Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

February 22, 2018

Library Insider

Open Educational Resources and Open Textbooks

The Pitt Student Government Board has passed a resolution calling for a reduction in student textbook costs and the Office of the Provost has formed a committee to research ideas and look further into how the University can implement them. This is a timely request  between 2006 and 2016, the cost of textbooks has increased by 73 percent, more than four times the rate of inflation. Because of the cost, a Student PIRGs report found that 65 percent of students describe not buying a textbook, and almost all of the students who had to do without their textbook thought that it negatively impacted their performance in class. No student wants to have to choose between a book and their grocery budget, and no instructor should have to worry that cost is impacting their students’ performance.

One of the best ways to alleviate the burden of textbook cost on students is through Open Educational Resources (OER). These are educational materials that are available online and are free for anyone to use and adapt, whether the user is a student, instructor or independent learner. Examples of OER include lesson plans, assignments, exercises, games and even entire textbooks.

Why use OER?

Besides saving costs for students, OER can allow an instructor more flexibility in the classroom. Because the materials are free to remix and revise, instructors can put together many resources to make a customized package of course materials instead of being bound to the contents of one textbook.

OER are free and typically delivered online, but many open textbooks in particular can be printed on demand for students and instructors who prefer print materials. The Espresso Book Machine at the Pitt University Store is a local resource for printing these materials on demand at a reasonable price.

How do I find OER?

There are many outlets for OER and open textbooks — so many that we’ve compiled a “Big List of Resources.” Here are a few that our staff recommend:

Open Textbooks

  • OpenStax is a large collection of interactive online textbooks for introductory classes in many subjects. The textbooks have been peer reviewed and contain additional materials for classroom teaching. They offer some of the highest-quality OER resources our staff have seen. If you teach a large introductory class and would like to adopt an open textbook, your open textbook may be here.
  • Open Textbook Library, from the University of Minnesota, contains textbooks in a variety of disciplines at different levels. If you teach a more specialized course, you may find an open textbook for your class among their offerings.

Open Educational Resources

  • The Orange Grove, a collaboration of several universities in Florida, contains entire courses and individual modules in many subjects. Our staff recommends searching in their higher education resources and open collections categories for materials that may supplement your class.
  • Merlot is a large multidisciplinary repository for OER that has a peer-review system. Read reviews from other instructors who have used the materials and disciplinary specialists. If you want to share your own OER, Merlot is a great starting place to get feedback and share broadly.

Additionally, your subject specialist in the library can also assist with finding openly licensed materials for your class.

Can I make my own OER?

You’ve put a lot of time and effort into your course materials, and if you release them openly, others can build upon them and give you credit for your work. Our open education guide contains information about platforms for creating OER and copyright and license recommendations for your work.

If you need some extra help, contact the library — we can help you with creation of resources, licensing and sharing questions.

Where can I find out more about OER?

For plenty of reading material, check out our Guide on Open Education.

The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) is deeply involved in the advocacy and educational efforts around OER. Visit their website and follow their social media updates for the latest in OER news.


Lauren B. Collister is the scholarly communications librarian at the University Library System.


Leave a Reply