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Open Educational Resources and Open Textbooks: OER Myths


OER MYTHS: Adapted from SPARC 's OER Mythbusting. Myth 1: Open means free. Truth: Open means the permission to freely download, edit, and share materials. Myth 2: OER is always digital Truth: OER take many formats, and many open texts can be purchased physically at-cost. Myth 3: You get wh. at you pay for. Truth:  OER can be produced to the same quality standards as traditional textbooks. Myth: 4 OER copyright is complicated. Truth: Open licensing makes OER easy to freely and legally use. Myth 5: OER are not sustainable. Truth: Models are evolving to support the sustainability and continuous improvement of OER. Myth 6: There aren't ancillary materials. Truth: Many open textbooks come with ancillaries, when they don't, existing OER can provide additional support.

For more information on these myths, review the mythbusting document from The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) or review the boxes on this page (adapted from the SPARC document)

Because there is a wealth of resources online that are free to access and read, one common myth is that those resources count as "open". 

While freely accessible resources can be an important part of your course and can help lower course costs, there are some important copyright distinctions,  

Copyright is automatic unless the copyright holder opts out:

In the US, copyright is applied automatically to original works with at least "a modicum of creativity" in a fixed tangible medium. Your copyrights include not only your scholarship but also your course notes, doodles you make during meetings, and any selfies or other photos you've taken on your phone. While registering copyright can be important in litigation, it is optional- the work is copyrighted by default. 

Copyright holders (which might include the author, the publisher, or another 3rd party) have an exclusive bundle of rights: (click to expand)

  • right to reproduce
  • right to make derivative works
  • right to distribute copies of a work
  • right to perform a work publicly
  • right to display a work publicly
  • for sound recordings, the right to perform the work by digital audio transmission

17 U.S.C. § 106

Open licensing:

"Open" works are Openly Licensed works. This means that the copyright holder has made particular choices about their copyright; most often, they have applied one of the less-restrictive Creative Commons Licenses to their work. Open means that users have permission to freely download, edit, and share educational resources to better serve all students. While Free (gratis) resources are great, Open (libre) allow for greater opportunities for engagement, use, and repurposing,

Some benefits of Open resources over Free resources include:

  • Instructors can adapt and customize materials based on their course content and teaching methods. This expression of academic freedom also ensures that course material is highly relevant. 
  • Students can retain access to all of the course materials used during their studies. These students are able to refer back to these materials in their future studies and are therefore better supported on their path of lifelong learning
  • Opportunities for open pedagogy- students can demonstrate their learning while adding to, refining, or improving upon OER created by others.

A photo of a stack of physical copies of Open Textbooks

OER is *often* digital, especially if the OER in question is a module, interactive learning activity, or multimedia resource. However, many OER can have physical versions, especially open textbooks.These books are sold at-cost and so are very reasonably priced.  

We recommend providing a digital version of an open textbook to your class, especially if you'd like to take advantage of collaborative notetaking using Perusall. Because these books are designed to be open and accessible, students may print out portions if they choose.

We also recognize that there are many reasons why you might want to require, encourage, or provide the opportunity for students to purchase a physical copy of an open text, including accessibility.

If you are interested in ordering print copies of an open text for students to purchase, please contact the bookstore. If you would like the library to purchase a copy of an open textbook for you to review or to put on course reserve, please contact us at

While OER, like all informational resources, do vary in quality, there are creator-, publisher-, and community-oriented marks of high-quality resources. There has been a great deal of growth in OER evaluation and high-quality open resources within the last 10 years, with some examples provided below. The instructor is the person best suited to assess the quality and appropriateness of course material of any type, including open materials.

An example of a well-respected and high-quality OER Publisher:

OpenStax—one of the most recognized open textbook publishers—created a library of 27 peer-reviewed, professional grade open textbooks for the highest enrollment college courses. These books are kept up to date through a centrally-controlled errata process, and a recent study found they have reached 10% market share in their subjects.

An example of a community-oriented review resource:

The Open Textbook Library is a collection of over 400 open textbooks. Prospective users can read public reviews of the books written by faculty, which assess the text through a star rating and a ten-point rubric.

Impact as a measure of quality?

Many peer-reviewed academic research studies have found OER support positive student outcomes. One 2015 study of ten institutions found that students who used OER tended to perform the same or better than their peers in terms of grades, course completion, and other measures of academic success.

Creative Commons (CC) licenses make it easy to understand how a resource can be used, distributed, reproduced, and adapted. There may be a slight learning curve to reading CC licenses, but they are almost always linked to user-friendly explanatory documentation. It's essential that you identify, understand, and comply by the terms of these licenses before using, sharing, and adapting OER.

If you ever have any questions or would like support, please email us at 

The following descriptions of CC licenses are reproduced from the Creative Commons website with emphasis added.

Attribution: CC BY

This license lets others distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. 

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Attribution-ShareAlike: CC BY-SA

This license lets others remix, adapt, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under identical terms.

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Attribution-NoDerivs: CC BY-ND

This license lets others reuse the work for any purpose, including commercially; however, it cannot be shared with others in adapted form, and credit must be provided to you.

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Attribution-NonCommercial: CC BY-NC

This license lets others remix, adapt, and build upon your work non-commercially, and new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike: CC BY-NC-SA

This license lets others remix, adapt, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under identical terms.

View License Deed | View Legal Code

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike: CC BY-NC-SA

This license lets others remix, adapt, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under identical terms.


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If a license isn't visible on a resource that you believe to be open, if you have any questions about attribution, if you would like to learn more about applying these licenses to your own work, or if you have any other questions about Creative Commons and other forms of open licenses, please reach out to us at

Developing and creating high-quality educational materials takes time, effort, knowledge, and skill.

Maintaining and updating OER, including adapting and revising existing open resources also requires time, effort, knowledge, and skill.

Models are evolving to support the sustainability of OER, and a great deal of progress has been made in this area in the past 10 years. The community-oriented goals of OER and the individual pressures on faculty, who need to spend their time and use their expertise in ways that are most likely to lead to tenure and promotion, continue to exist in a tension that threatens the sustainability of many OER resources and programs. It is essential to consider, as a university, how we can structurally support faculty in the adoption, adaptation, and creation of OER.

Programs and examples of increased sustainability in OER include: 

  • Grant-funded, University-associated OER organizations like OpenStax out of Rice University.
  • 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.
  • The University of British Columbia formally recognizes OER as a contribution toward tenure and promotion.

A screenshot image of some of the instructor resources provided through OpenStax to accompany their textbooks

The past ten years have seen major improvements in the creation of supplementary and ancillary materials to accompany open textbooks, including lecture slides, images, videos, and homework platforms. These materials are provided by OER repositories and sometimes by commercial publishers as value-added resources.

Additionally, instructors who work with open textbooks are encouraged to openly license and share any ancillary materials they create to enhance and contribute to the OER community.

  • OpenStax provides a free core set of ancillary resources (link to microbiology text example) available through its website for every book it publishes. OpenStax also offers a free OER Community Hub accessible on OER Commons that includes user-created videos, homework assignments, student learning guides, and course syllabi.
  • Traditional publishers have increasingly begun to offer software homework systems, particularly in STEM fields. MyOpenMath provides an open source alternative used by hundreds of campuses.
  • More than 200 institutions across the world have launched programs to encourage faculty to make curricular resources openly available, including ancillaries such as lecture notes, powerpoint slides, and assessments. MIT OpenCourseWare is a web-based publication of openly available MIT course content.