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Open Educational Resources: Getting Started

A guide for faculty to assist with finding and adopting quality Open Educational Resources that help reduce the cost of course materials for students

Why OER?

The problem: 

  • The cost of textbooks for students has risen more than 4 times the cost of inflation in the last 10 years. Textbooks and learning materials cost students approximately $1,200 per year.
  • According to a study by U.S. PIRG, 7 in 10 students didn't purchase a textbook they needed for a class because it was too expensive.  

A solution:

  • Through the use of Open Educational Resources (OER), the cost of student materials can be drastically reduced.
  • OER also give instructors the ability to customize the materials, creating a textbook that can be tailored for the specific course, instead of being bound to traditional print resources. 

What are Open Educational Resources (OER)?

three book which are open and stacked on top of each other, surrounded by piled of closed, stacked books

Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching, learning and research materials in any format that reside in the public domain or have been released with an open license that permits access, use, repurposing, and/or redistribution by others with limited or no restrictions (Atkins, Brown & Hammond, 2007). 

OER can include full courses, course materials, textbooks, interactive materials such as simulations and role plays, databases, software, apps (including mobile apps), websites, videos and any other materials useful for teaching or research. 

OER are specifically designed by their creator/s to be free, openly available, and are often licensed to be re-used, re-mixed, and re-distributed.  Open is not just about low cost (though that is an important benefit of using OER) but about the ability to take what others have created, customize it for your specific educational needs, and then share your creation with others.  

OER can come in a variety of forms:

  • Primary sources - Images, video, and sound recordings.  Some sources are in the public domain, while others have been licensed as open by their creators.   In addition, many texts that are in the public domain are available online/electronically.

  • Learning content - created content that ranges from individual lectures, animations, and assessments to complete courses and textbooks.  


Other Universities' Guides for Finding Resources

No-Cost/Low-Cost Course Definitions in MA Public Colleges/Universities

The Massachusetts statewide OER Advisory Council for public higher education institutions has recommended that courses be marked as "OER/No Cost" or "OER/Low-Cost" for instructional materials according to the following definitions from their Course Marking Implementation Guidelines.

Instructional Materials are defined as:

  • Textbooks, eBooks, websites, software programs, apps, courseware packages, access codes to homework sites

Instructional Materials do not include:

  • Tools and supplies cost, such as lab coat, goggles, notebook paper, art materials, thumb drives, or calculators
  • Auxiliary fees such as lab fee, technology fee, or eLearning fee
  • Inclusive Access or First Day programs

OER/No Cost/Library Resources are defined as: No textbook to purchase, no cost for students

To be designated as an OER/No Cost/Library Resources course/section, a course/section should use the following as the primary, required instructional materials for the course:

  • OER:  OER are resources released either under an open license or in the public domain permitting their free use, repurposing, and sharing (the so-called 5R’s ). 
  • No Cost: Instructional materials are provided to students at no cost. No cost instructional materials are generally funded by grants, institutional funding models, or a compilation of materials that are not OER.
  • Library Resources: Unlimited simultaneous user resources from the campus library including ebooks, digital journal articles, streaming films, etc. 

For examples of OER/No cost courses, see page 7 of the MA DHE Course Marking Implementation Guidelines

Low-Cost ($50 or less) are defined as: The total required instructional materials cost $50 or less. 

To be designated as a Low-Cost course/section, the combined cost of the course/section instructional materials should be $50 or less. This marking is to designate those course/sections that use affordable instructional materials that do not conform to the OER/No Cost/Library Resources criteria.
This includes all required instructional materials (definition above).

  • The $50 (or less) threshold is based on the pre-tax retail price and is applied to all class sections regardless of the number of credits offered.
    • The threshold is based on the price at the campus bookstore or charged by the publisher directly; whichever is lower.
    • Prorating the book cost based on the number of credits or the number of sections used is not recommended. For example, a $100 textbook spanning two semesters is not to be prorated 50/50, thus it is not to be labeled as Low-Cost.
    • Consider the cost of new and also used, rented, and older editions of the required instructional materials.
  • For used, rented, and older editions to be included in the Low-Cost designation:
    • Students should be able to acquire the instructional materials for $50 or less either from the college bookstore or the publisher directly, and
    • The college bookstore/the publisher should have sufficient stock for all enrollments. The faculty member should be advised to confirm this before assigning.
    • Prices offered by other third-party vendors such as should not to be considered due to price fluctuation and uncertainty of stock availability.

For examples of Low-Cost ($50 or less) courses and more, see page 8 of the MA DHE Course Marking Implementation Guidelines



Contact one of the team members of the Viking OER & Textbook Affordability Initiative:


Annette Chapman-Adisho, Professor of History and Faculty Fellow for OER & Textbook Affordability:

Elizabeth McKeigue, Dean of the Library:

Gail Rankin, Director of Academic and Educational Technologies:

Eliza Bobek, Director of the Center for Teaching Innovation:

Justin Snow, Digital Initiatives Librarian,

For help and advice for finding resources in your specific discipline, go to the Contact a Librarian page to find the subject librarian for your discipline.