Category Archives: Open Educational Resources

OERs – Learning materials / content / activities, etc. that are open and / or free for use.

Adopt a Peer-reviewed Open Textbook

When considering the adoption of open educational resources (OERs) I have heard instructors express concern regarding the quality of the materials – stating a preference for commercially published materials because they are peer-reviewed. That excuse is losing merit on a number of fronts as educators, together with public and private organizations, work together in addressing these concerns.

Book Stack

CC-BY-NC- by Benton Library Media Center on Flickr

We recently learned that the openly licensed Precalculus textbook authored by Carl Stitz, Ph.D. (Professor of Mathematics, Lakeland Community College) and Jeff Zeager, Ph.D. (Associate Professor of Mathematics, Lorain County Community College) has been approved by the American Institute of Mathematics.  Stitz and Zeager have released their textbook using a Creative Commons License.

The text is available free for students to download in pdf format, as well as at a very reasonable price for the print version from Lulu.

In a recent report by U.S. PIRG, entitled “Affordable Higher Education: Fixing the broken textbook market…

  • 65% of students surveyed reported they had decided against buying a textbook because it was too expensive.
  • [despite this fact] … 94% of students who had forgone a textbook were concerned doing so would hurt their grade in a course.
  • Nearly half of all students surveyed said that the cost of textbooks impacted how many / which classes they took each semester.

In an era where the focus in on completion and student success, we can no longer ignore the impact the high cost of textbooks has on our students and college affordability.

OpenStax College, an initiative of Rice University offers free open licensed peer-reviewed Textbooks in several general education subjects including: Physics, Sociology, Biology, Anatomy & Physiology, Statistics, Economics, Macro-economics, Micro-economics. More textbooks are in the queue including: Chemistry, Pre-calculus, History, and Psychology.

The OpenStax textbooks are licensed under a Creative Commons 3.0 license

Another look at Open Educational Resources (OERs)…

Behold “Learning in the Future”!

Illustration of 19th century classroom - imagine learning in the future

Learning in the Future (Wikipedia Commons)

I love the way they grind the books into some form of “electronic” media! Notice how the students begin getting their information via headphones. Maybe it wasn’t so far off from where things are today in regards to digital educational media.

I am always looking for open educational resources to share with faculty. There are some students who just cannot afford the high cost of textbooks and so they attempt to manage without them. Invariably, they end up either dropping or failing the course.

One of the concerns I hear about open textbooks is they do not provide for many of the ancillary materials frequently made available through publishers texts (e.g. quizzes, videos, animations, simulations, etc.).  Obviously these kinds of resources can be expensive to develop and the costs passed on to the consumer in the form of higher textbook prices.

There is an ever-increasing body of open digital and rich media being made available online. Some of the repositories for these materials have been around for several years: MIT’s OpenCourseWare,, Khan Academy, et. al. Some Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) are an outgrowth of these initiatives and may provide additional high quality open content (though not always – you should probably take a closer look to ensure materials are in fact, “openly licensed”).

The Open University offers much of their high quality digital learning materials openly for use by anyone as long as the Creative Commons license is honored. The Beginner’s Spanish: Food and Drink  is an example of ancillary content that may be integrated into an introductory Spanish language course (CC-BY-NC-SA).

Happy OER hunting!

How do you like me now? – Merlot II

Open Educational Resources (OERs), have been around for well over a decade, but the promise of thousands of ready-to-use, high quality learning materials, has yet to reach the level of adoption deserved. A frequent reason for not integrating OERs into courses includes the amount of time it takes to sort through it all – instructors just don’t have the time.

I have to say, the new Merlot II interface and navigation will help a great deal in responding to the old TL;nr argument.

How can it be open if it’s closed?

Beach Closed

CC-BY-NC-SA by Nick Jeffery on Flickr

Flatworld Knowledge recently announced they will no longer be offering open textbooks for free. Open textbooks are texts that have been copyrighted under an open licensing model.

Creative Commons and other open licensing options allow the author to retain copyright while permitting users to freely use their media and depending on the license (as with the above photo) to adapt the content to meet their needs, as long as they are given credit / attribution, use the material for non-commercial purposes, and share under a similar license – as with this blog.

According to Jennifer Howard at The Chronicle, “as of January 1, 2012, Flatworld Knowledge, which used to describe itself as the world’s largest publisher of free and open textbooks online will no longer offer content at no charge”.

Flatworld Knowledge has been offering open licensed textbook versions for various e-readers (e.g. Nook, Kindle) along with ancillary materials for a relatively low cost ($20 – $25) in comparison to some commercially available textbooks upwards of $200 per text. Certainly this has been at great savings to the student.

But until now, they had also offered the free text version available as well. This meant no student enrolled in the course where their instructor adopted Flatworld Knowledge books, would be without a text. I must admit to having some difficulty understanding this new open but not free business model. If its open but not free – maybe its closed?

David Wiley on Open Textbooks

David Wiley makes some important points about why we need consider adopting Open Textbooks.

On several occasions I have seen students enroll in classes, pay the tuition and fees, and then neglect to purchase the texts because of the high costs. Obviously this puts the students at a disadvantage when it comes to learning the content. It is not uncommon for two or three textbooks to be assigned for a single class, resulting in the textbooks costs exceeding the course tuition.

We hear a lot about open educational resources these days: open source, open content, open textbooks, open licensed, and so on. When something is made “open” others are free to use it. However, that does not mean the owner has given up their intellectual property rights. Copyright is still retained by the author of the media.

When adopting open content we need to read carefully the licensing options: Creative Commons offers several scenarios: CC BY you can copy and share it but give credit to the author,  CC BY-NC copy and use it with credit to owner but only for non commercial purposes, CC BY-NC-SA gives permission to use and re-purpose (make images into video, or video into digital texts, etc.) as long as it is for noncommercial purposes and you license your work in the same way (pass it on). Creative Commons isn’t the only open licensing option out there, but it keeps things relatively simple for most purposes.

Open Textbooks are not necessarily Open Source – that is, they may not be a collaborative  work where anyone can jump in and make a contribution. When selecting a text, most educators are concerned that the authors are leaders and experts in their field and that other experts have reviewed the text for accuracy.

Textbook publishers like Flatworld Knowledge have begun to offer open texts for sale. So how does this work? The texts are open licensed – so are available to share without charge in their digital form. Your students may link to the text online (usually in HTML or PDF format), access the content at any time and print it out if they like. The publisher offers printed versions as well as e-reader (Kindle, Nook) along with ancillary materials for a price – oftentimes at a fraction of the cost of a traditional textbook.

For more information regarding open texbooks check out the College Open Textbooks site and Educause – 7 Things You Should Know About Open Textbook Publishing.

Access the National Academies Collection for Free

Free place to sleep by Brad Stabler
Free place to sleep, CC-BY-NC-SA by Brad Stabler on Flickr.

An article in The Chronicle the other day announced the National Academies Press is making all of their books available online for free in PDF format. The NAP* had already been providing 65% of their titles in electronic format without charge and as of June 2nd made the entire library – appoximately 4000 books and reports – available for anyone to read online without charge.

If you are like me, you may prefer to read the hard copy over the electronic and are willing to pay the price. This option is still available but now you may elect to read select chapters (or the entire publication) before you buy.

Some recent titles:

America’s Climate Choices
Prudent Practices in the Laboratory: Handling and Management of Chemical Hazards, Updated Version
The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health

I found a couple of titles of interest under Education and Computers and Information Technology.

State Assessment Systems:Exploring Best Practices and Innovations: Summary of Two Workshops

Biometric Recognition:Challenges and Opportunities

* The National Academies Press (NAP) was created by the National Academies to publish the reports issued by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council, all operating under a charter granted by the Congress of the United States. The NAP publishes more than 200 books a year on a wide range of topics in science, engineering, and health, capturing the most authoritative views on important issues in science and health policy.