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A Guide to Teaching with OER: Open & Free Materials

This guide is intended to assist faculty in identifying open and alternative textbook options for specific courses.

What are Open Educational Resources?


Open Educational Resources (OER) are defined by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as:

...teaching, learning and research materials in any medium – digital or otherwise – that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions. (View Source)


"True" OER material does not have to be 100% copyright-free or public domain, but generally must permit the 5 R's: 

  • Reuse
  • Revise
  • Remix 
  • Redistribute 
  • Retain

The 5 R's are what distinguish open resources from content that is simply free.


What is Open Access?

Open access (OA) refers to online research outputs that are free of all restrictions on access (pay access) and free of many restrictions on use (copyright or license agreement)

Goal of Open Access is the free, immediate, online availability of research articles coupled with the right to use these articles fully in the digital environment.  Open Access ensures that anyone can access and use the results - to turn ideas into industries and breakthroughs into better lives. From the SPARC website

OER versus OA

By definition, all OERs are Open Access, but not all Open-Access materials qualify as OERs.

Sometimes the distinction may not matter: You may simply want to link to a video or exercise in your course, and an item may allow that without allowing all 5 R's of a true OER. 

Always pay attention to the licensing of the specific material you want to use to determine whether your desired use is permitted

Intro to Open Educational Resources (OER)

Why Open Education Matters

Recent Texas Legislation: SB 810

S.B. No. 810, "An Act relating to the use of open educational resources," was signed into law in Texas in early June 2017. (See the history of this bill's passage)

This legislation increases transparency about textbook costs (including the adoption of no-cost textbooks) and allows students to make more informed course selections based on this information. 

This bill amends the Education Code to require, among other things:

  • A university's course schedule must include information about required course textbooks, including retail price, author, publisher, copyright date, ISBN, and whether the textbook is an open educational resource (OER);
  • University or bookstore textbook lists which include a search feature must support searches for courses and sections requiring only OER materials;
  • Universities must disseminate information to students regarding the availability of courses and sections requiring only OER (as well as available institutional programs for textbook rental, used textbook purchasing, textbook buyback programs, alternative delivery of textbook content, and any other available institutional textbook cost-savings strategies); 
  • The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) must establish a grant program to encourage faculty to adopt OER and redesign courses to exclusively use OER;
  • The Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) must conduct a feasibility study on a state repository of OER.

Similar legislation has previously been passed in other states as well. 

TEDxNYED: David Wiley Discusses OER

One of the leading educators in the OER movement sets out the rationale for open education. (TEDxNYED, Mar. 2010)


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