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Open Educational Resources: Not Just Open Textbooks

Scott Curtis, OER Coordinator, UMKC Libraries

One of the great instructional challenges in creating a quality online course experience involves finding effective educational tools for students wherever they may access the course. Open Educational Resources (OERs) can help instructors address these challenges.

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation defines OERs as:

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 re-purposing 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. (cf. Hewlett Foundation)

As this definition shows, OERs are not just open textbooks. In fact, as a pertinent example, if an instructor currently uses a YouTube video within a course, and that video does not require permissions or license fees, the instructor is already using an OER. While there are complete open courses, instructors should know that most OER use currently involves finding pedagogical components, like videos, articles, podcasts, sections of an open textbook, and so on for use in the instructor’s unique course syllabus for their particular institutional curriculum.

OER logoBecause OERs are relatively new for universities, instructors often find it challenging to identify quality open resources to use in their courses. UMKC Libraries have created an OER Research Guide to assist instructors by pointing to known portals and hubs for OERs geared to the college academic experience. In looking through the existing resources, it is clear that the majority of now-available OERs relate to first- and second-year college coursework, where any created materials will impact the most students.

It is important to understand that OERs do not represent “free” resources for instructors (and students) to copy and use. OERs represent one end-product of a process of open education, where instructors are encouraged to participate in re-using, re-mixing, and creating improved educational tools that facilitate others to build upon an existing instructional knowledge base. By providing proper attribution to the authors of OERs, and by contributing educational resources made openly available, UMKC instructors can participate in a community that will provide recognition beyond our institution and helping future teachers (and students) to say, in the words of Isaac Newton, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”