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Open Educational Resources

A resource guide on Open Educational Resources

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Financial Impact of Textbooks at Smith

"While textbook costs may seem like an unavoidable reality to some, we owe it to ourselves to look beyond the manifestation of this problem for innovative solutions. Given our institutional, and personal, commitments to equity and accessibility in education and at large, we cannot accept the status quo as an unavoidable reality."

Textbook Affordability at Smith College: Affirming Smith's Commitment to creating an inclusive, equitable and accessible educational community, Natalie Laroche '23 with support from Smith PIRG

College students everywhere are struggling with the cost of education, and Smith is no exception.

  • 43% of Smith students report experiencing financial hardship
  • Among these students, 74% reported difficulty purchasing books and course materials
  • 46% of Smith students report skipping buying or reading a textbook because of cost
  • 14% of students have dropped or switched courses to avoid purchasing textbooks
  • The cost of textbooks has risen 1041% over the past 30 years
  • A single textbook can cost hundreds of dollars

Sources: Smith College Pathways Survey (2017), Libraries student survey (2016)

Other Options for Greater Textbook Affordability

Course Reserves! Faculty, make sure your materials are available through the library's Course Reserves.

Use OER! This guide will show the way.

Course Marking: Let students know the cost of required materials! Include price transparency in your syllabi: List course materials as No Cost or Low Cost (commonly understood as less that $50). 

Use older editions! Many older editions will suffice without breaking the bank.

Tenure and Promotion: Let's push to recognize contributions to OER in Tenure and Promotion!

Further reading:

Fix the Broken Textbook Market

Doers3: Tenure and Promotion

Some Findings from 2022 Oberlin Group Survey

First generation students spent an average of nearly $100 more than non-first-gen students.

Pell grant recipients spent an average of $26 more than non-Pell students.

First generation and Pell grant students are more likely to utilize the library and work additional hours to pay for books.

Key Takeaways:

  • First-year, first generation, and Pell Grant recipient students suffer the largest consequences from textbook costs.
  • As students become "savvier," the methods they use to acquire course materials expand, including extralegal activities.
  • $50 is the cutoff for what students view as affordable.
  • While some individual faculty are addressing book costs, institutional-level actions are needed to accelerate student impact.

Read full survey results from Oberlin Group institutions in association with the Open and Equitable Access to Scholarship Working Group

Student PIRG Open Textbook Report

"Every dollar invested in OER Grants can save students $10 – $20 dollars."

Read more key findings from Open Textbooks: The Billion Dollar Solution [second edition, 2023]

Scholarly Communications Librarian

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Jessica Ryan

OER logo

"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

  • For faculty the use of copyright-free materials allows customization for their own courses. 

    • Gives faculty the ability to create customized resources that include diverse voices and local examples of content.

    • Resources can be aligned with syllabi without having to skip around chapters/sections not used.

    • Promotes academic freedom to adapt courses to one's pedagogy and adjust materials year-to-year.


  • For students, OER provides significant cost savings (textbooks, research articles, and other materials).

    • Materials are free to access online and can be purchased in print at a low cost.

    • Materials are available on first day of class and in perpetuity!


The 5 Rs: Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix, Redistribute

How do you know what is or is not an OER? The license will tell you all you need to know. Any resource that is in the public domain or has a Creative Commons license which permits making derivative works (CC BY, CC BY-SA, CC BY-NC, or CC BY-NC-SA) is an OER.


Freedom: OER embodies freedom in both its uses: freedom to and freedom from! OER have many benefits that offer the user the freedom to use the resource in dynamic and responsive ways. But they also afford the user freedom from onerous or abusive practices like price-gouging and personal-data collecting.

graph titled Is the Resource...

"Is the resource" graphic by Midwestern Higher Education Compact; Toward Convergence: Creating Clarity to Drive More Consistency in Understanding the Benefits and Costs of OERCC BY


OER for a Sustainable Future

UNESCO sustainable development goals 

UNESCO has identified OER as helping to meet 6 of their

2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development of the United Nations:

4: Quality Education 5: Gender Equality 9: Industry, innovation, and infrastructure  10: Reduced inequalities  16: Peace, justice, and strong institutions 17: partnership for the goals

Further Reading

Adoption Guide: A reference for instructors, institutions, and students on adopting open textbooks by BC Campus. The second edition is an updated and expanded version of the original adoption guide. The first sections address three distinct groups involved in open textbook adoption: instructors, post-secondary institutions, and students. The second--most comprehensive--section focuses on the operational aspects of adoption: surveying instructors about, tracking usage of, and reporting out about open textbooks (and other OER). The last "Learn More" part provides additional adoption information.


OER Student Toolkit: For students, the high cost of educational resources and textbooks can be a serious obstacle to the accessibility and affordability of a post-secondary education. For instructors, traditional educational resources may also present a barrier to innovation in teaching and curriculum design. Fortunately, open educational resources (OER) provide a viable solution to both these issues. OER can be accessed for free online or printed at a fraction of the cost of a traditional textbook, and can be edited to better fit the curricular or pedagogical goals of an instructor.

Toward Convergence: Creating Clarity to Drive More Consistency in Understanding the Benefits and Costs of OER

Report developed by the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC), as part of the National Consortium for OER (NCOER), and by a workgroup of institutional, state, and national leaders to offer common principles and frameworks to improve consistency and reliability for measuring cost savings and the return on investment (ROI) of OER.

Use of Free Textbooks Is Rising, but Barriers Remain 

December 2017 article from the Chronicle of Higher Education presents the results of a survey of 2,700 faculty members on use and attitudes toward OERs. Presents a good overview of why faculty are choosing to use OERs and barriers preventing broader use.


""Open Educational Resources Mythbusting

The Open Educational Resources movement was conceived as a way to transform and democratize access to education. The movement is less then ten years old, but it has already matured to a point at which govern- ments, companies – and, most importantly, teachers and learners around the world – are creating OERs and  using them in countless ways.


"An old tradition and a new technology have converged to make possible an unprecedented public good. The old tradition is the willingness of scientists and scholars to publish the fruits of their research in scholarly journals without payment, for the sake of inquiry and knowledge. The new technology is the internet. The public good they make possible is the world-wide electronic distribution of the peer-reviewed journal literature and completely free and unrestricted access to it by all scientists, scholars, teachers, students, and other curious minds. Removing access barriers to this literature will accelerate research, enrich education, share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich, make this literature as useful as it can be, and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge." —From the Budapest Open Access Initiative

This guide by Jessica Ryan at Smith College Libraries is adapted from many excellent LibGuides at peer-institutions, Creative Commons, and other open sources. For a complete list of resources contact Jessica Ryan. The content in this guide unless otherwise noted is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License