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Open Textbooks, OER & Other Open or Free Resources for Faculty: OER Basics

A guide to exploring open textbook options for faculty.

OEC - Open Education Consortium

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

Further Reading

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.

Getting Started

Adopting OER or an Open Textbook for your course can be approached in a number of different ways. However there is a basic process that can serve as a guide as you get started. (To download or print this process as a worksheet, here is a Google Doc you can use.)

1. Define your need: Do you want to piece together a variety of resources, or find a whole textbook replacement? Using a backwards design approach and working from your course learning objectives can be a great way to keep your search organized and on track.

2. Search: This step is often messy and may feel never-ending! However it is the nature of the process that different resources search differently, are indexed differently, and index different content. So try several different sources (we have many indexed under the "Finding OER" tab), and keep track of the search terms you've tried and the sites you've searched. **Also, don't forget to consult your discipline colleagues and information experts like your Kirkwood librarians for help.**

3. Identify & Evaluate: There are many considerations when evaluating OER, some the same as where adopting a traditional textbook, some unique to OER.

  • Peer review of material available
  • Reputation of author or institution
  • Pedagogical approach
  • Accuracy of content
  • Alignment with course objectives or learning outcomes
  • Appropriate reading level (see https://readable.io/text/)
  • Technical quality (clear visuals, production value)
  • Clear licensing declaration: Creative Commons license, public domain, or your own fair use determination for copyrighted works. **This might be a good time to create an attribution statement as your decide on resources you know you'll want to use. Try this attribution builder from Open Washington.**

4. Adoption: There are often multiple stakeholders in your choice of course materials, including your discipline colleagues, your dean, and the bookstore. In fact, this could be step one, because these are the same people who could potentially be great allies in your changeover to open resources.

5. Use: How will students access and use these resources? Will you post a link to materials in your LMS (Talon)? Will students need paper copies, such as for a lab book or readings to be used in class? There are many options for having materials printed, and Kirkwood's Bookstore is a great resource for discussing your options. Because of the open licensing of OER, the Bookstore can often have a whole book printed for students at a very low cost. 

Additional resources for new OER adopters:

OER FAQs

Q: It's nice to save students money, but my students truly need print books. Doesn't that mean I need to stick with traditional textbook publishers?

A: There is always a print option for OER. Sometimes the OER platform itself will offer a printed and bound textbook which can be ordered directly from the website, or purchase can be brokered through the Kirkwood Bookstore, as a traditional textbook would be. Because students are mostly only paying for the actual print and distribution costs, the price of the printed OER will still be substantially lower than that of a traditional textbook.

If a printed copy isn't available, or if you are using your own compilation of OER (and/or some copyrighted materials that you've determined fall under fair use), the Kirkwood Bookstore will work with you to create a course pack for your students to purchase at the Bookstore, again, at a substantially lower cost than a traditional textbook.

Q: I understand that textbooks can be very expensive, but I don't want to take business away from our bookstore. Doesn't the bookstore need us to continue in the way we always have?

A: There are a few different responses to this concern. Using OER doesn't necessarily mean e-book only, and doesn't necessarily mean the bookstore won't have any profits. The open licensing typically means that materials are free online and low-cost to print. This means the bookstore might work with print services to offer a print copy for sale through the bookstore, or it might mean the bookstore works with a publisher of printed and bound OER books to provide copies for sale at a substantially lower price than traditional textbooks. Another way to look at it is that bookstores are changing with technologies as we all do, Kirkwood's EagleTech store being a perfect example of this.

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!

Resource Files & Worksheets