Complete Guide to Open Educational Resources

Low-cost, high-quality textbooks may once have been a myth, but no longer: Open educational resources provide a wide variety of free learning content for practically any subject. CT asked three OER enthusiasts for their favorite tips and tools.

By Dian Schaffhauser

OER Defined

“OER are teaching, learning and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and repurposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software and any other tools, materials or techniques used to support access to knowledge.”
— The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
stack of books

Table of Contents

5 Myths About Open Educational Resources
6 Tips for Using Open Educational Resources
6 Arguments for OER (and 1 Against)
16 OER Sites Every Educator Should Know
5 Ideas for Spreading OER
OER Formats, Accessibility and More

Boundless To Add Open Textbooks

Boundless To Add Open Textbooks

By Dian Schaffhauser

Boundless, which already publishes free textbooks that use repurposed free and open source material, is now allowing educators to publish their open educational resource (OER) textbooks via its authoring platform. The company said it is working with a dozen authors to add their OER textbooks to the library, including books on music theory, computer science and microeconomics.

Currently, all content is available free on the Boundless Web site. The company converts those textbooks into “premium” offerings by adding quizzes, flashcards and other digital content and providing instructors with class management tools for assigning quizzes and readings and receiving data about student usage. These are priced for students starting at $19.99 and are free for faculty. The individual authors of the new offerings may choose to make their content available in both formats too.

The new additions will work in Boundless’ reader, which is optimized for Web and mobile use. Readers, both faculty and students, will be encouraged to provide feedback and comments on the new content.

“Until now there hasn’t been a great way to publish educational content online. Authors have options of PDFs, epubs and blogs, but none of these make the content simple to share or search,” said Ariel Diaz, Boundless’ founder and CEO. Now, he added, authors will be able to publish their content in the Boundless e-reader “for millions of students and educators to use.”

One author, Catherine “Kitty” Schmidt-Jones, said she is “excited” to put her open music theory modules onto the platform in order to get in front of students and educators. “Before publishing my music theory modules as open resources, I was a music teacher in small-town Illinois,” Schmidt-Jones said. “The Internet has given me a voice as a teacher that the traditional publishing industry would not.”

Schmidt-Jones also submits her content to Openstax CNX, an OER resource that allows users to download OER content in PDF and epub formats.

16 OER Sites Every Educator Should Know

Open educational resources not only save students from triple-digit (or more!) textbook costs, but they also allow instructors to mix-and-match content for a more personalized, engaging learning experience. Here are 16 resources that offer a wide range of content and tools to help implement OER in just about any course.

Innovation, Access, and Open Education: The Business & Policy Case for OER

University Professional & Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) is the association for leaders in professional, continuing, and online education. It serves 365 institutions, including most of the leading public and private colleges and universities in North America. The association provides innovative conferences and specialty seminars, research and benchmarking information, professional networking opportunities, and timely publications.

At the recent Summit for Online Leadership and Strategy Cable Green, Director of Global Learning for Creative Commons made a general session presentation titled, ‘Innovation, Access, and Open Education: The Business & Policy Case for OER’

The slides are available at

The recording is available at

New Partnership for Open Educational Resources

New Partnership for Open Educational Resources
January 30, 2014
In a match seemingly made in open educational resource heaven, the free textbook producer OpenStax College and OER support provider Lumen Learning on Wednesday announced a partnership that aims to save college students $10 million on textbooks by 2015. Lumen Learning helps institutions transition away from traditional course materials, and will use OpenStax College’s textbook offerings to bolster its catalog of open resources. The free textbook producer, based at Rice University, has published six textbooks so far and has another seven in the works.
“Lumen is the latest example of a growing coordination amongst philanthropic grantees to further the mission of access in a dynamic way,” Richard Baraniuk, the founder of OpenStax College, said in an email. “Greater coordination will fuel a more rapid transition to a more efficient and open market.”

Read more:
Inside Higher Ed

2 Senators Offer Bill Promoting Open-Access Textbooks

November 14, 2013, 12:50 pm
By Lawrence Biemiller
A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate on Thursday would encourage the creation of free online textbooks by offering grants for pilot projects that produce high-quality open-access textbooks, especially for courses with large enrollments. Grant money would also be available to help faculty members find and review such textbooks, as well as to conduct research on how well open-access textbooks meet students’ and faculty members’ needs.

The bill, called the Affordable College Textbook Act, was introduced by two Democratic senators, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Al Franken of Minnesota. Senator Durbin introduced a similar bill in 2009 that did not become law, but he is revisiting the textbook-cost issue in the wake of a recent study by the Government Accountability Office ( finding that textbook prices rose an average of 6 percent a year from 2002 to 2012. The increase amounted to a total of 82 percent during a 10-year period when consumer prices rose just 28 percent.

Free online textbooks have been slow to catch on among both faculty members and students, notwithstanding the College Board’s estimate that the average college student spends $1,200 a year on books and supplies. But Rice University’s OpenStax College, among the best known of open-access ventures, recently added a sixth title to its offerings, with five more in the works, and officials say they expect to save $3.7-million for 40,000 students during the current academic year.

Open Education Sites Offer Free Content for All

Open education sites exemplify how technology is democratizing education. These sites allow both learners and teachers to create their own curriculum, whether it’s used in or out of the classroom.

Here’s a comprehensive list of open education sites MindShift has covered. As always, we love to hear about sites that aren’t included in the list, so add them to the comments!

MIT Open CourseWare: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology publishes nearly all of its course content on this site, from videos to lecture notes to exams, all free of charge and open to the public. Many other universities are doing the same, often using the content management system EduCommons. Read about how this seminal project changed the education landscape.
Wikis (a.k.a. collaborative Web pages) and nonprofits devoted to enabling open-source curricula are springing up everywhere. One of the most well-known, Curriki, encourages teachers to both publish and download materials — anything from a vocabulary quiz to a full biology textbook — and vets its content through member ratings and incentives such as the annual Summer of Content Awards, which offers grants for specific contributions.
Open Educational Resources (OER) Commons: Created by the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME), OER is a rich and comprehensive landing site for open source education software, from peer-reviewed e-textbooks to lesson plans, video lectures to worksheets. Almost everything is Creative Commons licensed and open for modification and adaptation. You can follow their blog or find them on Twitter, and the OER Commons Initiative is also hard at work developing training programs and collaborative projects with teachers, students, and schools.
Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources: A branch of the OER movement with the goal of growing and improving open textbooks for use in community colleges. Established in 2007 by the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, this is a community-college destination page for networking with colleagues and using and editing instructional materials in everything from anthropology to physics. Similarly, the Community College Open Textbook Collaborative catalogs textbooks by subject alongside reviews of those textbooks. Colleges, governmental agencies, and other education organizations belong to this group, which also provides training for instructors aiming to adopt and adapt open resources.
Flat World Knowledge: One of the leading organizations in the open textbook movement, this for-profit company provides online versions of their Creative Commons-licensed material to anyone free of charge (with the ability to customize and modify it), but sells print and downloadable versions of their books to keep business afloat. Also available: Audio books, study guides, and Webinars.
HippoCampus: A project of the Monterey Institute for Technology and Education, this affectionately-termed resource page is a one-stop shop for high school and college students looking for study and homework help, and for instructors interested in supplementing their course materials. The site includes multimedia lessons, complete courses, and study aids on a variety of topics.
Open Textbook Catalog: College students, professors, and the rest of the globe can access this collection of customizable, printable online textbooks. There’s still a disclaimer in place, though, since this site is organized by a student group that doesn’t have the resources or expertise to review and rate every listing extensively. Their Open Textbook Resources page is a great spot for information and links to additional organizations, however.
P2PU: The Peer 2 Peer University is a grassroots open education project in which anyone can participate. Volunteers facilitate the courses, but the learners are in charge. P2PU leverages both open content and the open social web, with a model for lifelong learning.
OpenStudy: OpenStudy is a social learning network where independent learners and traditional students can come together in a massively-multiplayer study group. Through OpenStudy, learners can find other working in similar content areas in order to support each other and answer each others’ questions. OpenStudy supports a number of study groups, including those focused on several MIT OCW courses.
NITXY: NIXTY is building a learning management platform that supports open education resources. Rather than an LMS that closes off both academic resources and academic progress, NIXTY is designed to support open courses so that schools, teachers, and students’ work is not necessarily closed off from the rest of the Web.
OER Glue: Still under development, OER Glue will be a site to watch. The Utah-based startup is building a browser-based tool that will allow students and teachers to “glue” together OER resources online. Rather than having to copy-and-paste resources into a new setting, OER Glue will reuse and integrate resources.
iUniv: iUniv is a Japanese startup that is building web and mobile apps to support and make social video and audio OCW content. Resources can be shared to Twitter, Facebook, and Evernote so that students can actively engage in discussions around OCW content.
OCWSearch: OCW Search is a search engine dedicated, as the name suggests, to helping learners find OCW content. The project is, unfortunately, no longer under development, but it does index ten universities’ OCW content, including MIT, Notre Dame, and The Open University UK.
Smarthistory: Smarthistory is a free and open multimedia website that demonstrates how very heavy, pricey, and obsolete the traditional art history textbook is.
CK-12: The CK-12 Foundation’s Flexbook platform provides free, collaboratively-built and openly-licensed digital textbooks for K-12. Much of the content is standards based.
Flat World Knowledge: [UPDATED] The company offers digital content for college students published under an open license. This allows professors to customize the books they order – edit, add to, mix-up – or use as-is. Students can access the books online for free or can pay $29.95 for unlimited digital access to their textbook in different formats: e-books, audiobooks, downloadable PDFs and interactive study aids. The material is free of digital rights management (DRM) restrictions and never expires.
Connexions: Connexions is a repository of educational content, containing over 17,000 openly licensed learning modules. Teachers, students, and professionals can search and contribute scholarly content, organized into “modules” or topic areas instead of entire textbooks.
CK12 FlexBooks: A nonprofit that aims to reduce the cost of textbook materials by encouraging the development of what they call the “FlexBook.” Anyone can view or help create these standards-based, customizable, collaborative texts.
Shmoop: An up-and-coming collection of freely shared, expert-written content (most Shmoop authors are Ph.D.s and high school or college-level educators) with the goal of inspiring students and providing tons of free resources to teachers that include writing guides, analyses, and discussions.
Princeton University: The university’s faculty is posting its lectures online for free.

OneClick Digital and the Medrano Project: OER as Content, OER as Pedagogy

Key Takeaways

A need to reduce course material costs sparked a project fueled by two epiphanies: students need access to free content, even if it requires a login; and, when armed with information literacy research skills, students can find their own content.
When students cull and curate a living textbook, their role changes from passive recipients of knowledge to active content experts and drivers of the pedagogy, creating a “read-write” classroom culture.
The project succeeded in solving the textbook-cost dilemma and resulted in impressive gains in student satisfaction and engagement with learning.
Open educational resources can become a library service center much like instruction, reference, and collection development, supporting faculty and students with digital content, corresponding creative pedagogies, and copyright compliance.


Announcing MERLOT II: Multimedia Educational Resources for Learning and Online Teaching

Published on Oct 7, 2013
Since 1997, MERLOT has been an international community of faculty, staff, students, administrators, librarians, and others in education interested in discovering, using, and sharing Open Educational Resources (OER) for the improvement of technology-enhanced teaching and learning. The MERLOT community has developed a unique and globally-renowned collection of more than 40,000 online learning materials, all of which have been peer- or crowd-source reviewed by members of the community. MERLOT is free to use, and is sustained through the support of higher education institutions from around the world, led by the California State University. More than 25 editorial boards of discipline-specific subject matter experts develop and curate MERLOT’s collection with quality assurance methods. Many higher education and K-12 institutions, non-profit associations, special interest groups, and corporations have adopted and integrated MERLOT services into their online education initiatives.

Announcement video on YouTube: