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Research Guides

Open, Free & Affordable Course Materials

Selective list of major OER repositories, sources of open university courseware, and zero-to-low cost material licensed by the University of Toronto.

Open Education Week 2019: Open Textbooks, Open Minds

Recording of a discussion on Open Education Resources at the University of Toronto on March 5th, 2019. 

Adapting OERs

As there is already a large number of open textbooks that have been published, it is not difficult to find one that can be repurposed to fit your course. Sources of OER are listed in this guide. 

Benefits of adapting OERs: 

  • Once an instructor finds an open resource and assigns it, it is available to all students from the first day of class. There is no wondering if students have access to the assigned materials, and in many cases, an instructor can link directly to the required chapters in an OER through Quercus, Blackboard, or another LMS. For students, this makes finding readings easier.
  • Because of the open licensing, OERs are easily adapted and aligned with a course's specific objectives and learning outcomes. This eliminates the need for faculty to build course content around a traditional textbook that may not perfectly fit the curriculum or course goals. 
  • With OERs, students may only be assigned the chapters they need, as opposed to traditional textbooks that can include extraneous information not relevant to the course. This means that students are not purchasing materials they do not need, while always retaining access to the information they do need. 

​For more information, see BCcampus's OER Adaptation Guide.

Types of Open Licenses

Once an OER has been selected, the next step is to determine how it is licensed and what permissions you have. Please note that open licenses do not replace copyright. Instead, they change the default of "all rights reserved" to "some rights reserved", the terms of which can vary: 

Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) is the most common open license. It grants the rights to use, adapt, and distribute the material as long as the author is attributed. 

Creative Commons Attribute ShareAlike (CC BY-SA) grants the rights to use, adapt, and distribute the material as long as the author is attributed and derivative versions use the same license. 

Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA) grants the right to use, adapt, and distribute non-commercially as long as the author is attributed and any derivative versions use the same license. 

Creative Commons Attribution NoDerivs (CC BY-ND) allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged, with credit to the author.

A full list of the types of open licenses is on the Creative Commons webpage. 

Note that public domain dedications are not Creative Commons licenses; instead, these licenses wave all rights reserved by copyright to place the work in the public domain. Attribution is often appreciated but not necessary. 

Creating OERs

For faculty who wish to create their own OER, a decision on development software and open licensing terms should be made early on. A common editing tool for OERs is PressBooks, which is a WordPress plugin that makes it easy to author and produce eBooks and other content. 

Technical considerations:

  • OERs should be designed in a modular format so that parts of the content can stand alone and be reused or remixed by others in different contexts. When creating OERS, keep accessibility in mind and design highly-structured content using headings, subheadings, and descriptive links to make conversion to a screen reader possible. 
  •  Always save your OER in at least one editable format  (such as .docx, .gdoc, .odt, .rtf, or.html) in addition to your final display format, such as a pdf. 
  • Take careful consideration of publishing with the necessary metadata so that your work can be easily discoverable by others.

For more information, see BCcampus's Self-Publishing Guide

How to Publish OERs

Please see the University of Toronto's Open Textbook Toolkit for information on OER publishing tools. For publishing information specific to PressBooks, see this guide

Although OERs are born digital, meaning they are digital files first, it is possible to have students request print copies via print-on-demand services when they are available. Print-on-demand copies are a low-cost alternative to traditional textbooks.  

Republishing under an open license

Have you written a book that is still under copyright with a publisher but is out of print? Are you interested in getting permission to republish that work under an open license? See this page for information on rights reversion.

This material has been revised from Open Education Primer” by the SPARC Open Education Leadership Program, licensed under CC BY 4.0