The movement for Open Educational Resources (OER) has grown exponentially across North American higher education. Recent studies have found that as much as a third of faculty now have some level of awareness of OER and that the trend toward OER adoption is growing. Yet, despite this progress, some myths about OER remain. Whether it is confusion over the meaning of open versus related concepts such as free or digital or adherence to folk wisdom such as “you get what you pay for,” there are many common misunderstandings about OER.
Myth #1: Open simply means free
Fact: Open means the permission to freely download, edit, and share materials to better serve all students.
Every day we encounter online resources that are free to read, watch, or listen to. However, there’s a lot more to open than just being able to view something for free. Open means that users have the permission to freely download, edit, and share educational resources to better serve all students. Students can save copies of their assigned resources forever, and educators can tailor and update the content to meet course needs. While making resources free is a good first step, making them open taps into a world of possibility.
Myth #2: All OER are digital
Fact: OER take many formats, including print, digital, audio, and more
Most modern educational resources—from textbooks to lectures—start out as digital files before being converted into other formats including (but not limited to) print and audio. The same goes for OER. Most OER start out as digital, but can be used in a wide variety of formats for many different devices. For example, an open textbook can be printed, read on a screen, or heard through text-to-speech technology. The difference between OER and traditional resources is that students and educators do not have to choose between formats. With traditional materials, students often need to purchase print books and ebooks separately, and digital materials often carry an expiration date.
Myth #3: “You get what you pay for”
Fact: OER can be produced to the same quality standards as traditional textbooks.
In this increasingly digital and internet connected world, the old adage of “you get what you pay for” is growing outdated. New models are developing across all aspects of society that dramatically reduce or eliminate costs to users, and this kind of innovation has spread to educational resources.
OER publishers have worked to ensure the quality of their resources. Many open textbooks are created within rigorous editorial and peer-review guidelines, and many OER repositories allow faculty to review (and see others’ reviews of) the material. There is also a growing body of evidence that demonstrates that OER can be both free of cost and high quality—and more importantly, support positive student learning outcomes.
Myth #4: Copyright for OER is complicated
Fact: Open licensing makes OER easy to freely and legally use
OER carry the permissions for users to freely download, edit, and share the content to better serve all students. These permissions are granted by the creator of an OER through an open license—a legal document that informs users of their right to retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute the work. Open licensing is a simple, legal way for authors to keep their copyright and share their work with the public under the terms and conditions they choose.
Creative Commons (CC) licenses are a set of standard open licenses that are used throughout the OER community. Materials licensed under CC licenses are easy to identify, clearly explain the permissions and conditions of reuse, and don’t require any additional permission to use or adapt. To add an open license to a work, an author simply needs to include a copyright statement indicating that the resources carries a CC license, and include a link to the specific license.
Myth #5: OER are not sustainable
Fact: Models are evolving to support the sustainability and continuous improvement of OER
Everyone recognizes that it takes time and effort to develop high quality educational resources, and that there must be incentives and support models in place for OER to be sustainable in the long-term. Incentives take many forms. Non-monetary incentives include course release time or recognizing OER as a contribution toward tenure and promotion. Funding models include grants and up-front payments to authors to develop resources, which then become openly licensed. Commercial models are developing around important value-added services, such as professional development, curation, and customization. In fact, virtually all of the largest traditional publishing companies have launched services branded as OER.
Myth #6: Open textbooks lack ancillaries
Fact: Open textbooks often come with ancillaries, and when they do not, existing OER can provide additional support
Instructors increasingly expect publishers to provide ancillary materials with textbooks, including lecture slides, images, videos, and homework platforms. This demand for ancillary materials is beginning to be met directly by OER publishers and commercial learning software companies who offer complementary products to open textbooks. There are also many repositories that hold openly licensed materials that can serve as ancillaries, including PowerPoint slides, videos, and simulations. Library staff can work with professors to help find these resources or share resources that other professors have already created. Teaching and learning staff on campus can also help with creating new ancillary resources.
Myth #7: My institution is not ready for OER
Fact: Any institution can start with small steps toward OER that make an impact for students.
Changing institutional culture to support OER can start small. A single faculty member can exercise their academic freedom by choosing to replace traditional resources with OER—whether it’s a set of supplementary simulations or an entire textbook. In some cases, faculty members may be using OER without even knowing it. For example, many YouTube videos and Flickr images are openly licensed, and textbooks published by projects like OpenStax are used at literally thousands of institutions.
If it seems like your institutional culture at large is not ready, seek out individuals who have already taken steps in this direction. Talk to representatives within the library, teaching and learning centers, instructional design staff, faculty departments, student government, administrators, and campus stores about starting an OER taskforce or campus program. Together, your group of open advocates can meet and exchange ideas for organizing larger efforts on campus.
Thank you to Christine Fruin, Jeff Gallant, and Rowena McKernan for stepping up as leaders to help guide this process. Their expertise as librarians—particularly in working with faculty—has greatly helped in shaping this resource. Additional thanks to Cable Green, Rajiv Jhangiani, Kathleen Labadorf, Ethan Senack and the multiple other members from across the community who contributed their feedback throughout the process.
We also want to acknowledge the Open Educational Resources Policy in Europe project and their resource Open Educational Resources Mythbusting, which served as a foundation of our survey and project vision. This project was coordinated by SPARC with leadership by Brady Yano and help from Nicole Allen and Katie Steen.
SPARC (2017). OER Mythbusting. Washington, DC: SPARC.