Using Open Educational Resources (OER) – A Complete Guide for Students

As a student, have you spent a fortune on textbooks? Or maybe you’ve had to search high and low for a specific text that was near impossible to find?

We’ve got the solution: open educational resources. OER offer high-quality learning materials on a host of different subjects for free. Sounds great, right?

Research shows that OER boost academic performance and narrow the achievement gap. Adopting open educational resources into your learning plan will definitely help you accomplish new academic goals!

In this article, our custom-writing team will:  

  • outline the advantages of OER,
  • present practical tips for their usage,
  • list many examples of OER.

💾 What Are Open Educational Resources?

OER are free learning resources available for students and teachers. They come in an impressive variety of formats: you can find complete courses, modules, practice exercises, textbooks, streaming videos, audio recordings, assessment tests, visual and graphic elements, and other study tools. The interactivity and diversity of learning materials on offer are pretty incredible.

The picture enumerates various formats of open educational resources.

One of the reasons why OER are so popular is that it allows people from around the globe to have access to information regardless of their status and financial situation. Besides, the usage of OER is entirely legal. Creative Commons licensing allows people to freely use, adapt, and distribute content.

Why Are OER Better Than Regular Textbooks?

OER textbooks are often more user-friendly than traditional ones. Want to know why? Let’s see why physical textbooks can be inconvenient:

  • They are expensive. Usually, students’ finances are very limited. When it comes to buying textbooks for a new semester, many students have to go without necessities to ensure they can afford to buy their books.
  • They may be out of stock. Sometimes, you have to wait for books to appear in stores. As a result, students may miss classes, and it may be hard for them to catch up. Some of them can even lose all motivation and quit their studies.
  • They are often hard to find. Many educational institutions use the same textbooks. It means there is significant demand for new textbooks each semester. Depending on the subject, second-hand books might not cut it.
  • They need to be reissued. You can’t update a physical book without printing a new issue. If the version you have is outdated, you won’t be able to use it unless you buy a newer one.

And here’s why switching to OER can be beneficial. They have numerous perks compared to physical textbooks:

  • OER save money. The resources are free or low-cost, so everyone can get learning materials without worrying about their budget.
  • OER are easily accessible. Get the content you want here and now! You don’t have to wait until textbooks are printed and distributed to the stores.
  • OER are always up to date. Unlike traditional textbooks, they are editable and are regularly updated with the most recent information.
  • OER are adaptable to your preferences. You can search for materials that perfectly fill in your knowledge gaps. You may also expand your regular course content with multimedia available on the OER platforms.
  • OER are inclusive. Materials are affordable and accessible for everyone, making education possible regardless of social and financial status.

Possible Drawbacks of OER

OER are relatively new in the educational sphere. Unsurprisingly, some problems may arise while using the resources. Let’s go over them and see what you should keep in mind:

The picture shows the pros and cons of OER.

📌 Technological problems

To access OER, you need a stable Internet connection and a modern laptop, computer, or smartphone. Sometimes, students lack the necessary technology to access the material effectively.

📌 Format issues

Some OER textbooks are published in static formats, which makes it difficult to download and use them.

📌 Lack of human interaction

OER primarily support self-education. There is little to no interaction between teachers and students when it comes to using them. An essential element of the educational process is missing: an instructor cannot provide critical feedback on students’ performance.

📌 Language and cultural barriers

OER strive to be international. Yet, as of now, most resources are only available in English. In addition, the content may be inappropriate for some cultures.

Overall, the drawbacks of OER will likely be short-lived. With the constant progress in education and technology, open resources will continue to become more sophisticated and user-friendly.

OER Myths Debunked

Despite their benefits, many students underestimate OER because of certain misconceptions. Are you one of them? Then check out the most common OER prejudices below and learn why they are far from the truth:

Myth 👎 Reality 👍
OER are of lower quality than traditional textbooks. OER are equal and sometimes even of higher quality than textbooks. OER materials undergo a verification process and are regularly reviewed and updated. As a result, you will often find the most relevant information in OER, not in printed textbooks.
OER are not really free. OER materials are available under open licenses; so, they are considered free. However, sometimes the cost of production and distribution results in users’ fees. Still, the price is very low.
OER are too difficult to use. Even though some students complain about the complexity of OER, they are not hard to use. All you need is basic digital literacy. With a bit of persistence, you will figure out how to do it.
OER hurt the traditional publishing industry. OER create a competitive environment in the world of publishing but do not destroy it. What really hurts publishers is their inflexibility, high costs, and inability to adapt to the dynamic changes in the industry.
OER will completely replace traditional publishing. Even though OER have become mainstream in the educational sector, they will not fully replace printed books. In fact, OER are adding value to the traditional publishing industry by expanding the variety of content formats. Commercial textbooks in combination with free materials create a perfect basis for successful learning.
OER violate intellectual property rights. With OER, all intellectual property rights are protected. When publishing the content, an author can decide whether to use Creative Commons licensing or not. This means they approve the distribution of their materials.

📚 How to Use Open Educational Resources to the Fullest

Now you know what OER are, and you are ready to start using them. So, how should you do it?

The OER search involves many aspects: you need to understand what to look for, use the search engine correctly, and know how to evaluate the quality of the material. Find our helpful recommendations below!

The picture shows how to use OER for studying step by step.

Finding OER That Are Right for You

Step #1: Determine your goals.

Decide on your ultimate goal and understand how OER may help you reach it. Also, set the topic and identify what resource type you are looking for.

Steps #2: Brainstorm possible keywords.

Think of all the possible search terms that will lead to your desired results. Combine the keywords, use synonyms, think of slang alternatives, and determine closely related words to increase the search volume and get as many results as possible.

Step #3: Choose a database or go to an OER search engine.

We recommend using OER-specific search engines and databases for the best possible results. Here are some examples:

🌐 OASIS (Openly Available Sources Integrated Search) is designed to provide users with various open resources, like textbooks, interactive materials, and entire courses.
🌐 Mason OER Metafinder (MOM) is one of the most powerful metasearch engines, including 17 OER repositories (e.g., MERLOT II, OpenStax CNX, Hathitrust, etc.).
🌐 Internet Archive Scholar is a full-text search tool that provides access to over 25 million scholarly articles.
🌐 OER Commons is a user-friendly search engine that offers open-license educational materials. You can also collaborate with other content developers through this platform.
🌐 Openverse is a Creative Commons search engine that provides access to more than 600 million images with open licenses.
🌐 is a comprehensive search tool that offers users over 200 million pages of U. S. federal science information.
🌐 Google Advanced Search is an extended version of traditional Google Search that allows filtering according to usage rights.

Step #4: Search for OER using your keywords.

Using keywords in the search process is most effective if you know how to do it properly. We have several handy tips for you:

  • Some search engines offer additional parameters that help you get the most relevant search results. Examples of such settings can be “subject” or “study level.” Use this extension whenever possible.
  • Start your search process with broad terms and narrow them down to get more precise results.
  • If you are dealing with a topic that is extremely hard to research, note down the keywords you’ve used and the most relevant search results. This will allow you to get back to the best OER if you don’t find anything better.

Step #5: Seek help from librarians.

Have you spent hours on an unsuccessful OER search? In this case, don’t hesitate to contact your school’s librarian. They can help you solve your problem.

Checklist for Evaluating OER

After you’ve found a bunch of OER, it is essential to decide which of them are suitable for you. They need to be well-made and fit your learning needs. So, how do you evaluate the quality of OER? Answer the following questions:

  • Are there any spelling, grammar, or punctuation mistakes?
  • Is any critical content omitted?
  • Do the OER fit your learning objectives?
  • Do they correspond to your subject of study?
  • Who is the content creator?
  • Do they have expertise in the subject?
  • What are their qualifications?
  • Is there any kind of bias?
  • Does the author think critically?
  • Is the resource up-to-date?
  • When was the most recent update?
    • Does the resource fully cover your area of study?
    • Will you need to search for more information?
    Peer review
    • Is the resource peer-reviewed?
      Technical quality
      • Is the interface easy to navigate?
      • Is the layout convenient to use?
      • Does the resource have high-quality sound and visuals?
      • Are Creative Commons applied?
      • Can the content be reused, modified, or adapted?
      The picture shows a checklist for evaluating the quality of OER.

      After you answer these questions, you will be able to evaluate your open educational resources and decide whether they are worth using.

      But what if some of the answers do not satisfy you: for example, the resource is outdated or doesn’t cover your topic fully? If that’s the case, try to find a better option or supplement it with additional resources to fill the remaining gaps.

      ✨ 27 Best OER Databases You Should Know About

      Are you ready to explore the world of OER? Great! There are so many options to choose from, and that’s why we want to help you get started.

      Our team has gathered all of the most useful OER databases. For your convenience, we’ve divided them into three categories:

      • open textbook resources,
      • open access courseware featuring complete courses,
      • multimedia OER databases with audio and video materials.

      Continue reading to find the best open educational resource examples!

      Top 9 Open Textbook Resources

      1. Open Textbook Library
        This is an online database that offers access to books authored by faculty of American universities. You can also find peer-reviewed articles here.
      2. BCCampus
        This is a collection of OER supported by the government of British Columbia. Here you can find 159 textbooks. Approximately half of the resources are peer-reviewed. Browse the collection by topic or use a simple search to access materials.
      3. MERLOT
        California State University developed this repository to provide free learning content for students. Search settings include language, Creative Commons licenses, material type, audience, and accessibility.
      4. National Academies Press Open Books
        This database contains more than 8,000 OER textbooks. You will find authoritative, independently researched information on current issues in engineering, science, and medicine.
      5. Milne Open Textbooks
        This is a catalog associated with SUNY Geneseo. Here, you will find open textbooks authored and peer-reviewed by highly-qualified professors at SUNY University.
      6. OpenStax
        This is a small yet reliable database. It contains 34 textbooks covering the sciences, humanities, business, math, and social sciences. All the books have been through verification and peer-reviewing procedures.
      7. OAPEN (Online Library and Publication Platform)
        This repository contains free scholarly books written by authors from the most prominent European universities. You can browse resources by subject, language, and publisher or use a simple search to access learning materials.
      8. Open RN Project
        This one is a perfect OER database for nursing students. Here, you will find free textbooks on nursing fundamentals, pharmacology, mental health, and community concepts. The platform also contains 25 virtual reality scenarios that enhance traditional educational practices with interactive activities.
      9. Free TechBooks
        This is a database of open-access computer science and math textbooks. You can browse the sources by author, category, publisher, or license. Do you have a specific book in mind? Use a simple search to save time and get instant results.

      Top 9 Open Access Courseware

      1. Academic Earth
        This database offers educational content from some of the most respected educational institutions in the world. Do you dream of studying at Stanford, U.C. Berkeley, or MIT? Academic Earth grants you free video lectures from these and many other famous universities.
      2. Coursera
        This global online learning platform aims to make education affordable for everyone. It partners with top universities worldwide to get study materials and offers them for free. Find your preferred program and overcome the financial barriers to higher education with Coursera!
      3. EdX
        This website offers a great variety of courses on different subjects, from architecture to music. The platform is governed by MIT and Harvard, ensuring that published materials are of high quality.
      4. Khan Academy
        This one is a user-friendly educational platform. It allows you to create a personalized learning dashboard, develop a study plan, and track performance. This resource offers a great choice of subjects and a variety of materials, such as videos, practice exercises, and assessment tests.
      5. MIT OpenCourseWare
        Here is another effective learning platform for students. It helps find the most appropriate course to fit your learning objectives. Do you want to combine sections from different courses? MIT OCW allows you to cherry-pick specific topics from various programs.
      6. Open Yale Courses
        This website provides access to educational content for those eager to learn. You will find lectures from distinguished professors at Yale University on this platform. All the materials are available in three formats: video, audio, and text transcript.
      7. Open Learning Initiative (OLI)
        Professionals from Carnegie Mellon University developed this platform to provide self-guided courses for students. It offers both paid and free programs.
      8. Lumen Learning
        This one is a fantastic source of interactive learning materials. You will find content in various formats: text, video, audio, simulations, and practice exercises. Lumen learning is not entirely free, but the price is affordable, and the quality of the materials is high.
      9. Open Culture
        This is an educational resource with a focus on humanities. Broaden your horizons in the spheres of language, film, literature, and much more with free interactive materials.

      Top 9 Multimedia OER Databases

      1. TED
        This well-known non-profit organization is oriented toward creating and distributing educational video content. You can access videos on a variety of topics entirely free.
      2. Digital Public Library of America
        In this extensive multimedia database, you can find more than 46 million images, scan copies, video, and audio recordings from across the USA.
      3. Getty Images
        This website offers more than 100,000 pictures that are open for use and distribution. You can ease your search process by applying filters like image types, topics, names, places, and more.
      4. Internet Archive
        This database has millions of movies, music, images, audio recordings, and more. It even contains very old multimedia materials, such as wax recordings.
      5. Library of Congress
        This is one of the most extensive multimedia OER databases. It contains a wide variety of multimedia pieces on different topics. World Digital Library is a significant part of the Library of Congress.
      6. Smithsonian Open Access
        This website provides access to millions of museum exhibit images from the Smithsonian collection. All the pictures are available for unrestricted use and distribution.
      7. University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections
        This OER database hosts unique and rare multimedia materials. You can find maps, photographs, newspapers, posters, and reports in the digital collections.
      8. Pexels
        This online library has millions of free stock photos covering different themes. All images are tagged, which makes the search process smooth and effective.
      9. Pixabay
        This is another example of an open database that provides free access to pictures, illustrations, vectors, video, and music recordings. All the materials are placed in the public domain, which allows free usage and distribution of content.

      Best of luck on your journey into the wonderful world of OER. Take every chance to expand your horizons. And don’t forget to share our article with your friends!

      🔍 References

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