Working with textbooks published by traditional publishers can be frustrating for instructors. The publishing cycle often involves the release of new editions every few years so publishers can devalue older editions sold on the secondary market. This can feel too fast for instructors teaching introductory courses, in which the foundational information rarely changes, and absolutely glacial for instructors teaching graduate courses in which new developments emerge each day.
Plus, that's before considering the impact of high textbook costs on students, which can flood an instructor's inbox with complaints at best (and, lead to students choosing not to purchase the book at all, at worst).
This may have led you to start researching open educational resources (OERs), which offer many benefits for instructors and students alike. However, the quality of these resources can vary drastically across the board, as you'll quickly discover. While you're sure to do intense analysis before incorporating an OER into your syllabus, the truth is that you simply may not have the time available to dedicate to the task.
Just because your time is strained, that doesn't mean you can't include OERs in your course planning. In this guide, we'll cover the ins and outs of OERs, including tips for choosing the right resources for your course, through the following points:
What are open educational resources?
How do you evaluate open educational resources?
What is an easy way to adopt OERs?
Before we can discuss how to choose the right OER for your course, we need to cover the fundamentals of what these resources truly are. Let's dive in.
What are open educational resources?
In the broadest definition, open educational resources (OERs) are educational resources that are freely accessible to anyone who has internet access. Unlike physical textbooks that come with hefty purchase costs and shipping delays, your students can easily access OERs online.
Oftentimes, these resources are not only open to be accessed but also approved to be edited as needed to make them helpful for your course. For example, if you access an open calculus textbook, but would only find one chapter useful, you can trim the resource as needed to make it applicable to your course.
You can access OERs through online hubs, such as the OER Commons, which functions as a digital library for this type of resource. It's fairly easy to find an OER, but because the creation of these resources is generally unregulated, the challenge often becomes finding the right resource for your course.
What are considered open educational resources?
There are a wide variety of content types that fall under the umbrella of OERs, ranging in depth of information provided and overall complexity.
OERs can include any of the following:
Text resources, including PDF documents, recurring journals, or even full textbooks
Video resources, such as lectures and tutorials
Static visual resources, such as templates and educational resources
Interactive resources, such as learning modules and full courses
OERs can be used as the main resource in a course or to supplement existing resources. This could mean a full set of digital course materials or even a graphic used to illustrate key points, templates to base specific lessons on, or PDF documents to supplement your existing texts.
Benefits of Open Educational Resources
The greatest benefit of open educational resources is immediately evident: availability. Once you've identified the right resource for your course, an OER can be made immediately available online as soon as it's needed. This means you won't run into issues with students being unable to afford reference materials or purchasing textbooks that won't arrive until weeks into the semester, delaying their progress.
However, OERs come with a variety of benefits in addition to availability. For example, they're:
Effective as foundational resources and as supplements for existing resources. If you're looking to supplement a lesson or drive key points home, there is likely a graphic/template/video/PDF OER readily available somewhere on the internet.
Can be more up-to-date and recent. When it comes to instructional design trends, rapid development is the name of the game. Because OERs exist outside of more traditional publishing standards associated with academia, innovative researchers and instructors can push content live without the red tape.
With benefits like these, you may be wondering why every instructor hasn't adopted OERs as a major aspect of their course planning for the next year. However, we'd be remiss if we didn't also discuss the challenges that can come with OERs.
Challenges of Open Educational Resources
Due to the open nature of these resources, the biggest challenges with OERs tend to revolve around content quality. Because anyone can make OERs, you can run into issues such as:
Inconsistent quality of information. When you pick up an OER, you could be reading a resource created by an expert in your field, a resource created by a hobby researcher who has limited insight into the topic on which they're writing, or even a resource that was high-quality years prior but has since grown outdated due to a lack of ongoing updates.
Inconsistent formatting. Because OERs are authored by different experts, each resource may be formatted differently. Whether different fonts, text sizes, or something else, your compilation of OERs can quickly resemble a ransom note.
Time-consuming evaluation process. While there are a variety of stand-out OERs available, it can be difficult and time-consuming to parse them out of the plethora of sub-par resources that are also available.
Due to the content-related challenges, it's imperative that you closely evaluate and vet all open educational resources before incorporating them into your curriculum, listing them in your syllabus, or assigning them to students for homework.
How do you evaluate open educational resources?
Evaluating OERs involves assessing whether the resource is compliant with your institution’s requirements, is aligned with learning objectives, and holds clear value for learners. Let's break down the evaluation process in-depth.
To begin your evaluation, you’ll need to give yourself a starting point from which you can focus your efforts. First, start by determining the criteria you will use to judge each resource.
When developing your evaluation criteria, consider including any (or all) of the following:
Authority: Who authored the material? What qualifications does that individual have to author this material? Would you consider that individual an expert on the topic at hand?
Accuracy: Are there any clear errors that stand out to you on a first read? Any typographical errors, formatting errors, or major gaps in information?
Objectivity: Consider the author of the piece and each source cited. Is there any bias present that could skew your instruction?
Currency: When was the resource created? Was it created recently? If not, when was the resource last updated and by whom?
Coverage: Does the OER sufficiently cover the topic on which you're instructing? Are any parts of it unrelated and should therefore be omitted? What does the OER add that isn't represented in your other materials and classroom instruction?
Accessibility: Can all students, regardless of ability, access this resource? Is the resource compliant with your institution’s accessibility guidelines?
License: Who owns the copyright for the resource? Are you allowed to make changes or otherwise edit the resource to make it more useful for your course, if needed?
Purpose: For what purpose was the resource created? What type or level of student was it created for, and what was its goal regarding teaching those students?
This list will expand or shrink depending on the unique needs of your course. For example, you may be particularly concerned with a resource’s level of complexity and whether it aligns with your students' current understanding. Or, you may be aware of specific guidelines set out by your university and need to evaluate OERs against those instead of creating your own.
Once you've outlined your main evaluation criteria, you can begin judging OERs against those guidelines. We recommend taking a structured approach to this evaluation process. Here are a few ways you can further develop this process to ensure you don't overlook any key criteria:
Use evaluation resources provided by your institution's library. Many university libraries provide a checklist and rubric that follow the university’s process for evaluating OERs. Beyond this, they may also provide guidelines for discovering resources, revising and localizing them, and navigating licensing questions. We recommend checking with your institution’s library first to ensure you're following your university’s requirements.
Follow the same process for evaluating textbooks and other materials. OERs are just like any other course reference material that you share with students. The only difference is that they're publicly authored and shared. If you have developed any processes for evaluating textbooks or other resources, apply those criteria to your OERs.
Use an online evaluation rubric. If your institution doesn't have specific guidelines for evaluating OERs, there are many online resources that walk through the evaluation process. Many universities publicly share their evaluation rubrics, which consist of a series of questions for assessing the OER. These rubrics will range in complexity and application (for example, if they're most helpful for K-12 institutions or universities). If you do choose to use an online rubric, be sure to pick the right one for your specific circumstances.
In the next section, we've provided a free OER evaluation rubric that you can use if you choose to go the rubric route.
Free OER Evaluation Rubric
To quickly assess an open educational resource’s value, ask yourself the following questions. The overall goal should be to answer "yes" to many, if not all, of these questions. If any aspect of this rubric doesn't align with the rubric (ex: a question about images in a text-only document), disregard that question in your analysis.
Can you clearly identify the author of this resource?
Is the creator of this resource a well-regarded name in their field?
Is the content largely free of major typos or formatting errors?
Can you independently verify the facts included in the resource, and are they correct?
Is the content a full, comprehensive view of the topic and free of any major fact omissions?
Has the resource been peer-reviewed?
As an expert in your field, would you rate the content as high-quality?
Is the creator of this piece largely free from bias that would negatively impact the quality of their work?
If the creator is associated with an organization, is that organization largely free from bias that would negatively impact work associated with it?
Has the resource been updated recently?
Is the format of the content up-to-date with the latest formatting standards?
Does the information directly address a portion of your learning curriculum?
Is the resource relevant to your course, without making any initial, major edits?
Does the way in which the content is presented align with the knowledge of your target audience?
Is the delivery platform secure and unlikely to "go dark" during the duration of your course?
Does the content align with basic web accessibility standards, including being screen reader-friendly, including closed captions, and allowing for text-to-speech translation?
Is the resource easily found online, even for learners who are less tech-savvy?
Can you locate the copyright or licensing status of this resource?
Based on the copyright or licensing status of the document, are you allowed to share it widely and for classroom use?
Based on the copyright or licensing status of the document, are you allowed to remix or revise the content if needed?
What is an easy way to adopt OERs?
While the processes outlined above will help you to sort through OERs and discover great resources for your courses, it can still be an incredibly time-consuming process that you simply may not have the capacity for.
So, how can you receive the many benefits of OERs without having to go through the process of finding useful resources yourself? You can work with a company that will complete the sourcing process for you, assembling a pack of custom digital course materials curated specifically for your course.
These resources, including resources created by you, open educational resources, and licensed resources, are customized to your specific course. You can trust that the content is not only reputable but also perfectly aligned with your learning objectives. Even further, your instructional design team will ensure that while the resources may be created by various authors, the formatting of your digital course materials will be consistent throughout.
When you partner with a course design team such as Skyepack, these resources can be developed fast using the Agile Instructional Design method. Students can access them on the first day of class! Plus, this development comes at no cost to you. Instead, students pay a low flat fee for lifetime access to the course materials.
To learn more about how custom digital course materials can level up your instruction, explore Skyepack's case studies.
Open educational resources present a variety of benefits for instructors, but that's only if you find the right resources for your course. With these evaluation criteria, you'll be able to weed out ineffective resources. However, the process may be time-consuming.
If you want to be 100% confident that the resources you choose are the best for your course, without investing significant time into the effort, invest in custom digital course materials. To learn more, contact the Skyepack team today. In the meantime, explore the following additional resources:
Digital Course Materials: The How and Why of Going Online. Learn the ins and outs of digital course materials in this comprehensive guide.
Curriculum Development: Complete Overview & 6 Steps. Where do OERs fit in your curriculum? Learn more here.
How (And Why!) to Write a Course Syllabus. How can you use your course syllabus to share course resources with your students? Learn that and more in this guide.