Skip to Main Content

Open Educational Resources (OER) for Faculty

An introduction to using OER in your classroom

What is OER?

Open Educational Resources

What are Open Educational Resources?

Open Educational Resources (OER) are educational and research materials which are in the public domain or released by their creators with open licenses such that you are allowed free use of the materials. OER may include full courses, textbooks, assignments and exams, or any supplemental instructional material such as lecture notes, syllabi, images, slide decks, videos or software. Generally OER are provided free of cost.

David Wiley's "5R Permissions" are often referenced as the standard for what defines OER.

According to the 5Rs, an OER allows you to:

  • Retain the right to make, own, save and control copies of the content (download, duplicate, store, and manage)
  • Reuse  the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
  • Revise the content; you may adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
  • Remix the content; combine the original or revised content with other open content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
  • Redistribute the content; share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to your class or a friend)

Adapted from The Access Compromise and the 5th R (Wiley, 2014)


Video: What is OER? Created by the Council of Chief State School Officers (2016).


Is OER the Same Thing as Open Access  (OA)?

No. OER are OA but not all OA are OER. OER are a subset of OA.

OA materials are free to use but not all OA materials are specifically licensed to allow the 5R's of OER. You may not alter or remix OA materials unless it has been specifically licensed as OER. For example, some scholarly journal articles are published as OA; it is free to read them but you are not permitted to alter the content. OER materials, however, do allow you to do so.

Why Use OER?

Incorporation of OER are beneficial to both students and to educators. Using OER in the classroom allows greater flexibility in customizing your courses and gets your students more involved in their own learning.

  • The course will be significantly more affordable to your students. According to the CA Student Aid Commission, the average student spent $630 on textbooks in the 22-23 academic year. In 2020, 65% of students surveyed by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund skipped purchasing a textbook due to cost.
  • Since OER can be remixed and revised, it’s possible to create customized resources tailored your specific course and to the needs of your students.
  • Students will have their course materials from day one, so they won’t have a delay in learning or need to play catch up later.
  • The reusability of OER allow students to access course materials indefinitely.
  • OER textbooks may provide the most up to date information. OERs can be improved quickly through direct editing by users or through solicitation and incorporation of user feedback.
  • Multiple studies have shown that students enrolled in courses using OER, such as open textbooks, perform as well or better than students enrolled in courses using commercial textbooks (Colvard et. al. 2016, Hilton 2020). Courses using OER have also been shown to have lower failure and withdrawal rates, particularly among first-generation students, students of color, and Pell Grant-eligible students in courses using OER (Clinton & Khan 2019, Colvard et. al. 2016).

Adapted from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Maryland Global Campus


You may think that just because OER is free, the quality must be lower than commercially available resources. That is not the case!

Naturally the quality of OER will vary (as does that of commercial textbooks) but OER textbook publishers often use peer review and/or professional editors.  For example, many open texts sourced via  the Open Textbook Library or by MERLOT are reviewed. Additionally, OER textbooks have the benefit of rapid corrections and updates to the content. 

It is important to take the time to evaluate any resources you are considering for your classroom whether it be OER or commercially published.

You may also wonder if using OER will jeopardize UC/CSU articulation agreements. It will not!

According to the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges:

Both the University of California Office of the President and the California State University Chancellor’s Office have issued statements that allow for the use of OER materials, provided the materials are “stable and publicly available as published textbooks (and not a list of links)." While articulation to private or out-of-state colleges might be impacted, given the increasingly widespread use of OER, it is becoming more likely that the use of OER will not impact articulation regardless of the college. OER also does not impact C-ID designated courses, provided that the materials used meet the above requirement.

Evaluating OER

As you select OER for your courses, consider the following:

  • Content: Does this OER cover what you'd like your students to learn in the course?
  • Accessibility: Is the content (including any instructions, exercises, or supplemental material) and reading level at the right level for your students? Is it challenging enough? Is the level of technicality appropriate for your course? Is the content accessible to students with disabilities through the compatibility of third-party reading applications?
  • Use: Is the license open? Can you share, reuse, and remix the content freely? Is the resource in a file format which allows for adaptations, modifications, rearrangements, and updates? Is the resource easily divided into modules, or sections, which can then be used or rearranged out of their original order? For more details about licensing, please refer to the Creative Commons Licensing page of this guide.
  • Quality: Is the OER peer reviewed? Can you read reviews from other instructors who teach courses like yours? Are errors corrected or noted? Is the interface easy to navigate? Are there broken links or obsolete formats?
  • Format: Does the material come in a format your students can access easily? Is special software required? 

Guidelines adapted from the University of Texas Libraries and Affordable Learning Georgia