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This page is intended to help librarians find Open Educational Resources (OER) for their faculty. Librarians are always welcome to forward inquiries on to iusw@indiana.edu. The OER LibGuide may also be a helpful starting point. 

Why OER?

You may find it beneficial to remind instructors that in addition to being free to all students, OER come with important permissions because of the way that they are licensed. Generally, when instructors find an OER, they can update, alter, and redistribute it without obtaining permission from the copyright holder/ creator (though attribution is required). This means that instructors can repurpose content quickly as they prepare for their course and students can access OER without a lot of Digital Rights Management (DRM) hoops to jump through (printing limits, interface data collection/ logins, simultaneous user limits, etc.) 

Where OER Are Successful

While OER are available in a variety of disciplines, resources have been devoted to creating OER where course material costs are highest: namely general education course textbooks in STEM and business. However, there are a growing number of resources in the humanities and social sciences, including materials for upper-level courses. Keep in mind that an OER might not exist in the area you're exploring. Consider other affordable course material options: eTexts, library-licensed content, and fair use/ scanning print materials (more details on the OER LG). If you go this route, be clear with the faculty member that these options are not OER and give them details on what kinds of costs students might incur/ what kinds of DRM restrictions are in place. 

First Pass: Broad Search

As you'd usually do, come up with a list of search terms and look for synonyms. Generally, starting with a broad search can be most fruitful. Whenever possible try to utilize disciplinary language (i.e. "oncology" in addition to "cancer"). I usually start by doing a quick search in a metafinder called OASIS, created by SUNY. This can be a really easy way to see if my terms are working, but it can be overwhelming as it searches a lot of sources at once. 

SUNY’s Openly Available Sources Integrated Search (OASIS)

OASIS is a search tool that aims to make the discovery of open content easier by searching multiple sources for OER and other open content at once. OASIS currently searches for open content from 79 different sources. 

Best Bets: Repositories

For a less overwhelming search, you can visit a few of the most high-quality OER repositories. You may find some of the same resources in these repositories because some of them actually act as referatories–they aggregate OER from other repositories. 

General Education Level Courses

The following are the best starting points for introductory students using textbooks (think "Biology 101"): 

More Niche Courses

While these also include introductory material in some cases, the following are the best starting points for upper level courses (think "Nursing Care for End of Life Patients"–much more specific): 

Difficult Inquiries

  • If the inquiry is very specific to a discipline and the basic search above isn't useful, search the disciplinary repositories listed on the OER LibGuide.
  • If you still don't find OER, search the archives of the SPARC OER listserv (you must subscribe)–the archives most likely contains a similar question. Use the same keywords you've been using and look through any relevant replies. An example of when this can be useful: one time I was stumped trying to find nursing resources. I searched the listserv and found several new repositories as well as an audit of all nursing OER in one spreadsheet! 
  • Still not successful? Explore library resources (databases and/or eBooks) or IU eTexts

Ancillary Materials 

Openly-licensed question banks, activities, etc. that are comparable to what traditional textbook publishers offer aren't always available. I sometimes encourage the faculty member to consider asking students to draft questions of the text. These can then be shared and openly licensed and revised each year, plus it's a good pedagogical exercise. To find existing open ancillary materials, try the following:

  • OpenStax Hub: materials that can be paired with OpenStax textbooks. Instructors can also access ancillary content for OpenStax texts through the Instructor Resources tab on any OpenStax textbook. 

  • MyOpenMath: Includes math problem sets

Commercial Products 

Commercial products that utilize OER (created by others) are also starting to pop up. These products usually load OER into their platform and then "enhance" them with question banks and instructor activities. These are of particular interest to instructors that really need ancillary materials. Note that students may have to pay for these, either through a fee or with their data. These are typically not OER and sometimes even lock open content into a platform that inhibits others from building upon it. Still, it's good to know about these in case instructors express an interest. Some common products include Lumen Learning Online Homework Manager, Intellus, and B&N LoudCloud. Abbey Elder (2018) has created a spreadsheet that catalogs commercial tools that integrate OER into their platforms, which may be a good starting point. 

Evaluating OER 

Faculty with subject expertise are generally most apt to evaluate the resources we find. However, doing a brief evaluation will ensure that the resources we send faculty are high-quality and aligned with their learning objectives. Use your best judgement and prioritize resources that are up-to-date and relevant with clear licensing information (i.e. you can find a Creative Commons license somewhere on the webpage). 

These criteria, adapted from the BCOER Faculty Guide for Evaluating OER and Abbey Elder, may be useful: 

  • Relevance: Does the information address one or more class objectives? Is it comparable to the traditional textbook being used? 
    • Try your best to make sure that the level is correct (in other words, evaluate if the resource is for college students, majors or non-majors, etc). This is sometimes provided in the metadata. You can also look at how often jargon is used, how thoroughly concepts are explained, etc. 
  • Accuracy: Is the information accurate and up to date?
    • If possible, try to locate a creation date or "last updated" date 
  • Production Quality: Is the information clear and understandable? Is the layout or interface easy to navigate?
  • Accessibility: Is the resource available in alternative formats (.doc, PDF, ePub)? Does the audio/video resource have a transcript or subtitles?
  • Ratings: Have other faculty adopted this resource? Have other users rated the resource highly?
    • Pay close attention to who is rating the OER. Some repositories, like the Open Textbook Library, mediate who can review OER so that only faculty at particular institutions can provide ratings. Other repositories, like MERLOT, allow anyone with an account to leave a review. Consider how faculty may perceive each of these. 
  • Licensing: Does the license for the resource allow the reuse or remixing of the material? Can you modify the resource for your course?
    • This information is generally available under "License" or at the bottom of the page. If "all rights reserved" or a copyright symbol are present, you've found a resource that is not an OER but may be free. Faculty cannot make changes or adapt the resource.
  • Gaps: When comparing the resource to the traditional textbook currently being used, what is lost? This could include ancillary materials like question banks and activities. Attempt to find any supplements needed. 

References/ Additional Resources


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