How to make an OER.

Are you interested in using or writing an Open Educational Resource? Do you even know what an Open Educational Resource (OER) is? Why are teachers and schools switching to OER? I believe in OER and want to help you on your journey of OER usage.

Open Educational Resources, or OER, can be a variety of things which makes it hard to know exactly what you are looking for. OER can be whole course, with things like syllabus, assignments, daily lesson plans, and suggested texts or readings. OER can also be an individualized textbook written by faculty at a specific college or university and shared publicly. The wide range of OER makes it difficult to know where to start.

Why use OER? Money. Open Educational Resources are free to use. (See below about book publishers charging for fake OER). Students save money by not buying expense textbooks, workbooks, and other. Within a semester for 5 courses (including the various course sections), we had saved students upwards of $150,000 by switching to OER.

It is possible for OER to cost the students money. This occurs when a resource needs to be printed– i.e. the cost of printing and shipping. The main feature of OER is the creator(s) and publishers are not receiving compensation or royalties for their work.

So how do you use OER? When deciding to use OER, you must first assess your individual needs. Is this a new (or new to you) course where you need a lot of support? Or do you know what you want to cover and need to find a textbook that covers that content in a concise, yet coherent manner? The table below has a listing of popular OER websites and the best method of usage. This is NOT an exhaustive list.

Resource Good For (course curriculum or textbook)
Merlotcourse curriculum guides
Project Gutenbergindividual texts (novels)
A listing of the best usage of common OER resources

If the available OER resources aren’t what you need for your course, you could modify an existing OER (check the copyright license first) or create your own from scratch. Over two semesters, I created my own Early American Literature OER to save students money (the cheapest text in this category is around $65). From my experience, there are some considerations when creating your own OER:

  • Who will be writing/creating the OER? Do they have the necessary skills and knowledge? Do they have the proper resources (time, internet, etc…) and institutional support?
  • What is missing or lacking in your current text? Is this content supplementary or vital to student learning?
  • How will this OER be accessible to diverse populations? Is it available printed (if a text)? Can students download the resource for use with their own assistive technology? Is there alternative text included for graphics?
  • How will the OER be distributed or hosted? Who can access the OER (the specific courses’ students, the students of the school, the entire internet)? Is there a cost associated with hosting the OER on a particular web space?
  • Who has access permissions to modify the OER? Does this permission have to change if they leave the institution?
  • Do any parts of the OER violate copyright laws?

Fake OER?

Open Educational Resources save students money. But this savings occurs at the expense of textbook publishers. To combat the loss of their industry, many textbook publishers have begun creating “open resources” that cost money– whether a one time fee or a subscription for a set amount of time. While resources are excellent in quality, they are not OER. The whole point of OER is to have no cost to the student.

Why use these non-OER resources? These cost resources are often chosen by instructors due to their ease of use (for instructors) and additional features (like adaptive quizzes or multimedia components). The student content of these cost resources is often similar to the quality and design of available OER resources.


Creating an OER resource takes time and effort, but the individualized content ensures you are able to meet the needs of your student population. Great OER exists– if you don’t want to create from scratch. Adopting or creating OER can seem daunting, but it is possible.

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