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Open Educational Resources (OER)

A guide to understanding and finding Open Educational Resources, with information on current efforts at Fresno State.

Open Educational Resources and Remote Teaching

OER and Remote Teaching

The shift to remote teaching and learning has required major adjustments from faculty and students alike, and more may be required given that instruction will be online through summer and the fall is uncertain. Still, this is a great time to consider Open Educational Resources (OER). Why consider extra work to redesign your course around new materials when so much work is already going in to teaching remotely? Because the equity concerns around course materials will be even more significant during the pandemic and accompanying economic downturn. More students will face barriers to access, threatening their grades, time to degree, and even retention. OER can help to address this.

OER are free to students. The majority of our students face financial challenges in paying for education even in good economic times. Many will face lost or reduced income, costs for course materials will be a greater struggle than usual. Textbook publishers are offering free access to many textbooks through the spring 2020 semester, but we don't know how long this will last. OER help to free up students' limited funds for tuition, internet and device access, and life's necessities.

OER are digital. Stay-at-home orders mean that online materials are the easiest to access. Some strategies that students use to get access to print materials, such as relying on library reserve copies or sharing textbooks with other students, are unavailable or more difficult due to social distancing requirements.

OER offer permanent access. Students can get access to OER at any time, regardless of course registration or financial aid status, and can keep them after the course ends. OER can generally be downloaded to a local device, rather than needing to be read online, so students that lack stable Internet connections still have access to the material. Students who may have to drop classes due to illness, caregiving responsibilities, or financial issues won't lose any investment in course materials, and won't have to worry about repurchasing textbooks or new editions when they are able to re-enroll.

OER are Open. The COVID-19 pandemic has created many challenges for students and educators, and there's considerable uncertainty about how long the crisis will last.  Open licensing means minimal barriers and resilient access to course materials, regardless of how long remote teaching continues. 

If you are interested in exploring OER for any of your courses, please contact your subject librarian or:

David Drexler
Scholarly Communications Librarian

About Open Educational Resources

What are Open Educational Resources?

There are many definitions, for example:

OER are educational materials—everything from a single lesson plan to an entire textbook—that save students and teachers money because they are free to use, customize, and share. OER are openly licensed, which makes it easy to personalize materials and infuse them with fresh, relevant content. (OER Commons)


Open Educational Resources (OER) are learning, teaching and research materials in any format and medium that reside in the public domain or are under copyright that have been released under an open license, that permit no-cost access, re-use, re-purpose, adaptation and redistribution by others. (UNESCO)


Common to these definitions is the idea that OER are not only available at no cost, but that they can be modified, reused, and shared. David Wiley has described the permissions that define an open resource with the "5 Rs:"

The 5Rs of Openness

  • Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content
  • Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
  • Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
  • Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other open content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
  • Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)

Note that OER are not limited to textbooks. They can include any kind of teaching and learning materials from problem sets to complete course designs.

Why OER?

The most common reason driving interest in OER is to reduce the cost of course materials.

  • Since the late 1990s, textbook costs have increased at about three times the rate of inflation.
  • In 2018, 60% of Fresno State students received Pell grants, indicating they faced financial need.
  • In 2019, librarian Vang Vang conducted a survey of Fresno State students that revealed:
    • 77% of Fresno State students report that they have decided against buying or renting the required textbooks or instructional materials for a course they’ve taken because they were too expensive.
    • Nearly all of these students said they were concerned that not buying or renting the required textbook or instructional materials would hurt their grade in the course but they did it anyway.
    • 54% of Fresno State students said the cost of required textbooks or instructional materials impacts which course they decide to take.

But the 5 Rs create many other advantages for OER:

  • Because students can retain materials, they will have access to them between terms of a year-long course, for future courses that cover relevant topics, when they are studying for GREs or other exams, and in their professional lives.
  • Because OER can be reused, revised, and remixed, faculty can adapt and customize OER content: updating sections as needed, omitting sections that aren't relevant to the course, or combining multiple resources.
  • If your textbook includes examples or scenarios, will your students see themselves represented? You can revise and remix to make sure your course materials are culturally relevant.
  • OER open the door to Open Pedagogy and Open Educational Practices, where students may have the opportunity to develop their own OER including their own voices.
  • You and your students are free to redistribute and share new and revised content.


Creative Commons license

Creative Commons License
This guide is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.