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Open Educational Resources: Innovative Practices

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Michael S. Dillard
August 11, 2023

History of OER

Open Educational Resources (OER) are free communication technologies designed to increase student participation, engagement and interactivity. Materials are openly shared educational resources that are translated, combined or broken apart for educators and students to reuse and recycle for teaching, learning and research. The shift in teaching and learning ideology empowers the users to engage in a more robust pedagogical experience that augments classroom instruction with blended learning access and support. The “open” in OER denotes that anyone can participate in 5R activities, which are to retain, reuse, revise, remix and redistribute. The copy written permissions have created a genius technological approach that offsets traditional classroom norms. This cost-effective strategy illustrates the significant change in how colleges and universities have upheld their share of the social contract to help students succeed.

Relationship Between Universities and OER

Over the years, many colleges and universities have begun to capitalize on the benefits of OER because of how it contributes to its bottom-line for student success. OER within the context of student learning and engagement provides an essential role in higher level critical thinking since it offers students, and educators alike, the opportunity to reproduce or recreate purposeful features and functionalities that play into OER comparative advantages. These comparative advantages relative to traditional classroom instruction expands opportunities for practice.

OER Initiatives Implemented by Colleges and Universities

New York University (NYU) is explicit with its introduction of OER. The intentionality of OER resources for student and instructor engagement is purposeful. Neither students nor instructors pay a fee to use OERs in the classroom. Instructors do not need to get permission or make a fair use assessment for classroom use, or to revise and share OERs with other instructors to improve upon them over time. There is flexibility in using OER because NYU understands that no textbook is ever perfect. OERs help them tailor course materials. These materials can be used alongside traditionally published materials, remixed with other OERs, and modified to meet specific needs. Instead of teaching to a textbook, the course materials help them teach to the classroom goals. OER enables innovative instruction and lends itself to many innovative teaching practices, including renewable assignments and other forms of open pedagogy. Affordability and academic success are recognized given that teaching with materials that are freely available mitigates the decades-long issue of textbook and course material affordability for students. NYU postulates commonly used traditional textbooks are informed by dominant-culture perspectives and contain (or are permeated by) racism, ableism, gender discrimination and queerphobia. NYUs OER presents an opportunity to build more inclusive texts, rather than hoping and waiting for new editions to be released.

The City University New York (CUNY) system was awarded four million dollars towards OER initiatives to address barriers to degree completion. The funding allocated to OER was designed to financially assist students with spending an average of $1,200 per year on books and other required supplies. The CUNY system found that many students chose not to register for courses because of costly textbooks. Students either withdrew or failed courses since they could not afford the required materials that led to an increased number of them failing to complete a degree. CUNY’s “Z” degrees program or Zero Cost Degree Pathways program was designed to tackle the financial burden of students. Moreover, to aid in its implementation CUNY paid $2,000 to each faculty member who converted a course to using OER and offered $500 to each instructor who took training to teach those courses. Additional funds went toward local infrastructure (information technology services, instructional design support or selecting a vendor), and a flat fee was prearranged based on the number of course conversions, ranging from $25,000 for five courses up to $75,000 for more than 10. The investment in state funding converted at least 350 high-enrollment courses to OER, affected classes in both community colleges and senior colleges, created zero-textbook-cost degree pathways that enabled students to attain a degree in some majors without spending any money on textbooks, supported faculty to create OER textbooks, contributed to the broader body of openly licensed materials and institutionalized OER across CUNY to improve student access, retention and success.

Santa Ana College participates in OER week by hosting an annual conference. The week consists of promoting OER and the Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) degree program. Administrators and faculty members wear ZTC T-shirts, distribute fliers of ZTC course offerings and host workshops with students to engage them in OER initiatives. They elicit the thoughts of students about OER course materials and how beneficial it is to use OER in their classrooms. Students participate as keynote speakers to provide compelling experiences about their learning journey in an OER classroom.  


OER has made tremendous strides over the years. This culture shift has created systems and structures that better connects curriculum and pedagogy to updated student learning outcomes. Although much has been done in the OER community there is still a need to increase these efforts. Institutions like NYU, CUNY and Santa Ana College embody the creativity and flexibility required to ensure student success.

Author: Dr. Michael S. Dillard serves as Director of the Undergraduate Program in Public and Nonprofit Administration and Assistant Teaching Professor at the School for Public Affairs and Administration, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

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