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Open Educational Resources: Considerations for Using OERs

Things to Consider with Regard to Using OERs for Instruction


Open educational resources (OERs) are free digitized materials offered to educators, students, and self-learners through an open license that allows users to copy, use, adapt, and redistribute for educational and research purposes. 

It is important to pay attention to the type of copyright assigned to an OER by its author and to use the OER in strict accordance to its stipulations. In order to facilitate their use, modification, and distribution, many OERs have flexible copyright licenses from organizations such as Creative Commons; these licenses provide varying amounts of protection, ranging from “all rights reserved” (full copyright) to “no rights reserved” (public domain). UMUC’s Office of Legal Affairs can provide additional copyright-related information and guidance. Non-UMUC users should consult the appropriate body within their own institution for detailed guidance in this area.


To protect individuals with disabilities, federal laws including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act require public and private higher education institutions to ensure that digital materials are accessible by all students, including those students with disabilities. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) serve as an industry standard and provide specific recommendations for improving accessible web-based content.
OERs and Student Success

Research shows that OERs are as effective and of the same quality as textbooks in terms of student engagement and performance (Hilton, 2016). In addition, faculty members have found quality OERs more effective in supporting diverse learner needs and promoting an inclusive learning environment, in part through the ability of faculty and others to customize course content and improve alignment to learning outcomes. 

OER Quality Guide

To find the open educational resources (OERs) that are best suited for your courses, it’s important to ensure that they not only contain the right content for students, but that the resources comply with copyright restrictions and are accessible to all.

The OER Quality Guide is an extended checklist that provides a matrix for evaluating an OER. 


Hilton, J., III. (2016). Open educational resources and college textbook choices: a review of research on efficacy and perceptions. Education Tech Research Dev 64(4): 573–590. 

Pros and Cons of Using OERs for Instruction

As with any educational resource, there are both advantages and disadvantages associated with using OERs in the classroom.

Advantages of using OERs include:

  • scalability. OERs are easy to distribute widely with little or no cost.
  • augmentation of class materials. OERs can supplement textbooks and lectures where deficiencies in information are evident.
  • quick circulation. Information may be disseminated rapidly (especially when compared to information published in textbooks or journals, which may take months or even years to become available). Quick availability of material may increase the timeliness and/or relevance of the material being presented.
  • less expense for students. The use of OERs instead of traditional textbooks or course packs, etc. can substantially reduce the cost of course materials for students.
  • showcasing of innovation and talent. A wide audience may learn of faculty research interests and expertise.  Potential students and donors may be impressed, and student and faculty recruitment efforts may be enhanced.
  • continually improved resources. Unlike textbooks and other static sources of information, OERs can be improved quickly through direct editing by users or through solicitation and incorporation of user feedback. Instructors can take an existing OER, adapt it for a class, and make the modified OER available for others to use.

Disadvantages of OERs include:

  • quality issues. Since many OER repositories allow any user to create an account and post material, some resources may not be relevant and/or accurate.
  • intellectual property/copyright concerns. Since OERs are meant to be shared openly, the “fair use” exemption from the U.S. Copyright Act ceases to apply; all content put online must be checked to ensure that it doesn’t violate copyright law.
  • sustainability issues. Since OER creators generally do not receive any type of payment for their OER, there may be little incentive for them to update their OER or to ensure that it will continue to be available online.


Copied with permission from University of Marland

Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine and College of Pharmacy
Harlem Campus 230 West 125th Street New York, NY 10027 (212) 851-1199