning style, to take into account cultural differences, to support a specific pedagogical need, etc. The practice of localization encompasses more than the translation of materials into a local language or swapping a photo to reflect cultural differences. In most cases, educators must adapt OER to various learning styles.
As access to OER developed by people with different educational and professional backgrounds may serve as reference materials for teachers to see how a particular problem/subject is taught in different cultural and educational contexts, it is rather unlikely that OER will be re-used without any changes. An example of global initiatives that supports localization of OER is Curriki that helps to advance OER by working with partners in the US and abroad to develop K-12 educational content in multiple languages and to create local federated Curriki sites that support local educational learning objectives (Kurshan, 2008). Local sites are customized to the extent to meet the national standards in each country and include Curriki sites in India, Korea, Argentina, Indonesia, and the United States.
The fact is that OER includes materials upon which the learning process is built. Even if a transition of educational systems into more resources-based learning can be observed, OER does not require common educational international standards and does not dictate how teachers teach. How OER will be used depends on skills and competencies of teachers.
Discussing faculty work on preparation and adoption of learning materials is a much more complex issue and depends on many factors. It can take time for teachers to create and adapt learning materials to more individualized and active use, but updating teaching materials is often an ongoing process for educators. Growing access to different resources on the internet, combined with the ongoing rollout of ICT infrastructure into educational institutions brings a lot of new challenges for teachers.
OER can be seen as a solution rather than as a cause of these problems. For example, you can keep updating the same open text, rather than having to scramble to find a completely new textbook if/when your current one goes out of print.
The OER movement is developing very fast on new tools, databases, and learning opportunities for teachers and educators to implement them in their work. As the number of open resources and tools grow, it will be easier for teachers to work with them. As with any new solution or device, OER needs some time to become easy and intuitive for people who want to try them out.
Also, there is the option to save time, at least at first, by simply adopting a complete open textbook, such as those available through OpenStax. Extra work comes into play when one wants to create an entirely new work, adapt an open textbook, or build/convert an open course from pulling together multiple OER. However, this work can be done incrementally over time, and extra support staff -- like the instructional designer, eLearning staff, and librarians here at TCC! -- can help mitigate some of the extra work and stress. Stipend programs can also help provide extra funds and/or release time to help instructors adopt OER.
Adopting or exploring OER does not mean that you have to throw away all your other materials. A lot of OER is developed or used as a supplement to current teaching methods or materials.
Ways to start small include:
Explore the world of OER for yourself and go at your own pace. Pilot OER, big or small, gather evidence, and adapt according to the needs of your classes and students. To use a cliché: Rome was not built in one day.
How educational resources are funded depends on an institution, district, state, and/or country, in which textbooks and other resources are already publicly funded (or co-sponsored), and selection and certification process of such resources also depends on educational system.
What creates highest risk and is criticized widely by teachers and parents is the public funding and choosing of only one textbook. In such a scenario, it does matter if chosen textbooks are imposed to be used, as that scenario creates an opportunity to be abused as a platform for political values of current ruling politicians.This scenarios could lead to political dependency not only if real choice would be difficult or unavailable but also when changing and using other versions of textbooks would be prohibited (for example by blocking consideration of any and all open textbooks in schools). For such restrictions, both open and closed educational materials cannot do much.
But in general, making textbooks open can be one solution for limited options available on the market by allowing authors, publishers, and teachers to create or update their own versions of open textbooks.
OER, along with open source materials, can create revenue in many different and successful ways, from services like search engines or platforms built around resources, selling custom versions or providing implementations. From a business perspective, OER projects are more like startups that build products around data than final publishers focused on selling a final product. Resources like data can flow freely, but at the same time they can ignite a lot of new revenue streams and possibilities for many more than just publishers. Right now OERs are at the verge of mass adoption Many of new projects may struggle, not because of money but obstacles from old business models. Time is needed to find the best ways and solutions for new business models built around OER to coexist with others and grow to scale.
Companies that provide ready-to-use online content, study materials, and assessment items are already proving that OERs are a great model to build upon. In the U.S., companies like Textbook Media utilize the “freemium” strategy. They consider which goods can be given for free and which services are available for a price. For example, Textbook Media offers advertised versions of e-textbooks free of charge and paid versions that are not supported by advertisements. Many other examples of commercial re-use of resources exist, such as Wikipedia (which is all open-sourced, with a CC BY SA license). Same as with open source -- we tend not to see the value and business behind it, but we have to pay for hosting almost everything on the Internet.
Open Educational Resources can be produced in various ways like traditional materials and can be subject to review processes the same way. Most of textbooks are authored by professionals and the small atomic resources we find on the web are made by teachers and students as a part of assignments. It is the same with Open Educational Resources.
For example, open textbooks produced in Poland and California are publicly funded and their production is outsourced to professional publishers or universities and reviewed and certified before being admitted to schools. This model is typical for publicly funded open textbooks. Another professional model worth noticing is preparing competitions or grants for teachers and authors to write textbooks. Saylor Foundation uses this model for some of saylor.org textbooks.
There are also OER projects implementing open, collaborative process deeper into content creation. For example, some authors organize themselves to write textbooks, like a group from Australia and New Zealand which created Media Studies Textbook.
It is important to understand that those resources introduced highly effective ways of peer review and social scrutiny which is also possible partly because of openness of those resources. An open production model is also an important part of change in educational paradigm by bringing more equal opportunities to engage and co-author and not only consume content.
Open Educational Resources are produced in various ways, same as traditional materials and can be subject to review process the same way. Quality management of OER can be as robust and professional as possible, or it can be done after publication because open licenses allow to do that (which is impossible with closed resources and textbooks).
There are scenarios proving that OER are not replacing but adding to educational markets. In many countries like The Netherlands and Belgium, OER created by teachers for teachers are almost as widely used as textbooks. Global publishers like Pearson are making services like search engines for OER and commercial resources combined.
Many OER projects are supporting developed publishing models and quality management in production. Some of them are even developing innovative models, better suited for the creation of modern, online focused resources.
Open educational policies on national and institutional levels (like in universities) are a key part of making openness a part of a bigger publishing process. Those policies are changing the model of how resources are available (under open conditions), but at the same time, they are often based on the same authors and creation procedures as before.
The change is not happening in quality, but rather in rights that can help more people to access, spot and improve resources. This part of social and peer review is also very important for education, with the leading example of Wikipedia. With growing numbers of resources, quality improvement, and tens of sister projects, Wikipedia helps prove that openness is not only important during creation process but also during the review and teaching of critical literacy skills.
What damages the publishing market is not openness, it is the low adaptability to changes brought by new technologies. Open Educational Resources bring more competitiveness and disruption into educational publishing market, but they are not damaging it. Instead, OER bring more flexible and connected approach focused on learners’ and teachers’ needs. Upon that, new business models for publishers and new services are built.
Educational markets differ in many countries or even states (as we can observe in USA and Germany). What effect OERs can have on each market depends on many factors. Those effects are very often used as critical argument but without evidence and research.
The fact that a given product or service puts a different business model in jeopardy is not an argument against this product or service. Such reasoning leads to ceasing any progress in any area. New solutions that are more effective are clear signs of need for new business models, but also can be used to upgrade the role of old business models. Open textbooks allow for new business models, including offering high-quality printing services, or adapting open textbooks to particular needs of specific schools.
This content on the guide was adapted from the OER Policy for Europe project's "OER Mythbusting!" site (see the attributions statement below for full info).
If you prefer a print version, you can download the PDF version linked here. Please note that the text in the PDF version is the original version of the "Open Educational Resource Mythbusting" guide and does not reflect the adaptations and newly created content on this page.
Please note that the PDF version includes both the original site's "Basic Guide to OER" and the "OER Mythbusting" sections, as well as an introduction.
Except where otherwise noted, the content and images on this page have been adapted from "OER Mythbusting!," part of the OER Policy for Europe project, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Except where otherwise noted, the content in these guides by Tacoma Community College Library is licensed under CC BY SA 4.0.
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