The benefits of using Open Educational Resources

Textbook costs continue to rise, and you can be a part of the solution by incorporating low-cost and no-cost materials into your courses with Open Educational Resources (OER). OER are teaching, learning, and research materials that reside in the public domain or have been released with an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. OER include fully-completed courses (like Canvas shells or MOOCs), supplementary course materials (like lab notebooks, word lists, quizzes, etc.), individual modules, completed textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software and coding, and any other tools, materials or techniques used to support access to knowledge. Anything that can be published can be designated an OER through the use of an intellectual property license like Creative Commons.  


The “open” in OER means that the resource encourages what is fondly referred to as the 5Rs: revise, reuse, remix, retain, redistribute. The 5Rs encourage users to make and own their own copies; reuse the material in a variety of ways; adapt, modify, and improve the work; combine two or more; and share what they create (as well as the original) with others. Note that these types of materials are different from resources where you have free access, but the resource has all rights reserved (such as library subscription material such as articles, journals, and ebooks).  


The goal of using OER is not only saving students money by replacing expensive commercial textbooks, but also about improving student success (increased GPAs, higher retention rates, fewer cases of DFUW to name a few) and supporting curriculum innovation.  


William & Mary Libraries support open education because our mission is to support and enhance teaching and research as well as to foster intellectual curiosity, creativity, and lifelong learning. Textbook affordability and materials access is one of the ways to support students, faculty, and staff. In 2019 W&M Libraries, in collaboration with key administrators and staff, surveyed students on textbook cost and usage. The report finds that 48% of students state that their textbooks cost more than $300 and that ~40% indicate that they purchased required materials less than 80% of the time. Campus findings are consistent with similar national surveys.  


In addition, numerous publications illustrate the efficacy of OER. Hilton’s publication synthesizes results from sixteen efficacy and twenty perceptions involving over 120,000 students or faculty. The studies show that students achieve the same or better learning outcomes while saving significant amounts of money.  


W&M Libraries are interested in helping the campus community to learn about and incorporate OER’s into their courses. Faculty can pursue integrating OpenStax textbooks and other OER resources through Barnes & Noble’s Faculty Enlight, which is its faculty textbook and course materials tool. This tool can be integrated with Blackboard where faculty can link to customized course materials including course packs and OER.  


If there aren’t yet OER available for your course, there are alternatives such as placing a copy of the textbook on reserve in the library; adopting an ebook licensed through W&M Libraries (contact your liaison librarian for more information); linking via course e-reserves to articles in journals subscribed to via W&M Libraries; and authoring your own OER and storing it in ScholarWorks (W&M’s Institutional Repository). Still feeling lost about OER? That’s okay! Email Rosie at to schedule a convenient time to chat about your challenges and concerns.