This is the "OER Basics" page of the "Open Textbooks, OER & Other Open or Free Resources for Faculty" guide.
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Open Textbooks, OER & Other Open or Free Resources for Faculty  

A guide to exploring open textbook options for faculty.
Last Updated: Apr 2, 2015 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

OER Basics Print Page

What are OER? And Open Textbooks?

OER stands for Open Educational Resources, and is a term that refers to any educational resources that are typically:

  1. Free to access online
  2. Low cost to get a print copy
  3. Licensed by the author/creator with rights that are less restrictive than copyright (i.e. all rights reserved). This license typically (though not always) includes the right of any user to copy (digitally) & print the text as well as the right to adapt it as desired for use in a course, as long as authorship is attributed and use is non-commercial.

Open Textbook is a specific type of OER that is designed to be a free or low cost substitute for a traditional textbook.

A great place to get a lot of basic, general questions answered is here: Open Education Handbook 2014.

For those new to Open Textbooks



Q: As a faculty I depend on the test banks that publishers provide with a textbook adoption. Do OER or Open Textbooks provide test banks? And if they're open, what's to prevent a student for getting access to them?

A: Many open resources do provide test banks (and power points, and other supplementals we're used to getting from a publisher). To answer the question about "protected resources" we went to Nicole Finkbeiner, Associate Director of Institutional Relations, Rice University's OpenStax College

"In terms of "protected" resources such as test banks, you have to find a way for students to not be able to access these. And, you don't want to openly license these because then you have no way to combat them being published. At Rice University’s OpenStax College, our website is set-up so faculty have to first register for an account and then request faculty access prior to being able to download them. We check every single account to ensure the right official email is used, they are in fact teaching a course where they would need the resources, etc. Sometimes we even call the department chair directly to make sure we should be providing access, so this is definitely a labor-intensive process, but I think it is worth it to protect the resources.

Faculty should also be very careful not to post any protected OER resources in a public environment, such as a website."

Q: I am nervous about letting go of my textbook because I don't know if OER/Open Textbook authors will keep the resources up to date. How can I trust that the resources I select will be kept current and accurate?

A: It's true that adopting open resources in place of a traditionally published textbook involves a change in how you think about your course textbook. Adopting OER involves a feeling of ownership of the course resources that you might not experience with a traditional textbook. Because of the open licensing you are free to update the material as you see fit, as long as it has the appropriate Creative Commons licensing. Due to the open nature of these resources, collaboration with other instructors (within our outside this institution) or with your students to improve the open resources you use is a common occurance, and means the work of updating is spread across many people instead of sitting solely with you. Yes, it's a shift of perspective, but it's an exciting one, full of potential.

Also: there are a growing number of open textbooks that have the kind of publisher services faculty expect, with regular updates, printed and bound copies available for purchase, test banks and other instructor supplementals. See especially OpenStax and BCCampus.

Do you have a question about OER? Please ask!


Helping Students Use Their Digital Textbook

  • Using PDFs in Preview & Using PDFs in Adobe Reader  These YouTube videos show students how to do more than just read PDF documents or print them. Learn how to modify PDF documents to enable annotating and note-taking. 
  • Getting to Know a Digital Textbook  Article written by Dr. Terence Cavanaugh, professor at the Univeristy of North Florida detailing ways to make your open digital textbook more familiar and helpful to students by showing students how they can use free online programs to create their own audio textbooks, create study notes from their text and more

Author of this Guide

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Kate Hess

OEC - Open Education Consortium

Kirkwood Community College is a proud member of the Open Education Consortium!

Other Helpful Resources

  • Text Readability Rating
    Type or paste a portion of the text and you'll receive a rating on readability, including an approximate grade level

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