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Open Educational Resources (OER): OER Myths

You probably have a lot of concerns. We get it! Maybe this will help:

My institution is not ready for OER

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.  

Check out these resources to learn what other campuses are doing on OER:

  • Connect OER is a platform to share and discover information about OER activities at campuses across North America.
  • CCCOER is a growing consortium of community and technical colleges committed to expanding access to education and increasing student success through adoption of open educational policy, practices, and resources.
  • OER World Map shares information on behalf of the worldwide OER community, using local knowledge to describe the OER ecosystem.
OER's are not really free

Open Educational resources are considered free because they are available under free licenses, which allow anyone to use and modify them, under specific conditions, for free. They can be free in terms of cost for the end user,   although it doesn’t mean they are always totally gratis. But we have to distinguish costs of investments, production, distribution and costs for end users. For individual users like students and teachers, OER should have no monetary costs (if available online) or as little cost as possible for a print version.

There are no educational resources that cost nothing. There is always the cost or production, distribution or adoption, as they need financial or human resources to be created or adapted. The difference is in where and how do we distribute OERs more efficiently and lower the costs for each group of users.

Open Educational Resources do that by lowering costs of copyrights (if needed, they are paid for only once), cost of updates (they can be made by anyone, any time, and without copyright barriers), and/or costs of distribution (encouraging online publications and supporting competitive and cheaper print and production).

There are also many different models of production of educational resources. For textbooks that should be created and reviewed by professional authors, they can by funded in many ways. From national funding (like in Poland Digital School program), private funding (like Foundation), or even commercially funded by selling services around open content (like, many traditional publishers are shifting from selling content to selling services built upon freely available resources. Of course it is hard to say that OER are free of production costs and that there are already ideal new business models for its sustainability. But it’s part of a much bigger picture of a pedagogical shift in open education and use of open educational resources.

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Adapting OER takes too much time

Discussing teachers’ work on preparation and adoption of learning materials is a much more complex issue and depends on many factors. It can take time for teachers to create and adapt learning materials to more individualized and active use, but updating teaching materials is often an ongoing process for educators. Growing access to different resources on the internet, combined with the ongoing rollout of ICT infrastructure into educational institutions brings a lot of new challenges for teachers.

OER can be seen as a solution rather than as a cause of these problems. For example, you can keep updating the same open text, rather than having to scramble to find a completely new textbook if/when your current one goes out of print. 

The OER movement is developing very fast on new tools, databases, and learning opportunities for teachers and educators to implement them in their work. As the number of open resources and tools grow, it will be easier for teachers to work with them. As with any new solution or device, OER needs some time to become easy and intuitive for people who want to try them out.

Also, there is the option to save time, at least at first, by simply adopting a complete open textbook, such as those available through OpenStax. Extra work comes into play when one wants to create an entirely new work, adapt an open textbook, or build/convert an open course from pulling together multiple OER. However, this work can be done incrementally over time, and extra support staff -- like the instructional designer, eLearning staff, and librarians here at TCC! -- can help mitigate some of the extra work and stress. Stipend programs can also help provide extra funds and/or release time to help instructors adopt OER.

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Copyright for OER is complicated

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. 

Here are some ways to get support using CC licenses: 

  • Seek out the OER or copyright specialist at your library or institution to help. 
  • To select which CC license to apply to your work, use this license selection tool.
  • When using CC licensed content, this attribution builder tool can help ensure you give proper attribution.

All OER's are digital

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.

Here are some examples of how OER come in a variety of formats:

  • Many open textbooks can be purchased through print-on-demand services made available by campus bookstores.
  • OER can be viewed on a variety of devices, allowing students to simultaneously keep a printed copy at home, a mobile version to read on the bus on the way to school, and a browser-based version to read during class.
  • OER can be legally converted from one format to another. This is especially helpful for campus disability services, who can create—and share—large print, braille, or audio versions of OER text without seeking any additional permissions.
OER's are hard to find

Though it is not as easy as simply using the material your school or department chooses to use from a ‘closed’ publisher, there are many repositories filled with OER for every level of education, most with some sort of review and rating system. There are many exampled and starting points right here in this guide! 

The beauty of Open Education is that if you cannot find exactly what you are looking for you can easily combine and create the thing that you need, and upload it somewhere for a colleague to use and perhaps improve. 

It is true that there is currently more quantity of OER in certain fields over others, but as OER becomes more mainstream and accepted, the quantity -- and quality -- of OER is growing across disciplines. For some areas, there is such a wide variety of OER -- from textbooks to complete courses to videos to instructor materials -- that it can be overwhelming to find the most relevant and high-quality OER needed. That's where your OER librarian can help provide some starting points or put together a customized list of potential OER to fit your needs.

Want to know more?

Check out the "Find OER" section of this guide, which includes links to TCC OER Subject Guides, discipline-specific OER, and more!


OER cannot be produced professionally

Open Educational Resources can be produced in various ways like traditional materials and can be subject to review processes the same way. Most of textbooks are authored by professionals and the small atomic resources we find on the web are made by teachers and students as a part of assignments. It is the same with Open Educational Resources.

For example open textbooks produced in Poland and California are publicly funded and their production is outsourced to professional publishers or universities and reviewed and certified before being admitted to schools. This model is typical for publicly funded open textbooks. Another professional model worth noticing is preparing competitions or grants for teachers and authors to write textbooks. Saylor Foundation uses this model for some of textbooks. 

There are also OER projects implementing open, collaborative process deeper into content creation. For example, some authors organize themselves to write textbooks, like a group from Australia and New Zealand which created Media Studies Textbook.

It is important to understand that those resources introduced highly effective ways of peer review and social scrutiny which is also possible partly because of openness of those resources. An open production model is also an important part of change in educational paradigm by bringing more equal opportunities to engage and co-author and not only consume content.

OER's are not sustainable

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.

Examples of models that support the sustainability and continuous improvement of OER include the following:​

  • Institutions such as UMass Amherst and North Carolina State have developed OER grant programs where faculty can apply to receive grants to adopt, adapt, or create free or low-cost alternatives to expensive textbooks.
  • Lumen Learning provides for-fee training, technical support, hosting, and other services around OER and directs a portion of this revenue to the creation of new OER and the maintenance and improvement of existing OER.
  • The University of British Columbia formally recognizes OER as a contribution toward tenure and promotion as part of its Educational Leadership Stream.
OER's are too complex

In most circumstances and for more teachers, the level of assurance you get from OER materials is enough. We should evaluate all resources we use, especially those available on the internet, including but not limited to OER. Openly licensed materials are based on a clear copyright and creation process, with information provided up-front about what rights apply to such resource, e.g. is it original or is it a transformation of other work. Such an open and transparent culture is safer and more reliable, but it also necessitates evaluation competencies from teachers (and students as well). That is why it is often said that OER are also part of media literacyinformation literacy, and copyright education.

In the case of using open textbooks, complexity starts when we want to re-use such materials and begin assessing if an open textbook was created properly and follows open-licensing and copyright guidelines, with all sources cleared and acknowledged.

Want to know more?

OER hurts the college bookstore

Here's OER guru David Wiley's take on this issue:

"Now, OER are born digital, and are completely free for students to access and use. There’s no publisher’s percentage, no ordering, no shipping, no receiving, no shelving, no cashiers, no refunds, no sending extra books back to a publisher, etc. But there’s also no revenue returned to the college by the bookstore. So while OER are great for students, they’re the natural born enemy of the bookstore, right?

Actually, I think there’s an opportunity for very productive collaboration between campus-wide OER intiatives and bookstores. Specifically, I think there’s a huge opportunity for bookstores to offer optional print-on-demand to students when faculty adopt OER in place of commercial textbooks."

The National Association of College Stores (NACS) also supports OER, as demonstrated in their official statement and position on OER:

"The National Association of College Stores (NACS) supports the expansion of research, development, use, and evaluation of Open Educational Resources (OER), including open access course materials that may be combined with, or supplement, copyrighted course materials."

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OER will damage the publishing market

 What damages the publishing market is not openness, it is the low adaptability to changes brought by new technologies. Open Educational Resources bring more competitiveness and disruption into educational publishing market, but they are not damaging it. Instead, OER bring more flexible and connected approach focused on learners’ and teachers’ needs. Upon that, new business models for publishers and new services are built.

Educational markets differ in many countries or even states (as we can observe in USA and Germany). What effect OERs can have on each market depends on many factors. Those effects are very often used as critical argument but without evidence and research.

The fact that a given product or service puts a different business model in jeopardy is not an argument against this product or service. Such reasoning leads to ceasing any progress in any area. New solutions that are more effective are clear signs of need for new business models, but also can be used to  upgrade the role of old business models. Open textbooks allow for new business models, including offering high-quality printing services, or adapting open textbooks to particular needs of specific schools.

OER means low-quality materials

The level of assurance you can get from OER materials can be the same as with traditional materials: high when from an institutionally reviewed process, lower when not reviewed or just found on the web. It depends on the institution, region, state, or country, but most teachers are allowed to use own materials and textbooks. They are also using their reasonable judgment before using any learning resources (even many reviewed and edited textbooks have errors). The truth is that the quality of “OER depends on which resources they choose to use, how they choose to adapt them to make them contextually relevant, and how they integrate them into teaching and learning activities of different kinds” (COL, UNESCO, 2011).

OER and open licensing models introduce strong approaches to respect the rights of authors and to support effective online sharing of open materials. Modified OER (and any openly licensed material) have to be attributed properly and described with changes and reference to original material. Of course there will be situations when this will not happen, but this does not differ from any authorized edited copy of other, closed materials available on the web right now. There are also growing outlets for peer-reviewed OER, including those linked on the Finding OER > OER Repositories & Reviews page of this guide.

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