What on Earth does OER Mean?

Learn more about how open educational resources can support your teaching

March 11, 2020
By: Georgia Westbrook, MSLIS, Touro College Main Campus Library

Higher education is rife with acronyms, but here is one you may not yet know: OER.

OER, or open educational resources, are defined by OER Commons as “teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others.” In other words, OER are textbooks and other course materials that students and instructors can use for free and tailor to their classes without penalty.

One common misconception about OER is that they are the same as articles you can read for free online or access “for free” through the Libraries — however, there is one very important difference. OER are shared with a Creative Commons license, rather than with more strict copyright, so they can be remixed and reshared, unlike copyrighted works you may find online or through the libraries. Although these online articles may be free to read, sharing and editing are restricted or not permitted at all.

Many students are put off by taking courses with expensive textbooks because they cannot afford them — and if they do enroll in the class, they may not purchase the required materials if those materials cost too much. The TC Libraries conducted a survey in the fall of 2019 to gauge the attitudes of faculty members towards OER in their classes, and more than 90 part-time and full-time faculty responded, representing 17 Touro colleges and schools. 46% of respondents reported that required texts for their classes cost more than $80, and the same percentage of faculty said that less than half of their students purchase all of the required texts. OER can help address this gap by lowering the cost of required texts and increasing the number of students who access and use those texts.

Utilizing OER instead of traditional textbooks has been shown to improve student retention and success. In fact, “95% of all students using OER achieved the same or better outcomes compared to commercial textbooks (Hilton, 2016; Hilton et al., 2016; Wiley et al., 2016).” OER can be used effectively across subjects, from math to modern art, and cover materials including instructional videos, music, tutorials, and lecture slides, among many others.

At Touro, several faculty members and departments have already begun to use OER in their classes, and you can, too! You can find more information about the Open Touro Initiative in this guide, and we will be offering a webinar later this spring. Please visit this link to register.

If you are interested in reviewing open educational resources available in your field, or for more information, please contact Georgia Westbrook (georgia.westbrook@touro.edu) or Sara Tabaei (sara.tabaei@touro.edu).