About Open Educational Resources (OER)

Sheri WaltzBy Sheri Waltz, Associate Professor of Communication

What is OER?

You have probably heard the buzz about open educational resources or OER, but you might not know exactly how it could revolutionize your course. 

According to David Wiley, CFO of Lumen Learning, OER materials are freely available and openly licensed so faculty can revise, remix, reuse, redistribute, and retain that material (with attribution based on the license agreement). 

Why you would want to use OER?

In a nutshell, OER provides unlimited potential for you to be in full control of the content in your course.  You can augment material that is lacking in your current textbook, adopt a fully OER textbook, or even curate an entire class by piecing together materials and content from several OER sources.  In other words, you have complete control over the course material that is presented to your students.  You are no longer dependent upon what the publisher decided to include in the textbook or when it is up for a new edition.

Your students can save money on textbooks and have earlier access to materials (no waiting for financial aid to buy books). In a 2016 textbook and course materials survey, the Florida Virtual Campus found that the impact of textbook costs on students influenced their decision making in the following ways (note that students could select more than one of the choices):

  • 47.6% Take fewer courses
  • 45.5% Don’t register for a specific course
  • 37.6% Earn a poor grade because they could not afford to buy the book
  • 66.6% Don’t purchase the required textbook

OER from the trenches

Several faculty members in the Vol State Communications Department are currently in the middle of developing a public speaking course using curated OER materials rather than a textbook. If you are considering using OER, you may want to learn from what we have discovered through this process.

To gain a better understanding of the issues we are facing, you need to know that we are curating ALL material for this course.  That means we will no longer have a textbook. Rather, we will have an entire course with all content embedded in eLearn.  That content includes HTML (web) pages, PowerPoint slides, videos, quizzes, assignment instructions, sample assignments, etc. All of this content either comes from OER sources or is content we are creating ourselves.

It takes a lot of time and effort to curate materials for an entirely OER-based course. 

You might want to start small, picking topics or modules, instead of a whole course.  One thing we noticed is that when you can put anything in your course, the infinite possibilities are a little daunting.  We decided to use an OER textbook as a springboard, and then augment that information with additional OER material.

It takes extra effort to effectively integrate OER materials into eLearn, but we have a fabulous support system in our Distance Learning team that can assist.

We are just confronting this hurdle right now since we have gathered most of our material.  We are finding some limitations of eLearn that are making it more difficult to present information. For example, some of our content pages are rather long and word dense.  However we are working closely with Star Boe, an instructional designer, who has created several work-arounds enabling us to get the look, feel, and flow we want.

But the hard work pays off in unexpected ways. 

Shellie Michael, Professor of English/Communication and a partner on revising the COMM 2045 course says:

I’m excited about the prospect of completely customized materials that match our course’s student learning outcomes, terminology, assignments, and best practices. We’ll no longer need to tell students, “Your textbook says ‘X,’ but in our class, we say ‘Y’” … The task is bigger than we envisioned, though. During our decades of teaching speech, we had already gathered or created many resources, but we are still revising those resources to produce a streamlined course, eliminating contradiction or repetition. Because we can make changes to the OER textbook and the ancillaries we’re using as a springboard, we are also editing those materials. To paraphrase the B52s, A LOT of work is involved as we “dance this mess around.”

Selecting Materials

When you start looking for materials to use, the sky is really the limit.  There are entire peer-reviewed textbooks out there that have all of the ancillary resources like test banks and PowerPoints. Consider what you need or want from a source, and then check the copyright to ensure you can use it the way you want.  Remember that you don’t have to incorporate the entire book…you can do this with just bits and pieces.  The possibilities are endless.

Want to learn more?

If you are interested in learning more about OER and some great resources to get you started, check out the upcoming professional development workshop: Open and Free! Instructional Materials and Media on the Vol State faculty development schedule.