How (and Why) to Use Open Educational Resources

Contributed by Dr. Leila Walker, the Emerging Technologies and Digital Scholarship Librarian at Rosenthal Library

Nearly forty percent of CUNY students come from households with annual incomes of less than $20,000. For many of our students, the cost of textbooks can be a steep barrier to academic success. At Queens College, students report spending hundreds of dollars on textbooks each semester, often maxing out credit cards or putting off other expenses. Some students who can’t afford textbooks try to pass the class without them, while others look for free PDFs online.

You can help! By adopting Open Educational Resources (OER) or other zero-cost course materials, you make college more affordable and accessible for all our students.

If you teach a course that does not require students to purchase textbooks or other educational materials, be sure to let students know by logging into Akademos and marking the course “Adoptions not Required” and “Course uses OER/Zero cost materials.” (This also helps Queens College get funding to develop more OER!)

What are “Open Educational Resources”?

Open Educational Resources are openly licensed, usually through the Creative Commons. This means that you can include them on public-facing course sites (for example, a course site on WordPress). It also means that you can usually update and modify the materials as scholarship advances, without waiting for the original author to release a new edition (but be careful — the CC license ND, for No Derivatives, prohibits alterations to the original). Additionally, OER facilitate participatory pedagogy: you can involve your students more fully in the active creation of scholarship and educational materials. You can also contribute your own scholarly work and teaching materials to the growing body of OER.

You might choose OER if:

  • You want content that can be publicly displayed on the open web.
  • You want textbooks, assignments, and other teaching materials that you can update and modify.
  • You want content that you can freely download, distribute, and share publicly.

But what if I need to use copyrighted materials?

While Open Educational Resources open up a lot of pedagogical possibilities, finding and adapting the right resources for your classroom can be time-consuming. Additionally, not all courses need to be open to the public, and not all professors want their own scholarship and teaching materials to be openly available. If you want to reduce student textbook costs and you are accustomed to assigning a selection of scholarly articles, short stories or poems from a variety of sources, or just a chapter or two from a textbook, you might find it easier to work with the Course Content Center to clear copyright and hold those materials on reserve for your students, or make them available through a protected site such as Blackboard.

You might choose ZTC materials if:

  • You want to assign academic articles that are not openly available (for example, most articles available through databases like JSTOR).
  • You often rely on course packs rather than a single textbook.
  • You teach materials that do not need to be, or cannot meaningfully be, modified (for example, short works of literature).

Where can I find OER?

An ever-increasing number of digital repositories maintain collections of OER, many of which have gone through the peer-review process. You can find some places to start on the OER/ZTC LibGuide.

I want to help, but this is hard!

The library is here to help you help your students. We’ve launched several recent OER initiatives, including the Digital Literacy and OER Fellowship, that support faculty in converting to OER in pedagogically responsible ways. Look for a call for applications this fall, or schedule a consultation with Leila Walker, the Emerging Technologies and Digital Scholarship Librarian, to learn more about the pedagogical opportunities made possible through OER, and about the technical and financial support available to Queens College faculty.

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