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Adams State University
Nielsen Library

Open Educational Resources

Information for Faculty & Staff about OER

Definitions of OER

At a basic -- and over-simplified - level, OER were developed to combat the rising cost of textbooks, not only in the US, but worldwide. Students face a number of challenges accessing course materials, and those challenges can impact their success in school and their likelihood of completion. Without more affordable textbook/course-materials options [with the rise of homework platforms, it's not just the books that are costly], lower-income students are at a serious disadvantage. Adams State is Colorado's first Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), and as such, we have an obligation to our minority students to foster their success however we're able. One option is the selection of course materials that are not exorbitantly priced. Other pages on this LibGuide will address the value of OER beyond the cost, but price (affordability) is an important starting point.

The Hewlett Foundation defines OER as: "teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have ben released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others."

UNESCO's definition of OER is: "teaching, learning and research materials in any medium -- digital or otherwise -- that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions."


Fulcrum-scale showing how much more there is to "open" than to merely "free"

Source: New England Board of Higher Education's OER webinar, 2019


*Technically, "open" is not strictly "free" -- there are still economic dimensions to consider, such as time commitments of contributors, resources, and uncalculated monies. Some "Open" content providers like the Open Education Network's Open Textbook Library (OEN, OTL) require paid subscriptions.

David Wiley presents some good information about defining "open" and provides the ALMS framework for ensuring that technical choices -- just as much as unrestrictive license types -- make material open. For a basic, text-based example, publishing in an un-editable PDF presents technical/formatting challenges beyond the restrictions an open license may mitigate. Google Docs may be editable, but one must have a Google/Gmail account (and accept the inherent Big Brother concerns); Microsoft Word may be a fairly basic, universal format, but the Microsoft Office Suite of products can be cost-prohibitive.

Benefits of OER

Source: Leveraging OER during COVID-19 webinar (June 22, 2020)

For Faculty:
  1. More control, personalization, and customization of material -- Open Resources can be modified under Creative Commons licenses. [see the "Licensing & Attribution" tab]
  2. More variety of media to keep students engaged and actively participating.
  3. Wider availability of texts/materials to students of disparate socio-economic backgrounds (equity).
  4. The 5 Rs:
    1. Retain -- keep what you like, under your intellectual control
    2. Reuse - use content in any context you desire
    3. Revise - personalize and adapt content to your needs (simplify for beginner classes, complicate for higher level classes)
    4. Remix - combine content to make something new (put together articles and chapters into a new textbook)
    5. Redistribute - share your compilations to enhance nation- and world-wide OER offerings
  5. Another avenue to publish your own work.
For the University / Admin:
  1. Greater equity of access to resources by underserved populations -- serving the University's mission.
  2. Higher completion/graduation rates, potentially with less debt, thus enabling them to contribute as Alumni.
  3. Greater retention for financial and statistical purposes.
  4. Higher registration rates. Students consistently say they would register (or at least consider registering) for more classes if materials costs were not an issue.
  5. Lower Drop/Withdrawal and D- & F-grade rates. Students consistently say that materials costs kept them from successfully completing courses.  
  6. Help fulfill state legislative goals and mandates.
For Students:
  1. Eases students' financial struggles. Inability to afford course materials should not prevent students from succeeding at ASU.
  2. Housing- & Food Insecurity are on the rise, as well as job insecurity/job loss, and making the choice between food/rent and textbooks should not prevent our students' success.
  3. Less stress. Most ASU students reported high or very high stress when purchasing textbooks, on every survey administered. OER mean less hassle renting and returning, and less time spent trying to find affordable editions.
  4. Format: online (free) or print-on-demand (at minimal cost). Accessibility options are more widely available as well.
  5. Less digital redlining (assumption that everyone has internet access & current tech). 
  6. Shorter time to graduation: take class now rather than "when I can afford the textbook." Less student loan debt.
  7. Ability to maintain perpetual access (often updated perpetual access) to materials for professional development.
  8. Money not spent on textbooks can be used to bolster the local economy = great for the whole SLV!

Challenges of Traditional Textbooks

This snippet from an email thread admirably sums up the challenges faced by FACULTY when it comes to traditionally-published course materials:

"I have a faculty member who is crushed because they did not understand that an Elsevier product would cost students over 100.00. They thought they had free access, but that only lasts two weeks and then students are booted out unless they pay."

That feels like "bait and switch" to me!


This brief opinion post admirably sums up the challenges faced by most college/university students:

An issue plaguing students in our community is the heavy cost of textbooks. Recent studies and news reports have shed light on the financial burden placed on students and it is crucial that we address this issue so that every student, no matter poor or rich, has equal access to education. According to a report published by Best Colleges, the average annual spending on course materials for college students have reached a grand total of $1,200. [Adams State's expectation is $1,800, one of the highest in Colorado, and in the country.] This staggering figure is further increased over three times the rate by inflation in the past decade alone. As a result, students have been forced to make challenging choices, such as taking on additional jobs or going without necessary resources like food to afford their education. Moreover, an investigation by The Chronicle of Higher Education revealed that some publishers engage in questionable practices that contribute to the high cost of textbooks. Bundling textbooks with access codes for online content, which cannot be purchased separately, has become a very common practice. This strategy restricts students’ options, forcing them to buy new textbooks instead of opting for more affordable used versions. To fight this issue, educational institutions and publishers should collaborate to make sustainable solutions. One successful initiative is the adoption of open educational resources, or OER. OER provides free or low-cost digital learning materials that can be freely accessed, shared and modified. A study conducted by the Babson Survey Group found that almost 50% of faculty have now recognized and started the awareness of OER. I strongly encourage educational institutions to adopt OER and explore partnerships with publishers to negotiate fair pricing policies. By doing so, we can alleviate students’ financial burdens so they can place more focus on their studies. -- Jacky Chen, a guest writer, is a De Anza College student majoring in business management. June 12, 2023

Graph showing the cost of goods and services relative to the rate of inflation (Consumer Price Index)

Source:, compiled from the Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

*You may notice the plateau of textbook costs within the last couple of years on this chart. This is due to the rise of Open content providing affordable alternatives, and traditional textbook publishers slowing their markup in response. Textbooks remain, however, one of the most expensive commodities on this chart, with prices rising more than 150% compared to the rate of inflation over 20 years.

There's a misconception it's good to shine a light on: traditional textbooks, with their glossy pages, color graphics, and hardcover bindings are believed to be of inherently "better quality" than non-traditional (free/OER) material. "You get what you pay for." But is that always true? Sure, some off-brand peanut butter tastes positively foul compared with some name-brands, but haven't studies also found that mid-priced wines and fancy wines are often indistinguishable in flavor, even by purported connoisseurs? These two articles make this point admirably. 1: There's what you assign, & then there's what they read; and 2: On quality & OER. Moreover, it's been a common thread in academia for years that traditional textbooks have their share of problems, so even if Open resources aren't perfect... well, neither are traditional materials! Below are two stories that were making headlines in early 2023.

Purpose of the Research Guide (LibGuide)

The purpose of Adams State's Open Education Initiative is to provide more affordable educational resources for our students, to empower student learning and faculty instruction, and to provide the best education possible to our diverse and underserved community. Any means by which we accomplish these goals are valued and appreciated.

The adoption of Openly-licensed content is not the only way to save students money; Affordability options like Course Reserves, use of library databases and eBooks, use of publicly-accessible newspapers or websites, or use of Open Access materials are all valid and valued ways of saving our students from struggling to pay for course materials.

The purpose of this Research Guide (LibGuide) is to compile as many useful resources as possible for both ASU affiliates and others interested in the Open Education movement. It will never be entirely comprehensive, but it should prove a useful resource for the campus for finding information. The guide is broken down into the following pages:

  • Home (definitions and purpose)

  • About (FAQ, History, Misconceptions/Myth-busting, Organizations & Partnerships, etc.)

  • Zero-/Low-Cost Courses at ASU (List of courses students can take to save money)

  • Locating Open Resources (some repositories & referatories for finding open content)

  • Affordability: Using Nielsen Library Resources (some suggestions for other cost-savings options)

  • Licensing & Attribution (Creative Commons Licenses, giving attribution for use of open content)

  • Adopting, Adapting, Evaluating Open Content (rubrics, accessibility information, and Fair Use Best Practices)

  • Impact of OER (our unique needs, DEI collaboration, and testimonials from ASU students)

  • Authoring & Publication (tools for creating open content and distributing it)

  • Impact & Scholarly Research on Open (local data, video resources, and scholarly articles on Open)

  • Scholarly Research on Open Education (webinars, articles, webcasts, videos)

  • Grants & Funding (financial support avenues for course redesigns or open adoption)

  • SPARC Open Education Leadership Program (background on SPARC and Capstone resources)

  • Grants & Funding (where to get financial support Colo. Dept. of Higher Ed, ASU Campus funds, etc.)

  • Open Pedagogy (approaches to education that use -- and create -- open content)

  • Contact ASU's Open Ed Committee (campus contact information for local support)

  • Other LibGuides and Outside Resources (links to more information)

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