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Heritage University OER (Open Access Resources): OER Q&A

New LibGuide for OER (Open Access Resources)

OER Questions and Answers

Having questions about OER is important.  We will try to anticipate some of your questions by asking who, what, where, when, why, and how.


Who uses OER?  Faculty and students, obviously.  Beyond that there is a widening circle of those who use or can use OER, these include:

Any student of anything, anywhere, at any time and with regularity. OER are not limited to Heritage University, the State of Washington, the US, or the northern hemisphere.   To show the reach of OER, consider the case of a young Mongolian yak herder studying modern poetry and HTML through Yale’s online open classes (Mangan, 2012).

Professionals needing a quick brush up.  With ready access to open access instruction on HTML a programmer can keep current with HTML Tutorial - W3Schools, Codeacademy, or MDN, for example.

People on the go.  OERs can be updated regularly and be a point of currency for those in rapidly developing fields.

Alumni.  Graduates can maintain contact with Heritage University and continue with a life full of learning.   


Why Open Educational Resources Matter from Walsh (2012) answers the question in a two-minute video.


Beyond obviating concerns over the financial impact of textbooks on students and lessening their debt load, faculty also benefit.

Professors can now create OER to fit how they teach a topic.  Course materials can now be tied to pedagogical style.  No more skipping around a textbook or supplemental reading.  Nor is there the wait for a new edition, while students are buying older editions to save money.  Updates are available as soon as you make them and it costs your students nothing extra.  OER have no additional or hidden costs.  Not only are they free and legal to use, changes are not only accepted they are encouraged.   Additions range from text to multimedia or scenario-based education. Some professors even include upper level or graduate students in the OER creation process using collaborative platforms.  There are also opportunities to network and collaborate  peers around the world.  Content is also defacto peer-reviewed on an ongoing basis.

OER offer improved access as they are available prior to and after the class.  Students can read ahead and have material on the first day of class.  Delivery times and financial aid are no longer impediments to students being ready on Day One.  OER are also accessible on various devices.



Beth McMurtrie’s article What Exactly is a 'Free' Textbook, and Other Questions About Open Resources in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s weekly newsletter offers an introduction to OER for faculty.

UNESCO has a brief video explaining OER.



Q: What are the disadvantages of OER?

A: As the field of OER is still emerging, there are inconsistences and lack of agreement in the OER community over legal restrictions & restrictions.  There are not standards in place for content publishers to make all their work available to all. 

Quality Control: In some OER there are problems with layout, design, and copy editing.  In addition, there is no assurance that material is current or complete or even coherent.  It is incumbent upon the user to review items to ensure the quality or the source.

Sustainability :  Not to say OER are a phantasmagoria, but there are reports of un-backed-up OER- Links changing or even vanishing between semesters or even in the middle of the term!   Beyond that links within OER can suddenly become 404ed!

Again, it is incumbent on the user to archive and back up to a reliable repository.  In addition, there are number free link-checkers for publicly accessible websites to help what is still there and what has gone missing. 

Technological issues:  Use of OER is still dependent on solid internet connectivity. In some cases, a special software may be required that students have to upload or even have to pay for.

               OER should also be ADA (American with Disabilities Act) compliant.  For further guidance, consider consulting                 the WebAIM's WCAG 2 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) Checklist.

Copyright/Intellectual Property Concerns:  Just because something says it is OER does not mean it is. As OERs are intended to be shared openly, the “fair use" exemption from the U.S. Copyright Act ceases to apply.  Consequently, it also behooves the user to check all OER content one potentially uses to ensure that it does not violate copyright law.

Consult the Creative Common Licenses to better understand how information is categorized and shared via Creative Commons.

Q: What are the differences between OER and Library resources?

      A: Library electronic resources are a transparent cost.  In other words, tuition pays for them.  Unlike OER they          are not free and eBooks often limit the number of simultaneous users. 
      One of the unique features of OER are the users; prerogative to  copy, adapt, adopt, and share. Library                     materials are still protected by copyright laws do not have that degree of latitude.
       Library eResources licenses and contracts are also limited to Heritage students, faculty, and staff.  OER are            open to anyone, anywhere, anytime. 

       However, while resources available from the library that are free to students can contribute to affordable                   learning, they are not necessarily ""open"" educational resources

       OER can either be in the public domain, or under a laxer intellectual property license.

       OER can be revised, remixed, added upon, translated, and then shared again to meet different needs.

      OER can take many forms, such as: syllabi, lesson plans, videos, software, tests, teaching techniques, group             activities, writing prompts, textbooks, learning modules, experiments, simulations, and course designs. There           are no platform restraints.



Q: Where do I go to get started with OER?
A: A useful jumping off point is the OER Starter Kit from our friends at Iowa State University (Elder, 2019)


Q: When?

A: Now!
Beyond that, a brief history of OER is interesting.


So how well do these OER work?  In Open Educational Resources and College Textbook Choices, Hilton (2016) conducted a meta-analysis of 16 articles to see how well OER influence college student learning outcomes, and/or how faculty and student perceive OER.  There was little to no difference in learning outcomes, but students were very appreciative of saving money.  Overall, students and professors hold a favorable perception of OER.

What does the research say about OER? This 3 minute video from the The Council of Chief State School Officers, 2016 underscores the research ( What does the research say about OER? 2016).

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So if you have gotten this far, you may be asking, “How does one get started?”  Here are some suggestions:

Start small.  Find an OER from your subject area (more on that later) and try it out on your students.  If you like it and they like it, keep using it.  If not, keep looking.

Speak up. If you and your students both enjoyed that resource, let others know.  Post a review.  Open Book Publishers, OER Commons, Open Yale Courses, and Merlot among other OER collections allow users to comment on resources.

If being a peer –reviewer is your thing there are a number of opportunities to systematically review

MERLOT Peer Review Information and Process

Peer Review Process Guide
Call for Peer Reviewers: OER Starter Kit for Program Managers

Become an OER broker.  Collect them, Save them. Trade them with your colleagues.  Show them off on your website or blog.  Post them to
social media such as or LinkedIn.  Share them on listserves.  Point them to your favorite librarian!  You gotta’ catch ‘em all!  All the cool professors are!

Wanna go further?

Creating OER do not require any special tools or skills.  The word processing and  graphic editing software you already use are enough to get started or go beyond the content you are already creating.   You can share your own graphics, spreadsheets, content videos, activities, learning tools, games, assignments, assessments, etc.