Skip to Main Content
Drexel Library

Open Educational Resources: Home

Open Educational Resources

"Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching and learning materials that are freely available online for everyone to use, whether you are an instructor, student or self-learner. Examples of OER include: full courses, course modules, syllabi, lectures, homework assignments, quizzes, lab and classroom activities, pedagogical materials, games, simulations, and many more resources contained in digital media collections from around the world." - OER Commons


OERs can come in a variety of forms:
  • Primary sources: Images, video, and sound recordings. Some sources are in the public domain, while others have been licensed as open by their creators. In addition, many texts that are in the public domain are available online/electronically.
  • Learning content: Created content that ranges from individual lectures, animations, and assessments to complete courses and textbooks.  
How do OERs work?

The term OER generally refers only to digital resources and, as such, tends to focus on usage in online or hybrid learning environments, though electronic content can certainly be used in in-person environments as well. Each resource is issued under a license that spells out how it can be used. OERs are typically found in collections or repositories (to learn more about repositories, visit Drexel's guide on Institutional Repositories). Many OERs are modular in nature, allowing them to be used in novel combinations to suit particular learning activities and can be adapted to keep pace not only with new technologies but also with changes to academic disciplines and teaching methods.

Where do OERs come from?

OER are typically created by grant-funded academics. A portion are also created by those who do so out of their own good will or those frustrated by the limitations of traditional texts. Many of these resources are peer-reviewed and are in use at multiple institutions of higher education.

Why consider OER?
  1. Textbook prices: Textbook prices continue to rise at a significant rate over tuition and fees and more than three times faster than inflation. Open Educational Resources are free of cost.
  2. Unbridled Pedagogy: OER enables pedagogy that traditional textbooks do not. This enables instructors to stray from “disposable assignments” and instead invite students to become producers and communicators of knowledge.
  3. Student and Institution Performance: A 2015 multi-institutional study has shown that classes that employ OER have lower drop and withdrawal rates than those using traditional, costly, textbooks keeping students on track to graduate. Relatedly, student performance in classes using OER has been shown to be the same as or marginally improved over that in which traditional textbooks were used.
  4. Societal benefit: Though difficult to prove, it is easy to imagine that decreasing students’ debt while marginally increasing their performance might yield positive societal effects.
Why are OERs significant?

Open resources are one way to address the rising costs of education, and they also have the potential to facilitate new styles of teaching and learning. Giving faculty the ability to pick and choose the individual resources they want to use—and to modify those resources and "assemble" them in unique ways—promises greater diversity of learning environments.

Also, by providing educators with new access to educational material, open resources have the potential to spur pedagogical innovation, introducing new alternatives for effective teaching. Educational resources that can be modified and reused promote collaboration and participation.

What about copyright?

OER authors retain full copyright of the resources they create. In order to be considered OER a resource must have an open license. To learn more about copyright, visit Drexel Libraries' Copyright guide.

How can faculty determine the quality of OERs?

Resources made freely available are not necessarily created for free.  Most OER are written by academics and peer-reviewed.  Furthermore, most who adopt OER are experts in their fields and are therefore optimally suited to judge a resource's quality. Check the "Evaluating OERs" tab for tools and tips on how to determine which OERs will be most relevant for your needs.

How can faculty incorporate open textbooks into their syllabi?

Faculty can approach OERs with varying degrees of anticipated involvement. Where one instructor might choose to incorporate one or two chapters from an open textbook, another might select only freely-available content.  Additionally, using both open textbooks and existing subscription resources available from the Libraries allows students to meet learning outcomes with reduced costs. Here are some ways to consider reducing student textbook costs in the classroom:

Free unlimited student access Free access while DU student Costs less than student purchase of own textbook Full cost of textbooks

Faculty-created OER

OER/Open Textbooks by others customized for Drexel course

Open Access articles and book chapters

Open access auxiliary materials (e.g. lecture notes, text banks)

Faculty exercises and notes

DUL licensed and owned materials (e.g. books, video, and journal articles)

Some students choose to share a textbook with other students, an option that may be difficult in most remote-learning situations. Single-user digital auxiliary materials are a challenge for this situation.

Student pays for auxiliary material layer on top of OER (e.g. B&N’s OER+ program, currently under negotiation)    All students acquire their own textbooks.

All students acquire their own textbooks.

We recommend faculty use course reserves to provide access to materials, whether incorporating open textbooks, DUL-licensed content, or personal print copies of commercial textbooks.

Where can faculty find open textbooks?

Two of the biggest providers of open textbooks are through the Open Textbook Library and OpenStax, but there are many options available. Check the "Resources" tab for more opportunities to find open textbooks.

Will open textbooks come with auxiliary materials, such as quiz banks?

Many commercial publishers supply a layer of value-added materials to textbooks in the form of quiz banks, lecture materials, lab notebooks, and other objects. Faculty who consider these value-added materials as an important part of the classroom can look at freely available auxiliary materials designed to accompany OERs, such as the lecture notes, data sets, and assignments posted in OER Commons, the interactive simulations in PhET, and the 3D models and exercises in LibreTexts. Or, faculty take a hybrid approach, such as one offered by Barnes & Noble’s OER+ program. This program takes open textbooks and adds a layer of supplementary materials at a cost of $25 per student, still lowering the overall cost of textbooks while also still meeting faculty needs.

What is the business model that sustains and maintains OER?

There really isn't one. Many OER initiatives do not profit or receive a return of any kind–the thinking being that OER will become the normal educational content delivery method in the future where maintenance costs are built into the responsibilities of universities. If that seems unsustainable, consider the following:

  1. Students are subject to a fundamental market flaw: there is no direct relationship between students and publishers. That is, they do not have the ability to choose which textbook they use. It is chosen for them. This lack of consumer choice diminishes the need for publishers to price products competitively. Resulting in #2
  2. For at least the last 10 years, textbook prices have increased at a rate of more than 3x that of inflation.
What are the implications for teaching and learning?

OERs will expand access to educational resources to more learners, more of the time. In particular, adult learners, students who work full time, and other nontraditional students stand to benefit from open resources because they are available for independent, self-directed study.

One of the more radical viewpoints is that the OER movement will lead to a future in which all of the components of an education will be available online for free and that learners will have the opportunity to construct a course of study from the wide and growing pool of open content. Others envision a less disruptive future for OER, suggesting that the model for higher education will persist in a form not wholly different from what it is today, but enhanced with high-quality, open, digital content.

What is the future of OERs?

The volume of OERs will only increase and so OER repositories will need to build out their capacities and capabilities for searching and filtering resources to help instructors and individual learners navigate the growing sea of open content. Part of this process is evaluating the credibility of individual resources or collections, and new mechanisms are likely to emerge to facilitate this. To some extent, partnerships (e.g. with publishers) have begun to fill this role, allowing faculty members to choose from lists of reviewed or approved open resources; other means of assessing the quality of OER will surely be developed.

Advantages of Using OERs

Disadvantages of Using OERs

Expanded access to learning. Students anywhere in the world can access OERs at any time, and they can access the material repeatedly. Quality issues. Since many OER repositories allow any user to create an account and post material, some resources may not be relevant and/or accurate.
Scalability. OERs are easy to distribute widely with little or no cost. Lack of human interaction between teachers and students. OER material is created to stand alone, and since self-learning users may access the material outside of a classroom environment, they will miss out on the discussion and instructor feedback that characterize for-credit classes and that make such classes useful and valuable.
Augmentation of class materials. OERs can supplement textbooks and lectures where deficiencies in information are evident. Language and/or cultural barriers. Although efforts are being made to make OERs available in multiple languages, many are only available in English, limiting their usefulness to non-English speakers. Additionally, not all resources are culturally appropriate for all audiences.
Enhancement of regular course content. For example, multimedia material such as videos can accompany text. Presenting information in multiple formats may help students to more easily learn the material being taught. Technological issues. Some students may have trouble using some OERs if they have a slow or erratic internet connection. Other OERs may require software that students don’t have and that they may not be able to afford.
Quick circulation. Information may be disseminated rapidly (especially when compared to information published in textbooks or journals, which may take months or even years to become available). Quick availability of material may increase the timeliness and/or relevance of the material being presented. Intellectual property/copyright concerns. Since OERs are meant to be shared openly, the “fair use” exemption from the U.S. Copyright Act ceases to apply; all content put online must be checked to ensure that it doesn’t violate copyright law.
Less expense for students. The use of OERs instead of traditional textbooks or course packs, etc. can substantially reduce the cost of course materials for students. Sustainability issues. Since OER creators generally do not receive any type of payment for their OER, there may be little incentive for them to update their OER or to ensure that it will continue to be available online.
Showcasing of innovation and talent. A wide audience may learn of faculty research interests and expertise.  Potential students and donors may be impressed, and student and faculty recruitment efforts may be enhanced.
Ties for alumni. OERs provide an excellent way for alumni to stay connected to the institution and continue with a program of lifelong learning.
Continually improved resources. Unlike textbooks and other static sources of information, OERs can be improved quickly through direct editing by users or through solicitation and incorporation of user feedback. Instructors can take an existing OER, adapt it for a class, and make the modified OER available for others to use.

Evaluation Criteria

There are a variety of resources available to help instructors who want to use OERs in their classrooms.

Because OERs may vary in quality, it is important for instructors to carefully evaluate them before using them in their classroom. Criteria to consider may include the following:

  • Authority: Is it clear who developed and wrote the material? Are their qualifications for creating the material clearly stated?
  • Accuracy: Are there errors or omissions visible?
  • Objectivity: Is any type of bias present?
  • Currency: Is the resource up-to-date and/or is a creation or update date visible?
  • Coverage: Does it address the topic at hand sufficiently to add value to the class? Does only a portion of it apply? Do you need to combine it with other resources? Can you align each resource with the learning objectives and weekly lessons on your syllabus in order to identify gaps?
  • Accessibility: Is it ADA compliant? A checklist for compliance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2 of the Americans with Disabilities Act can be found here.
  • License: Has a Creative Commons License been applied? Can you remix or reuse the item? Who do you have to attribute copyright to, if anyone? See Drexel Libraries' guide on Copyright for more information.
  • Persistence: Prior to using an OER in another class, you'll need to check that the URL is still valid and whether the OER was updated since you last accessed it.

Evaluation Rubrics, Checklist and Tools

Example platform: OpenStax at Rice University

Open Textbooks and OpenCourseware

Repositories for Individual Resources (as opposed to open courses or textbooks)

Learn More About OERs


In addition to credit given for various images, parts of this guide were adapted from work/guides by:

University of Massachusetts: Amherst, University of Oklahoma, Valparaiso University, Kirkwood Community College, Pacific University: Oregon

Used with permission or in accordance with Creative Commons Licensing.