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Jessie Ball duPont Library

Open Educational Resources and Affordable Textbook Alternatives

What are Open Educational Resources?

OER (Open Educational Resources) are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and repurposing by others. OER include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge.

SPARC OER Mythbusting


OER Logo Open Educational Resources” by Markus Büsges on Wikimedia Deutschland e.V., CC BY-SA 4.0

The 5R Permissions of OER

The term "open educational resources" describes a copyrightable work that is licensed in a manner that provides users with free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities:

  • Retain - the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)
  • Reuse - the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
  • Revise - the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
  • Remix - the right to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
  • Redistribute - the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend

The 5R Permissions of OER was created by David Wiley and published freely under a CC BY 4.0 license at

What is the difference between OA and OER?

Open Access (OA) and Open Educational Resources (OER) are closely related. Both are freely available with no paywalls

  • Open Access generally refers to ebooks and scholarly articles that are freely available from publishers. They cannot be revised or redistributed beyond the institution.
  • OER refers to teaching and learning materials (textbooks, question sets, materials in the public domain, and other course supporting material) that are free and open with a creative commons or similar license for anyone to reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute.

What is "Inclusive Access?"

Designed by the textbook industry, Inclusive Access is a sales model that adds the cost of commercially published textbooks, in the form of  ebooks, into students’ tuition and fees. The Barnes & Noble "First Day Complete" program is an inclusive access program. While the advertised benefits of these programs have been widely promoted, there are also drawbacks for students and faculty that deserve equal attention concerning affordability, course material accessibility, and student data privacy.

Under inclusive access, colleges simply charge students for digital textbooks and materials on their tuition bill—and their access often expires when the course is over. This automatic billing only serves to ensnare students. Open licensing offers more equitable alternatives. Also, when a student is automatically opted-in to a digital textbook, they are also effectively forced to accept the attached terms of service, privacy policy, and data collecting practices as a condition of taking the course.

While administrators will often point to these programs as a way to prevent the gamble students make when foregoing their textbook purchase, what this means in practice is that the student will either be charged for materials they can't afford, or go through the opt-out process and still be at a disadvantage. Even worse, if they decide to make a purchase from a competitor after opting out, like when studying for a midterm or final, they ultimately pay a higher price.

All of the purported benefits of these programs are covered more comprehensively and more equitably by Open Education initiatives.