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

A guide to exploring open textbook options for faculty.

Get help with OER adoption from the Library

Ask for help with OER adoption or use! Just fill out this form and we'll get back to you:



Complete this free self-paced OER tutorial created by Kirkwood librarians just for our faculty:

PressbooksEDU at Kirkwood

Kirkwood now has our own PressbooksEDU network!

Pressbooks is an online ebook platform with a single interface for authoring, adding, editing, remixing, and distributing OER. It has an easy to read online interface, and provides each ebook in a variety of formats to meet any student need, with PDF, ePUB, MOBI, and Webbook. 

Learn more about what you can do with Pressbooks in the video below, or follow the link to get started with your own account.

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.

For a more detailed introduction, try our new self-paced OER Tutorial. No registration, just jump in.

1. Define your need:

  • Do you want to piece together a variety of resources, or find a whole textbook replacement?
  • Use a backwards design approach and work from your course learning objectives to keep your search organized and on track.

2. Search:

  • Be prepared that the search process is often messy and may feel never-ending! Be sure to ask a librarian or ask colleagues for ideas on resources they've used.
  • 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. 

3. Identify & Evaluate:

  • Evaluating OER is similar to evaluating possible textbook adoptions, like assessing the reading level and how well it matches your learning objectives. But remember that with open-licensed materials you have the flexibility to adapt the content to what works for you.
  • Peer review of material available on many OER sites
  • Reputation of author or institution
  • Pedagogical approach
  • Accuracy of content
  • Alignment with course objectives or learning outcomes
  • Appropriate reading level (see
  • 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:

  • Consider the possible stakeholders in your choice of course materials. For example:
    • your discipline colleagues 
    • your dean
    • the Kirkwood Bookstore (even if you're not adopting a traditional textbook, they like to know so that the cost savings of materials can be shared with potential students)
    • Any of these stakeholders 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 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:


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 

  • First, our Kirkwood Bookstore team is very supportive of OER as one option for decreasing the course materials cost for students.
  • Second, 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. The bookstore might work with print services to offer a print copy for sale through the bookstore, or they might work with a publisher to provide copies for sale at a substantially lower price than traditional textbooks.
  • Third, bookstores are changing and adapting 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 occurrence, 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.

Why would an author give away their work for free if it is high quality? How is this model sustainable?

One misconception about OER is that authors are “giving away” their work, and giving away their ownership of what they’re created. This is a myth for the following reasons:

1. OER authors still retain ownership of their creations. Creative Commons (a form of open licensing) actually gives authors very precise control over how their work may be used and how it should be attributed. In fact OER authors often enjoy more freedom to use, share and adapt their own works than they would under a restrictive license with a publisher.

2. Many OER authors do get paid for their work, they simply don’t receive royalties. Some are paid by their college through a stipend, some are awarded grants through non-profit organizations or government agencies.


Do you have a question about OER? Please ask!

OER People & Projects at Kirkwood

OER Support Around the College

There are many faculty and staff at Kirkwood who use OER, support faculty adoption of OER, or have the knowledge and expertise to help with specific issues. Ask one of your colleagues about OER today:

Kate Cameron, Digital Services Librarian, Library Services

  • Guidance in the process of shifting from traditional course materials to OER
  • Offers KCELT classes on OER adoption
  • Support and assistance in locating and curating OERs for all disciplines
  • Support in navigating questions of copyright, Creative Commons licensing, and fair use

AISD: Instructional Designers

  • Help in transitioning course materials to OER
  • Help incorporating new course materials into Talon

See our faculty OER adopters for more contacts.

Kirkwood's OER Blog

To see what your fellow faculty OER adopters are talking about, see our OER @ Kirkwood Faculty Blog.

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