Faculty Guide to Use of Open Educational Resources (OER)
Introduction to Open Educational Resources at The University of Texas at Austin
Frequently Asked Questions
Open Educational Resources (OER) are defined as “teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and repurposing by others” (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, 2020). Unlike traditionally copyrighted material, these resources are available for “open” use, which means users can edit, modify, customize, and share them. OER may be open textbooks, lesson plans, videos, tests, software, or even full courses, among other teaching and learning objects.
Using OER in the classroom allows greater flexibility in customizing your courses and gets your students more involved in their own learning.
- Since OER can be remixed and revised, it’s possible to create customized resources that fit your specific course.
- Students will have their course materials from day one, so they won’t have a delay in learning or need to play catch up later.
- Students can help review and revise existing resources to improve them while simultaneously mastering course content.
- Students can create resources to add to their portfolio.
- Resources that students create can be licensed for reuse in order to benefit others.
On top of this, using OER in your class can make college more affordable for your students. Required materials, like textbooks, can represent a significant cost to students. Textbook prices rose 88% from 2006 through 2016 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016), and increased over 1,000% since 1977, more than 3 times the rate of inflation.
According to research on open textbook pilots (Student PIRGs, 2015):
- 65% of students have declined to obtain a required textbook because they were too expensive.
- Students save an average of $128 per course when traditional textbooks are replaced with OER.
- Instructors can directly reduce the cost of education for their students by adopting OER or other low- or no-cost course materials.
Finally, multiple studies have shown that students enrolled in courses using OER, such as open textbooks, perform as well or better than students enrolled in courses using commercial textbooks (Colvard et. al. 2016, Hilton 2020). Courses using OER have also been shown to have lower failure and withdrawal rates, particularly among first-generation students, students of color, and Pell Grant-eligible students in courses using OER (Clinton & Khan 2019, Colvard et. al. 2016).
OER repositories are a helpful place to get started with your search; here, instructors can find OER created by others or share their own openly licensed learning objects. You can find a list of OER repositories and other ways to find OER on the UT Libraries’ OER Guide.
UT Libraries can also help you find relevant OER. To get assistance, you have several options. You may contact your subject specialist librarian, email Ashley Morrison, Tocker Open Education Librarian, or submit a request for assistance with your search.
A common misconception about OER is that freely available resources are necessarily lower quality than commercial products. Not so! As with commercial textbooks and other resources, quality of OER varies and depends on many factors. For example, many OER textbooks are peer-reviewed and have benefited from editors and graphic designers in the publishing process. In addition, because OER content is easily adaptable, when it comes to corrections and updates, OER has a distinct advantage over most commercial products. Errata can often be acknowledged and corrected right away, and new advances in the field can be incorporated without waiting for the next edition to be published.
It’s important to evaluate any new course materials for the criteria that matter most to you — open or not. You can find more information and rubrics for evaluating OER on the OER Guide.
The State of Texas supports OER in a number of ways. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) regularly offers grants to faculty for both the adoption and creation of OER. (See a report on the grant programs and awardees to date.) Last year, THECB also launched OERTX, a digital repository of OER for Texas students and educational institutions.
Recent state legislation requires that UT and other universities in Texas provide students with maximum transparency and information related to the cost of course materials. House Bill 33 requires the university to make all textbooks and course material selections visible to students at least 30 days before the start of the semester. Senate Bill 810 builds on this by requiring that OER course materials are identified so that students know which courses use them. For this reason, it is important to report OER and other free materials to the Co-op by the requested deadlines each semester. Reported OER adoptions will appear on this list available to students who wish to consider the cost of course materials in their selection process.
In 2019 – 2020, the UT System Affordable Learning Accelerator Task Force convened to support and accelerate institutional efforts to expand the availability and affordability of high-quality, low- or no-cost, cutting-edge and next-generation instructional and learning resources to students. The Task Force issued a report and set of recommendations to UT System Chancellor J.B. Milliken that centers the adoption of OER, including a recommendation that the UT System should invest in OER through commitment to a 3-year OER Momentum Strategy.
At UT Austin, student leaders have been advocating for the adoption of OER on campus for several years. The Senate of College Councils has passed legislation in support of OER, including Senate Resolution 1808 (In Support of UT Libraries’ Advocacy for Open Education Resources, 2019) and Senate Resolution 1911 (In Support of the Creation of a University-Wide OER Faculty Award Program, 2020). In 2021, the Senate of College Councils partnered with UT Libraries to pilot the Affordable Education Champions program to recognize faculty impacting their students by selecting free and affordable course materials, including OER.
This information is being published by the OER Subcommittee of the Sustainable Open Scholarship Working Group, which was charged directly by the Provost’s Office to raise understanding, awareness, and value of adopting, adapting, and/or developing open educational resources within the UT community, particularly amongst faculty and graduate students. As a new Provost joins UT Austin, we hope to reaffirm this commitment to OER and sustainable open scholarship more broadly.
Support for OER adoption and/or creation in the tenure and promotion process or merit review varies by department. We recommend contacting your Department Chair to find out how best to reflect this as a teaching or service activity.
OER repositories are a great place to share objects you’ve created, from textbooks to syllabi to web-based lessons to videos. If you want to increase the reach and impact of your work, you’ll first want to apply an open license to the object. Creative Commons licenses are the most typical way this is done, and you can use their license picker to quickly create an open license based on the permissions you do (and don’t) want to give. Then, share the work in the repository or repository of your choice. The OER Guide lists several that you can consider, but the process of sharing is simple and typically takes less than 5 minutes.
OER is peer-reviewed in a variety of ways. If you are working with an open publisher, they will likely manage the peer review process for you in similar ways that you may have experienced with commercial publishers. If you are self-publishing, you will generally manage this process yourself. Open peer review is also very common in OER publishing and worth considering as a model.
If you have questions about posting materials, or if you’d like assistance in contacting colleagues you identify as good candidates for peer review, need help identifying potential peer reviewers at other institutions, or would like to learn more about facilitating an open peer review process, please contact Ashley Morrison, Tocker Open Education Librarian.
If you are working on or planning to create OER and seek funding to subsidize this work, you may qualify for a grant from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. They release a call for applications regularly, and the grant requirements vary each cycle.
It is important that faculty engagement with OER — whether adopting, adapting, creating, or peer reviewing — is recognized in our existing institutional reward structures.
Faculty members should document these activities in their portfolios; whether they should be recorded as scholarship, teaching, or service contributions depends on the specific activity being described. The Driving OER Sustainability for Student Success (DOERS3) Collaborative recently published a useful matrix that describes faculty activities and suggests ways that they may be included in one’s portfolio or activity report, including evidence and the category to which the activity may apply, e.g., research, teaching, or service.
Promotion and tenure committees should evaluate OER activities accordingly. In addition to the DOERS3 matrix shared above, it may also be helpful to consider the ways in which other types of digital scholarship are evaluated for faculty who have authored or otherwise meaningfully contributed to OER.
Departments and schools should consider including use, adaptation, or publication of OER when they are writing standards for annual review and promotion. These activities can be listed with other activities that contribute to an Exceeds Expectations rating or a successful promotion/tenure file. Explicitly stating that contributions to open education count as evidence of exceeding job expectations is an important
Longhorn Textbook Access (LTA) is a new initiative which includes a purchasing model commonly known as “inclusive access” as well as OER. Inclusive access programs provide immediate commercial textbook access (and/or accompanying homework platforms) in digital form to students for a set period of time, like a rental program, at a discounted rate. If you are happy with your current commercial textbook and it is available in a digital format, opting into the inclusive access program through LTA may be a good option for you.
OER, on the other hand, is generally a non-commercial product that offers students free or very low-cost access to content. Because of the affordances of the open licenses that OER carry, you and your students may freely share, copy, or even change the content according to your needs. Additionally, OER access does not expire.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily, College tuition and fees increase 63 percent since January 2006 at Bureau of Labor Statistics (visited April 27, 2021).
Clinton, V., & Khan, S. (2019). Efficacy of Open Textbook Adoption on Learning Performance and Course Withdrawal Rates: A Meta-Analysis. AERA Open.
Colvard, N. B., Watson, C. E., & Park, H. (2018). The Impact of Open Educational Resources on Various Student Success Metrics. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 30(2), 262–276.
Hilton, J. (2020). Open educational resources, student efficacy, and user perceptions: a synthesis of research published between 2015 and 2018. Education Tech Research Dev 68, 853–876.
Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (2020). Open Education at SPARC Open Education (visited April 27, 2021).
Student PIRGs (2015). Open Textbooks: The Billion Dollar Solution (visited April 27, 2021).