Many OER conversations revolve around issues of affordability and access, and for good reason. Breaking down cost barriers and improving access to course materials is a critical part of addressing issues of inequity in higher education. But the benefits of OER adoption are not limited to saving money - switching to OER may also bolster student success, especially among students with historically and presently marginalized identities.
For example, results from a University of Georgia study (Colvard et al., 2018) showed that, compared to their peers in traditional courses, students in OER-based courses had improved grades and higher retention rates. These improvements were even greater for Pell Grant-eligible students and students from populations that are underserved by higher education (Colvard et al., 2018). More research is needed, but these results suggest that including OER in your class materials can support and complement course, departmental, and university goals towards diversity, equity, inclusion, and retention.
“OERs are not inherently diverse, nor are they necessarily inclusive” - Quill West
Although OER improve access to educational materials, they are still susceptible to the power dynamics that plague traditional textbooks. To promote inclusivity, use OER that reflect diverse perspectives and accurately represent different cultures. Because OER-based classes often draw on several resources, it can be easier to include a variety of voices in class readings than when using a single, traditional textbook.
To further advance inclusivity, consider asking students for feedback on your OER selections or allowing students to suggest open-access materials for class readings. Check out Iowa State’s OER Starter Kit for more ideas on using OER to center diversity and inclusion in your classes.
In addition to reflecting a variety of cultures and perspectives, inclusive OER are designed with accessibility in mind. Like traditional course materials, OER are vulnerable to design issues that limit usability for learners with disabilities. Because of this, assessing a resource's accessibility is just as important as evaluating its content.
It’s especially important to consider digital accessibility when selecting OER, since many are web-based. Ideally, OER should follow accessibility guidelines that allow all students to engage with the resource, such as including video and audio transcripts, image descriptions, and keyboard navigation. In some situations, you may be able to edit OER that are lacking accessibility features to increase usability, but this depends on file format, digital expertise, and time limitations. The following resources can help inform your accessibility assessments:
The World Wide Web Consortium’s Accessibility Principles provide a good introduction to digital accessibility.
The OER Accessibility Toolkit offers recommendations to guide your use of accessible OER in a variety of formats.
Providing multiple means of engagement, representation, and expression in your course through Universal Design for Learning (UDL) can further support accessibility. Because OER exist in a variety of formats, they are well suited to support this goal. Using OER, key concepts can be conveyed through different perspectives and in different media formats to reach students with diverse needs. For example, you might allow students to choose between reading an article or watching a short video to prepare for class. Bucknell’s Office of Accessibility Resources can provide training and resources on applying UDL frameworks to your courses.