Bringing Value to your Learners with OER

You walk into the campus student bookstore. Classes started last week, and you just got paid at your part-time, minimum wage student job. You nervously add the cost of the stack of textbooks in your head.

You don’t have enough cash. You never have enough cash.

What do you do? Put some books back? You really need those $200 books for the class you need to graduate. Last semester, you borrowed the most expensive text from one of your classmates when she wasn’t using it, but you had trouble keeping up with your studies. Maybe you could do without that $50 book, but it’s for the class you’ve been looking forward to all year. Or maybe you can put back the one that you can (hopefully) find a synopsis for online.

Reluctantly, you choose which books to leave on the shelves and resolve to try to hunt down some used copies on eBay.

You hope they’ll arrive before the big exam.

Rising Book Costs and the Value of Open Educational Resources (OER)

Unfortunately, the scenario above is becoming more and more common on campuses around the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, consumer prices for college textbooks increased 88 percent between January 2006 to July 2016.

The rising cost of textbooks and course packs obstructs students’ ability to complete readings and assignments—which directly effects their grades as well as retention.

Last month, we introduced our team’s journey diving into open educational resources (OER). OER are a cost-friendly alternative to help relieve the financial burden students face. While we’ll focus mainly on the benefit OER brings to universities or institutions, K-12 classrooms can adapt OER to their needs as well.

Community colleges are leading the adoption of OER; Bay College in Escanaba, MI partnered with Lumen Learning to bring OER to their institution. Bay College published promising preliminary results of their OER experience.

Curious how much adopting OER can help lower textbook costs? Try tinkering with the values on this site to explore how OER impacts the cost to your students and campus.

Choosing Quality OER Materials

Sure, textbooks can be insanely expensive, but do open educational resources have the quality needed to replace traditionally published texts?


In fact, they may even be better. Often, OER content is more highly attuned to current trends, which helps foster students’ engagement with the material.

As educators, we help drive the value of quality open educational materials by ensuring we hold the material to a high standard. Evaluating OER materials may sound tricky, but if you use the same criteria as when examining traditional resources, you should be just fine. You (or your SME) will need to dedicate the same time and effort into the evaluation process as you would with traditional resources.

Some criteria to consider:

  • Who is the author?
  • What are the author’s credentials?
  • Does the material align with curriculum?
  • Can I adapt the materials to my course?
  • How do I follow copyright laws while using this material?
  • How long will the license allow me to use the materials?

EducationalDIVE shared some more great tips for how to choose an open educational resource. Following rigorous criteria will ensure the value of OER as well as drive OER innovation.

Getting Started with OER Materials

Before you get started with OER, you’ll want to look at best practices for funding, sustainability, and accessibility. The OER Handbook for Educators 1.0 is a great model for bringing OER to your institution. It includes tips for how to find, use, develop and share OER. While the OER Handbook does not include technical software tutorials, it goes into topics such as integration, licensing, and publication.

If you’re just starting out with open educational resources, you’ll want to visit MERLOT II and OER Commons. Open source journals such as SpringerOpen are a great way to try open articles without the commitment of a full textbook

Obviously, this list is by no means exhaustive. But it should give you a place to start exploring the available open educational resources for your subject. If you’ve got any great resources of your own, give us a shout on Twitter—we’d love to hear about them!

Free Tools for Adapting OER

OER is more than just textbooks and journal articles. While text is a great start, learners find a variety of materials and activities more engaging due to the different types of learning styles. Luckily, you can also find OER learning objects, including educational activities, graphics, lessons, quizzes, and videos, shared under a Creative Commons license—many of which can be remixed and reused. One great way to adapt an OER video is to use PlayPosit to convert it an interactive video. You can also adapt an OER text to a more interactive format using free tools such as Adobe Spark, Beautiful.AI, Canva, PowToon, Pictochart, and Wistia.

If You Can’t Find What You Need, Create Your Own OER

While libraries of quality open educational resources continue to grow, sometimes you might not be able to find exactly what you need. What a great time to create your own!

No. Seriously.

You can use this opportunity to adapt a similar resource and share it with the OER community. Or you can write or collaborate with SMEs on your own OER. Rebus Community Press allows you to publish your own textbook. Once you create your open educational resource, you simply publish it using a Creative Commons License. The Nursing faculty at Grand Valley State University recently published an OER book on innovative lesson plans for active learning in a nursing research course.

Some innovative instructors even collaborate with students to write a textbook. When you assign your students assignments where they curate quality materials and write chapter introductions, it adds an extra, meaningful layer to learning. It also allows them to have bragging rights: they’re published authors!

Let’s Keep Exploring OER

Our students shouldn’t have to worry about the cost of textbooks. OER gives us an opportunity to find and adapt current, relevant content to enhance our courses. Next week, we’ll explore a model to bring OER into your institution.

Do you use open educational resources in your eLearning or face-to-face classroom? What have you found works? Let us know in the comments or join us on Twitter.


Bay College. (2017, June 22). Open educational resources preliminary results [Press release]. Retrieved March 27, 2018, from

Brown, J. L. (2017, September 25). How do you choose an open educational resource? Retrieved March 27, 2018, from

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily, College tuition and fees increase 63 percent since January 2006 on the Internet at (visited March 27, 2018).

Ferriman, J. (2013, May 17). 7 Major Learning Styles – Which One are You? Retrieved March 27, 2018, from

Mays, E. (Ed.). (n.d.). A guide to making textbooks with students. Retrieved from

Nursing faculty publish OER book. (2018, March 26). Retrieved March 28, 2018, from

OER handbook for educators 1.0. (n.d.). In WikiEducator. Retrieved September 20, 2017, from

OER adoption impact explorer. (n.d.). Retrieved March 27, 2018, from

Author: Jessica Bishop, Instructional Designer

Jessica is a designer and writer focused on learnability, storytelling, sensemaking, wayfinding, and removing barriers to learning. A Michigan native, she likes crafting, reading, walking, and spending way too much time in the distant corners of the internet. You can also find her at

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