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Myths and Facts About OER


  • OER are not really free
    Open Educational resources are free because they are available under free licenses and they allow anyone to use and modify them for free. They can be free in terms of cost for the end user though it doesn’t mean they are always totally gratis. But we have to distinguish costs of investments, production, distribution and costs for end users. For individual users like students and teachers OERs should have no monetary costs (if available online) or as little as just print.

    There are no educational resources that cost nothing. There is always the cost or production, distribution or adoption, they need financial or human resources to be created. The difference is in where and how do we distribute OERs more efficiently and lower the costs for each group of users.

    Open Educational Resources do that by lowering costs of copyrights (if needed, they are paid only once), cost of updates (they can be made by anyone, anytime and without copyrights barriers), costs of distribution (encouraging online publications and supporting competitive and cheap print and production).

    There are also many different models of production of educational resources. For textbooks that should be created and reviewed by professional authors they can by funded in many ways. From national funding (like in Poland Digital School program), private funding (like Foundation) or even commercially funded by selling services around open content (like Many traditional publishers are shifting from selling content to selling services build upon freely available resources. Of course it is hard to say that OER are free of production costs and that there are already ideal new business models for its sustainability. But it’s part of a much bigger picture of change in whole education and use of educational resources caused by new technologies and internet.
  • OER are not sustainable
    Discussing sustainability of OER is a rather complex issue and depends on many factors. It is very strongly linked to the business approach and can be guaranteed by choosing (adequate) business models that generate revenue. The sustainability becomes a priority when there is a critical mass of OER initiatives. As OER are not „cost free” their production may entail a large scale investment. Currently, the majority of OER development is undertaken on a project basis, and often with donor support and when the funding ends, further development of OER is suspended. Within EU funding procedures, institutions are expected to sustain project results up to 3 or 5 years (depending on the type of a programme) after projects’ funding. However, this approach is not enough as it does not guarantee the exploitation of resources by users. Integration into policies and procedure – as well as the regular budgets – of an organisation is a key aspect in making OER sustainable. Supporting actions should include modifications to institutional policies and processes, with the aim of making open resources release an expected part of the educational resources creation cycle. The aim of OER directed initiatives should be focused on production of OER and then caring for existing OER but also embedding processes and transforming practices to support ongoing OER production and release (JISC OER InfoKit, 2014).
  • Authors will not agree to such terms of open publication
    Considering this issue from the very formal point of view, authors by signing a contract for creating a work (or by developing it as part of their duties) very often agree to transfer copyrights on fields of use defined in the agreement. As a result, they loses property rights to their work (on a particular field of use) and they are not aware of the consequences. In fact, authors no longer have the control over the work and they are not able to make a decision of independent distribution of their own works anymore.

    Creative Commons licenses are a completely different type of contract. By publishing under CC authors grant permission to use the work but retain the rights to the work and still can be in charge of its distribution. An open publication is much more convenient for the author than the transfer of the property rights to others (i.e. publishers). Creative Commons licences are non-exclusive so they give the author a right, for instance, to sign the contract with publishing house on distribution of the work in traditional way (through selling printed copies) while in the same time the work can be available online for free on open conditions.

    However, when it comes to open sharing, authors start being afraid of losing the control over their work. They also consider open publication as giving the work for free and receiving nothing in return. These concerns, while understandable, rarely turn out to be justified. There is always a risk even if the work is copyrighted, that it may be used, without asking for permission, by someone acting illegally. Such situation may happen regardless the type of legal protection of authors’ intellectual rights.

    On the other hand, publishing under open conditions increases the visibility and the availability of their work. The clearly defined conditions of Creative Commons licenses make the usage, with regard to the rules, much more easy. It is the author who has the right to decide on ways other people can use his/her work. By choosing the particular Creative Commons license the author has control over the usage of the work as he/she informs publicly how the work can be re-used under specific conditions which paradoxically very often results in greater respect for the law, and generates less unauthorized actions. What is more, the author can specify how the work should be attributed e.g. by adding reference link to the source information.

    Authors also concerns that open publication after re-use will distort the meaning and decrease the quality of the work. It may likely happen that derived work doesn’t meet the expectations of the quality or esthetics. However, if an author of a derived work does act according to Creative Commons license (attributes the authorship), it is clear for users of the derived work which elements of it are developed by whom and if the users would like to, they may use the original instead of derived version of the work.
  • Teachers need more time and work to adapt OER

    Discussing teachers’ work on preparation and adoption of learning materials is a much more complex issue and depends on many factors. Changes to resource-based learning which are happening recently are a part of increased work time needed for teachers to create and adapt learning materials to more individualized and active use. Growing access to different resources on the internet, combined with the ongoing rollout of ICT infrastructure into educational institutions brings a lot of new challenges for teachers. OERs are rather a solution then a cause of the problems. Though, as any new solution or device, they need some time to become easy and intuitive for people who want to work with them.

    OER movement is developing very fast on new tools, database and learning opportunities for teachers and educator to implement them in their work. As the number of open resources and tools will grow, it will be easier for teachers to work with them. Also, if we want to work with complete sets of resources like e-textbook (and a lot of those are already available for many subjects in many countries) there can be no additional work.

    Want to know more?
    Siyavula Educator Survey Results: OER Behaviours and Attitudes (Part III)

    How to adapt/localize training material, Open Training Platform,
  • OER can lead to using unverified materials
    The level of assurance you can get from OER materials can be the same as with traditional materials: high when from institutionally reviewed process, lower when not reviewed or just found on the web. It depends on the country, but most of teachers are allowed to use own materials and textbooks. They are also using their reasonable judgment before using any learning resources (even many reviewed and edited textbooks have errors). Teachers use materials found on the web, not reviewed, peer produced by other teachers, often being not attributed (and infringing to copyright owners) adaptations of textbooks and other resources. The truth is that the quality of “OER depends on which resources they choose to use, how they choose to adapt them to make them contextually relevant, and how they integrate them into teaching and learning activities of different kinds” (COL, UNESCO, 2011).

    OER and open licensing model introduced strong approach to respect the rights of authors and to support effective online sharing of open materials. Modified OER (and any openly licensed material) have to be attributed properly and described with changes and reference to original material. Of course there will be situations when this will not happen but this does not differ from any authorized edited copy of other, closed materials we can find on the web right now. For those circumstances in which absolute assurance is required teachers and students can choose to use materials for which they can get additional assurances for example: provided by specific specialized repositories, reviewed and certified, etc.

    Want to know more?
    Basic Guide to Open Educational Resources, Commonwealth of Learning, UNESCO, 2011, p. 12, Who will guarantee the quality of OER?
  • OER cannot be produced professionally
    Open Educational Resources can be produced in various ways like traditional materials and can be subject to review processes the same way. Most of textbooks are authored by professionals and the small atomic resources we find on the web are made by teachers and students as a part of assignments. It is the same with Open Educational Resources.

    For example open textbooks produced in Poland and California, US, are publicly funded and their production is outsourced to professional publishers or universities and reviewed and certified before being admitted to schools. This model is typical for publicly funded open textbooks. Another professional model worth noticing is preparing competitions or grants for teachers and authors to write textbooks. Saylor Foundation uses this model for some of textbooks. Some authors even organize themselves to write textbooks like a group from Australia and New Zealand which created Media Studies Textbook.

    There are also OER projects implementing open, collaborative process deeper into content creation. Those are often based on voluntary work like Wikipedia and lot of different portals for self-education. Although those models should be approached with more scrutiny, the fact that they are more scattered doesn’t mean that they cannot be professional and high quality.

    It is important to understand that those resources introduced highly effective ways of peer review and social scrutiny which is also possible partly because of openness of those resources. An open production model is also an important part of change in educational paradigm by bringing more equal opportunities to engage and co-author and not only consume content.


  • Open means the permission to freely download, edit, and share materials to better serve all students
    Every day we encounter online resources that are free to read, watch, or listen to. However, there’s a lot more to open than just being able to view something for free. Open means that users have the permission to freely download, edit, and share educational resources to better serve all students. Students can save copies of their assigned resources forever, and educators can tailor and update the content to meet course needs. While making resources free is a good first step, making them open taps into a world of possibility.
  • OER take many formats, including print, digital, audio, and more
    Most modern educational resources—from textbooks to lectures—start out as digital files before being converted into other formats including (but not limited to) print and audio. The same goes for OER. Most OER start out as digital, but can be used in a wide variety of formats for many different devices. For example, an open textbook can be printed, read on a screen, or heard through text-to-speech technology. The difference between OER and traditional resources is that students and educators do not have to choose between formats. With traditional materials, students often need to purchase print books and ebooks separately, and digital materials often carry an expiration date. Here are some examples of how OER come in a variety of formats:

    • Many open textbooks can be purchased through print-on-demand services made available by campus bookstores.
    • OER can be viewed on a variety of devices, allowing students to simultaneously keep a printed copy at home, a mobile version to read on the bus on the way to school, and a browser-based version to read during class.
    • OER can be legally converted from one format to another. This is especially helpful for campus disability services, who can create—and share—large print, braille, or audio versions of OER text without seeking any additional permissions.
  • OER can be produced to the same quality standards as traditional textbooks

    In this increasingly digital and internet connected world, the old adage of “you get what you pay for” is growing outdated. New models are developing across all aspects of society that dramatically reduce or eliminate costs to users, and this kind of innovation has spread to educational resources.
    OER publishers have worked to ensure the quality of their resources. Many open textbooks are created within rigorous editorial and peer-review guidelines, and many OER repositories allow faculty to review (and see others’ reviews of) the material. There is also a growing body of evidence that demonstrates that OER can be both free of cost and high quality—and more importantly, support positive student learning outcomes.

    Here is some evidence supporting the quality of OER:

    • 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.
    • 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.
    • Many peer-reviewed academic research studies have found OER support positive student outcomes. One recent 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.
  • Open licensing makes OER easy to freely and legally use

    OER carry the permissions for users to freely download, edit, and share the content to better serve all students. These permissions are granted by the creator of an OER through an open license—a legal document that informs users of their right to retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute the work. Open licensing is a simple, legal way for authors to keep their copyright and share their work with the public under the terms and conditions they choose. Creative Commons (CC) licenses are a set of standard open licenses that are used throughout the OER community. Materials licensed under CC licenses are easy to identify, clearly explain the permissions and conditions of reuse, and don’t require any additional permission to use or adapt. To add an open license to a work, an author simply needs to include a copyright statement indicating that the resources carries a CC license, and include a link to the specific license.