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Open Educational Resources and Open Textbooks: Using OER

Using OER in your course

There is never going to be any one-size-fits-all solution for every course. Course resources should be selected based on learning goals for the course, with the spectrum of affordability, openness, and other learning values being intertwined with goals for student learning. 

If you are interested in using OER in your course, either exclusively or as a portion of the materials used in your course, there are multiple ways to do that while still benefitting from increased accessibility and openness in the pedagogical community. Click the headings below to learn more about each form of adoption.

Adopting an open textbook: This is what most people think about when they think about adopting OER- replacing a closed course text, such as a traditional textbook, inclusive access text, or other, with an open text. For some instructors, this is ideal as it operates as a 1:1 replacement under ideal circumstances. Of course, for many courses, the ideal open textbook doesn't exist and other options, which might take more time and effort to explore and evaluate, are needed.


Example: Using a complete or lightly adapted textbook from a publisher like Openstax, with or without provided ancillaries. 

A collection of open resources:

For many instructors, the best solution is to use OER by selecting multiple resources that provide the necessary content for their course, similar to creating a course pack. Open licensing means that instructors can easily combine OER by creating a single resource through remixing multiple materials into one PDF. This approach allows for content to be organized according to the syllabus, which can reduce student confusion and increase engagement.

Example: Linking individual resources within your learning management system by module or within your course schedule. This may also look like heavily adapting one resource with your own knowledge or adding information from other resources 

Primarily open resources with a few closed resources:

This same process can be mimicked but not fully recreated with closed materials. Sometimes it is necessary to include non-open material within a course (e.g.- a course on literary analysis where students are applying methods learned in an open textbook to analyze contemporary fiction). While the primary course content can come from OER, copyrighted materials must be either a) used in a traditional way, with students bearing the burden of purchasing the needed material, or b) incorporated according to Fair Use copyright guidelines.

Example: Having students purchase a course pack of primary resources that are under copyright while the texts that provide knowledge and analytical frameworks are open. Using an open textbook while linking to "free but closed" web resources as supplements, if appropriate under fair use.

Open resources as a supplement to primarily closed resources:

Many instructors may be doing this already, with only some of them aware that they are! If closed resources are necessary for the primary learning materials of the course, you can still consider if and where open resources may work as supplements to your course. Students who struggle with accessing or purchasing closed materials will benefit from the increased flexibility, and you as the instructor will have the opportunity to build upon or otherwise customize these resources based on your needs.

Example: Using a closed resource as the primary course text with assignments, case studies, and examples often being drawn from open resources, or including an open pedagogy based assignment.

Text on this box has been adapted from Affordable Learning PA's Open Education and OER course, under the CC-By Attribution License

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 adapted from the Creative Commons website


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

Adapting OER means that you have found a resource that is suitable for your course, but you are making changes to make it more appropriate for class needs. Often, people will also adapt OER to contribute to the community and within their own work as teacher-scholars.

Some reasons you might adapt an OER

(Adapted from Why remix an Open Educational Resource? by Liam Green-Hughes and used under a CC-By attribution license.)

  • Save yourself time and work by mixing in OERs with your own material
  • Adapt the material to make it more accessible for people with different disabilities
  • Insert some culturally specific references to make a concept easier to understand
  • Translate it into another language
  • Correct any errors or inaccuracies
  • Keep the OER up to date by adding the latest discoveries or theories
  • Insert more media or links to other resources
  • Chop the OER up into smaller chunks that might be easier to learn from, or could be reused elsewhere
  • Adapt it for a different audience
  • Insert a different point of view than that originally given in the material
  • Adapt it for different teaching situations

What adaptation of OER might look like:

  • Changing the order of chapters to better reflect the flow of your course.
  • Eliminating unnecessary chapters or adding materials from other OER into the base content so it seems seamless (remixing).
  • Making revisions to the material based on new research, or course focus.
  • Writing and integrating assignments, reflection questions, case studies, etc.
  • Adding original chapters to alter the focus of the text. 
  • Converting or updating the file format or changing the medium of expression.

Steps for adapting OER and things to consider:

This list is adapted from Modifying an Open Textbook: What You Need to Know By Cheryl Cuillier; Amy Hofer; Annie Johnson; Kathleen Labadorf; Peter Potter; Richard Saunders; and Anita Walz under a CC-By attribution license

  1. Find and evaluate OER

    Which repositories will you search? Or do you already have a resource in mind? What is your goal in updating this resource? What do you think you would need to change in adapting this resource? How involved a process will this be and what supports do you need or would benefit from?
  2. Check the License and Identify the Format

    Here we start to get into the technical process of adapting. Make sure you understand the license of the original resource and your commitments and any limitations to what you can do with this material legally and ethically. What is the file format for this resource? Textbook formats might include .pdf, .html, epub, or others.
  3. Assess Editability

    Do you have the technical resources and skillset to edit this file format that you have just identified? If not, what would be needed to transform the format?
  4. Determine Access

    Consider how and in which formats you would like your revised OER to be available within. How broadly would you like this resource to be available?
  5. Consider Sharing and Publishing

    Ensure that your new material is licensed under a compatible license with the original source(s). Ensure that you are providing attributions to the material you are adapting from. Consider how you might want to share this resource outside of your classroom and if you would like to submit it to a repository. 

No matter which online tool you are using to teach your course, you should have multiple options for embedding your OER. We encourage you to consult with the relevant DP&S Specialist and your subject librarian to identify what might work best for your course.

However you choose to integrate OER into the course, please make sure you are able to identify and fulfill the terms of the license.

Here are some examples:

Stability of links and file types

OER are almost always stable, (though the more multimedia involved, the more challenges with longer-term preservation as technology changes) but any digital source cannot be guaranteed to continue to exist (physical sources too actually...). We recommend locally saving one or more copies of the file when possible (LOCKSS: Lots of copies keeps stuff safe!) no matter how you decide to add these sources to your course.

Links in Syllabus:

If you maintain a single document or sheet as a schedule for your class, you can easily link to OER readings and activities. Here is an example schedule.

Uploading to Moodle:

Depending on the file type of the OER, you might choose to link to it from your moodle site or embed or upload it within your site. If you already use Moodle, this will be similar to other processes that you are familiar with- for example, uploading a pdf.  For more information, please review our Moodle Quick start guide, or consult with DP&S if you are working with a new file type that you are unsure how to integrate within Moodle. 

Add to WordPress:

If you are hosting your site via WordPress, depending on the resource, you may choose to add a link to relevant pages or materials, or to embed resources within their own pages or posts. Review our relevant Knowledge Base pages or reach out to DP&S for individualized support.

Folders in Google Docs:

If your class materials are shared with students through google drive folders, we recommend linking to resources within your course schedule or sharing OER and necessary attribution information in course subfolders. This will be straightforward for many of the most common forms of OER, including open textbooks and other materials that students will be reading, watching, and reviewing. If you have any questions, or are wondering if it is possible to integrate a source into a google drive folder, please reach out for support. 

Physical copies:

If your OER is an open textbook or a collection of readings, you may choose to work with the bookstore to provide students with the option of purchasing a physical copy of the book or a course pack. Additionally, you can work with the Bookstore to ensure that your course materials are listed in their OER search tool.

Perusall is a social engagement platform that allows faculty and students to annotate text, podcasts, videos, images, or other materials in a collaborative environment. 

We strongly recommend using free or open access materials in Perusall to give students the best and most equitable experience that combines the pedagogical benefits of social annotation with those of open materials. Also, consider comparing versions of materials available for purchase in the Perusall textbook library, especially resources that may be in the public domain (generally, those written in 1927 or earlier)

To add new materials to a course in Perusall:

  1. Log in to Perusall and enter the course you would like to add materials to.
  2. Click on the "Library" tab at the top of the page.
  3. Click on "Add content" and select the type of material that matches yours.
    1. To upload openly licensed materials (for example, an EPUB file of an open textbook or a pdf of an open-access article), select "Documents from my device."
    2. To upload your own files, select "Documents from Dropbox" or "Documents from my device" as appropriate.

For more information on Perusall, review our FAQ, quick start guide, or reach out to DP&S specialists.

Open pedagogy is a set of pedagogical practices that include engaging students in content creation and making learning accessible (Elder, 2019). Through open pedagogy, students are empowered as members of knowledge communities to create and enhance existing materials through their own expertise; in this way, open pedagogy is in affinity with constructivist pedagogy, connected learning, and critical digital pedagogy.

Forms of open pedagogy include (List adapted from UN Sustainable Development Goals Open Pedagogy Fellowship Toolkit for Instructors and Institutions):

  • Adapting or editing existing OER with students.
  • Building OER with students. Asking students to present course content in new ways to be openly licensed. Environmental Science Bites is one example of a student-authored open textbook. 
  • Having students edit or author Wikipedia articles within the course and site guidelines for open, citations, bias, etc. Learn more on the WikiEdu site.
  • Collaboratively build course policies, outcomes, assignments, rubrics, etc with students.
  • Consider having students curate course content by chapter, perhaps by remixing existing OER and linking to additional free and open resources.