Flowers in 2 colors…metaphor for commercial and OER. Author’s picture.

Yesterday a friend of ours came to visit after a 2 month trip to different countries of Europe- he is very cosmopolitan. We chatted and shared our enjoyment of wide-ranging stimulating conversations on multiple topics. He because he had met a lot of interesting people during his travels and I because of ONL191. Seriously! One of the most enjoyable aspects of the course is when we have our zoom meetings and we look at the same prompt and come up with many different ideas.

As the topic lead for topic #2: Open Learning – Sharing and Openness, I thought this would be much easier than Topic 1 about digital literacies. Hah! The collective brain of group #10 sprung into action and suddenly we had multiple threads going. Yes many of them were overlapping, but they were still distinct. That included looking at people’s attitudes to change, at different types of open (e.g. Creative Commons) licensing, open journals, open textbooks, quality…it is Saturday afternoon here in California and I am still collecting the material from my group members.

Helena Loof from my group brought in the Pencil analogy for adoption of technologies and I love it. I hope I’m one of the sharp ones…feels like it. On the other hand I have been very slow with OERs, and this week’s topic has been a bit of soul searching as to why. And to help that, I decided to focus on OERs for teaching, specifically textbooks. They are in vogue- check out this report by Seaman and Seaman (2018).

Disclaimer: in my university, I have the responsibility of being a “Course Lead” for a number of courses, most of them high volume and taught by multiple faculty. So a decision to adopt let’s say an OER textbook for the course is not only affecting my course, it affects all the faculty teaching the course. And that’s when things get complicated.

Textbooks are more than just textbooks. The pure content of basic chemistry or anatomy is probably not going to change a lot between any type of book. But do I or any of the other instructors have time to actually read the OER book to be sure everything is correct? Don’t we love the instructor companion sites of commercial books where we can download the slides, figures, and testbanks that go with the book so we do not have to prepare them ourselves? Research indicates that many faculty cite lack of trust in the quality of OER material and lack of ancillary resources in OER textbooks as their barriers to adoption (Hassall & Lewis, 2017).

Except that we still have to. The courses I have taught for many years now, I have chopped down much of the unnecessary content coming from the publisher material, corrected and improved the test questions, curated videos, recorded materials, made much better presentations…probably spent more time on fixing the commercial content than I would have needed to start from scratch.

And then of course, is the thorny issue of quality (Delgado et al, 2019). Do the writers of OER materials have the time and motivation to rigorously proofread their work and keep it to date? Another aspect that was not discussed widely in our group was accessibility. Do OER materials comply to requirements that the materials are compatible with screen readers for visually impaired students? Are all audiovisual materials close captioned or transcribed?

Of course the main question is, does the use of OERs benefit our students? One of the main reasons to use them is cost (Griffith et al, 2018;Martin et al, 2017). Commercial textbooks are expensive, and it is known that many students do not buy or even rent the books. Just by providing access to materials should in principle improve student learning. However, studies are fuzzy and conclusions hard to decipher (Johnson, 2018,Judith & Bull, 2016)

Personally, I love the idea of using OERs but am held back by many of the aspects discussed above. It is my hope that creative solutions can be made to combine the openness and low/no cost of OERs with stability and support.

In one of my courses, an online nonmajors general biology course, we reached a good compromise. Through negotiations with a smaller commercial publisher, we got a very discounted price for 6 month access to their product in an electronic format. The product is embedded into the LMS and charged as an additional fee, so all students have access to it from day 1. This product is more than the book- it has adaptive quizzes, which are very popular among students, animations, videos, and a rich testbank. Instructors are free to use additional OER material. For me, this combines the best of the 2 worlds- the support and reliability of commercial publishing with the flexibility and freshness of OER.

Indeed, the supposedly “narrower” topic did balloon into a many-headed Hydra. I do enjoy how an open-ended prompt can bring so many different perspectives. Once done, I’ll update with the finished Prezi presentation. Until then, stay tuned!

UPDATED: here is the link to our Prezi- enjoy!


Delgado, H., Delgado, M., & Hilton III, J. (2019). On the Efficacy of Open Educational Resources. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning20(1). Retrieved from

Griffiths, R., Gardner, S., Lundh, P., Shear, L., Ball, A., Mislevy, J., Wang, S.,
Desrochers, D., Staisloff, R. (2018). Participant Experiences and Financial
Impacts: Findings from Year 2 of Achieving the Dream’s OER Degree Initiative. Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.

Hassall, C. and Lewis, D.I. Institutional and technological barriers to the use of open educational resources (OERs) in physiology and medical education Advances in Physiology Education 2017 41:1, 77-81

Johnson, S. (2018, October 11). Does OER actually improve learning?EdSurge.

JUDITH, Kate; BULL, David. Assessing the potential for openness: A framework for examining course-level OER implementation in higher education. education policy analysis archives, [S.l.], v. 24, p. 42, mar. 2016. ISSN 1068-2341. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 30 mar. 2019. doi:

Martin, M., Belikov, O., Hilton III, J., Wiley, D., & Fischer, L. (2017). Analysis of Student and Faculty Perceptions of Textbook Costs in Higher Education. Open Praxis, 9(1), 79-91. doi:

Seaman, J. E., & Seaman, J. (2018). Freeing the textbook: Educational resources in U.S. higher education, 2018. Babson Survey Research Group. [Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0]