Unleashing academic freedom: the case for open educational resources

In May’s blog post we addressed the issues surrounding the provision of textbooks, issues not caused by the pandemic but certainly magnified during that time.

Picture of a lock that says "Access"

We’re unlikely to see any improvements unless we’re willing to make some radical changes and look at alternative models of textbook provision.

We’ve recently begun to look at Open Educational Resources (OER) and assess how much of a game-changer they could be.

What is OER?

UNESCO defines OER as “teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open licence that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or few restrictions.”

What are the benefits of OER?

They are free for everyone to read, adapt and distribute without limitation. Your students can access open textbooks and other OER at no cost to themselves or the institution

They have a pedagogical impact – you can manipulate OER in a way you can’t commercial textbooks

OER enable your academic freedom and professional autonomy. You don’t have to teach a class based on what a commercial publisher provides, so the material can be adapted to suit the needs of your students, and your learning outcomes

If you want to customise textbook content to suit your curriculum OER allows you full flexibility

Students do just as well, if not better, with OER (see Open educational resources, student efficacy, and user perceptions: a synthesis of research published between 2015 and 2018.

Also, Efficacy of open textbook adoption on learning performance and course withdrawal rates: A meta-analysis – Virginia Clinton, Shafiq Khan, 2019)

They don’t harvest student data unlike some commercial publisher platforms (e.g. SEC fines Pearson $1m for misleading investors over cyber breach)

You can involve students as co-creators and contributors (see Open pedagogy: a guide to making open textbooks with students)

They address the University’s PLA priorities of:

Employability: students retain access to OER after graduation.

They support graduates who are practitioners and need ongoing access to key texts in their field, and they can be instrumental in lifelong learning.

Inclusivity: many of us are aware that commercially published texts are often US- or Euro-centric. OER present an opportunity to include material that’s more representative of the global scholarly community.

Sustainability: OER can offer longevity. Traditionally published material, particularly in digital format, can be withdrawn with little or no notice, or prices and access models changed to make it difficult to purchase for our institution.

OER are preserved and curated for the long term, always remaining free at the point of use.

How can I find OER?

You can already find freely available material in StarPlus and there’s an ‘open access’ filter to help you do this.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy to see at a glance what the licence terms are, so you can’t readily tell whether a work can be modified for your own use.

We’re working on this! In the meantime sources such as the Open Textbook LibraryOER CommonsMERLOT, and MIT open courseware are useful starting points.

What’s next?

Our new content strategy clearly states our support for initiatives in the field of open scholarship. We want to hear from you – from the students and staff in our core communities – as we begin to develop the infrastructure and services to support the discovery, use and creation of OER.

We’re working closely with the university libraries of Leeds and York to progress these objectives.

This Autumn we’ll be surveying teaching staff and talking to those already working with OER to help inform our work.

In the meantime get in touch with us, make your views known and let us know about any OER work you’ve created.

Helen Moore

Ask a question

Email: library@sheffield.ac.uk

Phone: +44 114 222 7200

A global reputation

Sheffield is a research university with a global reputation for excellence. We're a member of the Russell Group: one of the 24 leading UK universities for research and teaching.