Open Educational Resources (OER) are pedagogical materials--such as lectures, syllabi, tutorials, lesson plans, assessments, and, above all, textbooks--that are free of most or all cost and rights barriers.
Unlike educational resources that are under copyright, OER offer users the right to:
These rights are known as the “Five R” permissions.
OER broaden access to education, making it less exclusive and enabling persons who would otherwise be excluded to achieve its benefits. Thus, OER facilitate the ideals of social justice and its goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion by leveling the playing field between those who can afford access to educational materials and those who can’t.
OER do this in part by reducing the cost of pedagogical materials, which are often very high. According to the College Board’s most recent Annual Survey of Colleges, students at private, non-profit, four-year, on-campus colleges--e.g. Union College--are estimated to have spent on average $1,240 on books and supplies during the 2019-2020 year. The costs of books and supplies continue to rise at a rate three times that of inflation as the chart below shows.
The high costs of books and supplies, particularly when added to increasing tuitions, can lead students to not take certain classes or to try to get by without the textbook--in either case, harming their education. Rental textbooks hardly ease the burden: not only do they remain expensive, but students cannot keep the textbook for indefinite reference, which further harms their education. OER, however, enable an equal playing field by lessening the financial burden while enabling the permanent possession of course materials.
OER, however, go beyond textbooks to also include additional pedagogical materials, such as lectures, tutorials, syllabi, and lesson plans. Sharing pedagogical materials such as these facilitates and improves teaching and learning. For instance, recording and sharing lectures, like openly publishing tutorials and trainings, broadens education by enabling those outside the class to enter and learn from it. Publishing syllabi on the web, likewise, provide readers with curated and directed reading lists that can help readers know what to read. Shared lesson plans, classroom activities, and learning assessments and assignments can help teachers improve their teaching and better plan their own classes.
Lastly, freeing educational materials from not only cost restrictions but also rights restrictions enables them to be easily revised, repurposed, and reused, providing users with creative and editorial control. So an open textbook that is not quite right for a class can be made so by a faculty member through editing or recombining other OER.