1. OER: the What, the Why, the Who, and the How

To understand how Pressbooks can have an impact on the workflows of OER production programs, it’s important to first understand what open educational resources are, why they are necessary, who is behind the OER movement, and how it’s made possible.

What are Open Educational Resources?

“Open educational resources,” or OER, is a blanket term for all educational materials that have been made freely accessible and openly licensed. The most common form of OER is the open textbook, though articles, scholarly monographs, videos, and other forms of content can fit under this umbrella as well. In order for content to be considered “open,” it must be free to read, use, and redistribute. Non-OER textbooks, as with the majority of published works, are typically licensed as “All Rights Reserved,” which means the right to copy and use the content within the publication is held explicitly by a limited number of people or organizations. On the other hand, OERs are typically licensed with Creative Commons (CC) licenses[1], which are publication licenses created to help “creators […] retain copyright while allowing others to copy, distribute, and make some uses of their work.”[2] Creative Commons licenses require that any redistribution of a work attributes the original creator, while allowing for uses that aren’t permitted by “All Rights Reserved” licenses. There are several different licenses, including those with specific clauses for attribution, sharing, commercial use, and creation of derivatives. CC licenses are a way to meet David Wiley’s (an Education Fellow at Creative Commons and well-known voice in the open education community) definition of what it takes for a resource to be fully “open”:[3]

The terms “open content” and “open educational resources” describe any copyrightable work […] that is either (1) in the public domain or (2) licensed in a manner that provides users with free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities:
1. Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)
2. Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
3. Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
4. Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
5. Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)

The abstract concepts that Wiley explores can manifest in practice as more specific requirements—for instance, use of open licenses or distribution of multiple open formats. Another important interpretation of “open” is that resources must also be accessible to learners with different needs. This may mean making making books available for free online but also creating a print version for individuals without internet access. It may also mean making sure all versions of the text have been formatted in a way that allows users with screen readers to easily navigate and understand the content. All of these interpretations of “open” culminate in a system of ethics and conventions that allows for the production of educational resources that can be made freely accessible to everyone.

Why do We Need Open Educational Resources?

Open educational resources were created to address a rising need in open education for affordable learning materials. According to CBS News:[4]

Despite growing online markets for discounted books, the average cost of college textbooks has risen four times faster than the rate of inflation over the past 10 years. That has caused 65 percent of students to skip buying require texts at some point in their college career because of a lack of affordability.

Textbook companies have also cottoned onto students’ tendency to opt for used, discounted books and have countered this effect by creating courseware – testing and evaluation software with unique, time-sensitive access codes that students have to purchase new with the textbook or individually at a high markup.[5] As a result, students who opt for used books may find themselves paying a steeper total cost for mandatory course software than they would have had they bought a book new. With rising costs and dwindling choice when it comes to alternatives, students are placed at more and more of a disadvantage. Textbooks became cost-prohibitive to students’ education. Open educational resources have developed as an answer to that problem. Open textbooks are a traditional textbook alternative that’s for free for students. The open education community exists on the premise that education is the right of all people, regardless of financial need, and seeks to revolutionize a small part of higher education by building an ecosystem of reusable and adaptable educational resources.

Who is Creating Open Educational Resources?

To meet an active need for open resources in higher education, post-secondary institutions have taken the initiative to create their own OER production programs. In general, these programs are run through a few typical departments or units in the institution: the library, the center for teaching and learning, or IT services. This study focuses on the first of these units, the library. In each case, the department or unit that leads OER production becomes a publisher, bending their own expertise to a new mission. These programs work with faculty authors from within the institution to create open educational resources for their student body. In many cases, open textbooks are created for a specific class that a faculty member teaches. Those texts are then adapted for reuse for other classes and institutions.

Other OER production programs are run by consortia of multiple post-secondary institutions. In some cases these organizations formed specifically to address the needs of open education; one example would be the Open Textbook Network.[6] In other cases, the consortium predated the OER production program. Well known organizations with large-scale OER production programs include SUNY, eCampusOntario, BCcampus, and Open Oregon. One recognizable pattern is that these large-scale OER programs tend to serve a defined region, such as a state or province.

On the level of authorship, the charge for OER is led by compassionate educators with deep values for open access, who see a need for open resource and choose to author open textbooks instead of their traditionally published counterparts. OER production programs seek to incentivize this choice by facilitating grant programs and fostering community. A large part of an OER program’s work can often be in advocacy, with time and resources dedicated to proving the value that open resources hold in higher education.

How are Open Educational Resources Created?

This is where Pressbooks comes in. Pressbooks is a book production and design software capable of making books that meet the definitions of “open” described in the previous section. In the hands of an OER program, Pressbooks can be a tool for the entire OER production process: creation, revision, dissemination, and more. Pressbooks isn’t the only OER production software that exists. However, all institutions involved in this study use Pressbooks to facilitate their OER production.


  1. "Licensing Types," Creative Commons - Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported - CC BY-SA 3.0, accessed December 01, 2018, https://creativecommons.org/share-your-work/licensing-types-examples/.
  2. "About The Licenses," Creative Commons - Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported - CC BY-SA 3.0, , accessed December 13, 2018, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/.
  3. David Wiley, "Defining the "Open" in Open Content and Open Educational Resources," OpenContent, accessed October 01, 2018, https://www.opencontent.org/definition/.
  4. Kathy Kristof, "What's behind the Soaring Cost of College Textbooks," CBS News, January 26, 2018, accessed October 01, 2018,
  5. Laura McKenna, "Why Students Are Still Spending So Much For College Textbooks," The Atlantic, January 26, 2018, accessed October 23, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/01/why-students-are-still-spending-so-much-for-college-textbooks/551639/.
  6. "Home," Open Textbook Network, accessed November 30, 2018, https://research.cehd.umn.edu/otn/.

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LIBRARY is the new PUBLISHER by Taylor McGrath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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