Support your students by using Open Educational Resources (OER)

A street sign that says open.

At many higher education institutions, we have reached the crucial time of year where we select our textbooks for the upcoming academic year. Often, we have textbook companies explaining why their books are the best choice, but there is an alternative option that faculty members may not be aware of… Open Educational Resources (OER).

What are OER

My favourite definition of OER comes from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

UNESCO defines OER as:

teaching, learning or research materials that are in the public domain or released with intellectual property licenses that facilitate the free use, adaptation and distribution of resources.

They go on to state:

UNESCO believes that universal access to high quality education contributes peace, sustainable social and economic development, and intercultural dialogue. OER provides a strategic opportunity to improve the quality of education as well as improve policy dialogue, knowledge-sharing and capacity-building.


While there are many benefits to using OER, such as increased student success metrics, improved engagement with course materials, and the overall quality of the materials, I would like to focus on student savings and faculty collaboration specifically.

Student Savings

In these unprecedented times, OER are needed more than ever. Due to the global pandemic, our students could benefit from removing the financial strain of purchasing textbooks. As an example, in 2019 I reviewed the textbooks costs of the first year of an Ontario College business program. If a student purchased each of the required textbooks, their total textbook cost for the academic year would have been $1,118.58.

The following year, the business programs started to use OER within two of their courses. The switch resulted in each student saving between $140.63 – $160.01 for the academic year, with a total savings of $171,438.28 for all students that academic year.

Faculty Collaboration

 As faculty pivot to remote learning, many of us are feeling overwhelmed with trying to put together resources and assessments that align with our course learning outcomes. Rather than working in silos, imagine if we all worked together and shared our resources with an open license.

Faculty could start with using an openly licensed textbook and make the appropriate changes to meet the needs of their course. In many cases, assessments are available for the open textbooks, and where they are not, faculty could work collaboratively to create and share the resources that are created.

OER leaders within Canada

Please note: this is a small list of the many people and organizations doing great things in the field of OER.

There are already several institutions and individuals making an impact through the use of Open Educational Resources. A few that immediately come to mind are:

Kwantlen Polytech (KPU)

KPU is known as one of the leading Canadian higher education institutions in the area of OER support and adoptions. Under the leadership of Dr. Rajiv Jhangiani, KPU developed a five-year Open Education Strategic Plan, and support their employees with OER development grants.

Through their dedication to open education initiatives, KPU has been able to ensure that over 700 of their courses have $0 textbook costs, and seven programs have $0 textbook costs.

For more information on the great things happening at KPU, please visit

Ontario Tech University (Ontario Tech)

Ontario Tech is an innovative university that has both a bottom-up and top-down approach to OER. Not only are the faculty at Ontario Tech discussing and using OER, but their president Dr. Steven Murphy is also a known advocate for the use of OER. The homepage of the Ontario Tech OER website has a message from Dr. Murphy that states:

Where possible, I want to encourage our faculty and staff to consider the adoption of open educational resources. Let’s help our students achieve their greatest potential and get the most out of their education.

In addition to senior leadership endorsing OER, they have also invested in OER through the development of an OER Lab and have started OER advocacy campaigns.

eCampusOntario and BCcampus

eCampusOntario and BCcampus are government-funded organizations that support OER at a system level. Supporting colleges and universities within their respective provinces, their knowledgeable staff provide guidance, support, and digital tools. The eCampusOntario Open Library and BCCampus Open Ed website provide access to an extensive collection of OER and highlight the impacts that the use of OER has had on their provinces.

These organizations have also provided the opportunity for faculty to collaborate on the development of OER in the past. The best moment of my career in the field of education took place as a program manager for the Open at Scale – Business OER Project. While the project only lasted for four months, we were able to do a lot in a short period of time. We brought faculty together to develop ancillary resources for two open textbooks, and report $581,146.07 in savings for the 2019/2020 academic year.

What can you do to support the use of OER?

Depending on your role, there are several things you can do to support the use of OER at your institution.

Are you in a leadership role?

New and experienced faculty look to you for guidance on emerging trends within higher education. Whether you are a vice-president academic, in charge of the teaching and learning centre, or are a dean, you can help inform faculty about the benefits of OER. A few great ways to are:

  • Distribute information about OER. eCampusOntario has a helpful webpage to learn more about OER and a comprehensive Open Library;
  • Run workshops at your institution to educate faculty on OER; and
  • Allow your faculty time to research OER in their field, and to incorporate OER within their curriculum.

Are you a faculty member?

Most institutions will have supports in place to help you leverage OER in your teaching practices. The typical places to start are the campus library, the teaching and learning centre, or finding colleagues within your institution that are already using OER.

If you require help getting started, please do not hesitate to contact me. I am passionate about open education and would love to help you support your students and empower your teaching with OER.

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