VCU Libraries

Research Guides

A Student's Guide Textbook Affordability Support at VCU Libraries

What are OER?

Open educational resources (OER) are educational resources that are both free to access digitally and carry permissions for unrestricted usage, sharing, and editing. OER can be any type of teaching or learning materials. This isn't limited to textbooks, but also includes syllabi, course modules, videos, tests, journal articles, assessment tools, and any other materials used to support learning.  Some OER are also available in print for the cost of printing.

It is important to note that there are some free materials that have copyright restrictions that do not allow for restricted usage, copying, editing, etc. These are not OER, but as still are classified as Affordable Course Content. 

The 5Rs

The non-traditional copyright restrictions that allow for flexible permissions are often referred to as the 5Rs. They allow users to: 

1. Retain: Make, own, and control copies of the content

Remember that foundational stuff from 101? Could be real helpful in 400. Good news! Open materials means you can keep it without having to renew an access code or rent the book again. 

2. Reuse: Use the content in a variety of ways

Ever tried to find help for a problem in a textbook only to see takedown notices on videos? Not a problem with OER! Because there are no copyright restrictions, you can upload photos and videos of the content anywhere.

3. Revise: Adapt, adjust, modify, or customize the content

Professors could add new content to make sure it is the best fit the class. Current Events that could help develop a concept? Add it! Adjusting homework so it focuses on places and events in Richmond can help personalize content as well.

4. Remix: Combine the original or revised content with other OER to create something new

Struggling to find the right edition of a textbook can be a real pain. Remixing means a professor can combine chapters from different OER to make something specific to your class, rather than asking you to use multiple textbooks.

5. Redistribute: Share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others

No book shortage, no need to borrow from a friend. Everyone has access because access is unlimited. You can share these materials with anyone!

Comparing OER to Traditional Textbooks

Many worry that free means corners have been cut. It's important to remember that OER are the same as traditional learning materials, except for their cost and copyright/licensing restrictions. They often originate from professors or universities rather than the traditional textbook publishers. For example, an algebra textbook from OpenStax will be very similar to the algebra textbook you're currently using: it can cover the same materials, look similar, and contain problem sets. The major differences between the two would be cost and publishing permissions.

Studies have shown that students perceive OER to be the same or better to use than their commercial counterparts. There are similar results when looking at the efficacy of these resources: a vast majority of students who use them perform as well or better than those using traditional materials. (Open Education Group. 2016. The Review Project.)