SIP 12.12 Open Educational Resources: How to Incorporate into Next Semester’s Class

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

Are you frustrated with expensive textbooks for your course that change editions frequently? Do you wish you could more easily customize the resources for your course? Are you are looking for case studies, interactive simulations or other materials to promote active learning? Have you noticed it is 13 weeks into the semester and some students still do not have the textbook? All these challenges have the potential to be addressed by open educational resources – openly licensed learning material that can be modified, which is especially helpful for faculty looking to customize content for their courses and used for free (in perpetuity!) by students.

Take a SIP of this: open educational resources: how to incorporate them into next semester’s class

The skyrocketing cost of college textbooks and online homework systems poses a challenge for students across the country. A survey of Metropolitan State University of Denver students in fall 2019 found that 56% reported having not purchased at least one required textbook for a course; 30% had taken fewer courses in a semester due to textbook costs; and 12% had dropped a course due to the cost of required textbooks. Textbook costs have increased much more than the average rate of inflation, meaning our students are paying more for their textbooks than we did when we were in school. A recent study found that first-generation students were especially likely to avoid purchasing expensive textbooks and that students who were both ethnic minorities and first-generation students were more likely to report earning a poorer grade in a course due to textbook costs (Nusbaum et al., 2020).

One strategy for replacing costly resources is to adopt open educational resources instead. OER have been licensed to allow free use and reuse, which makes them free for faculty and students, and they are also licensed to allow adaption, which makes them readily customizable for individual classes.

Studies have consistently shown that students have equivalent learning gains with OER compared with commercial textbooks, including a recent meta-analysis of 22 studies with over 100,000 students (Clinton & Khan, 2019). Students using OER were also significantly less likely to withdraw from their courses (Clinton & Khan, 2019). Some studies have shown increased learning gains from courses using OER, including a study of over 20,000 students at the University of Georgia where Pell Grant-eligible students had even larger learning gains than students as a whole (Colvard et al., 2018).

Where can I find open educational resources?

Because many college courses use textbooks, a good place to start looking for OER is the Open Education Network’s Open Textbook Library, which contains over 800 openly licensed textbooks. You may find chapters that are helpful for your course from books in related disciplines, so keep that in mind as you search. One way to ease into using an OER textbook is to include it as a recommended resource on your syllabus. You can also start by just assigning a single chapter one semester and see how it goes with your students. Open textbooks work well with social digital annotation – check out SIP 12.7 Digital Social Annotation.

If you are interested in exploring other educational materials, the Auraria Library offers a textbook alternatives guide that is full of other places to look for resources, including OER Commons and MERLOT. Auraria librarians are happy to set up one-on-one consultations to help faculty members explore OER and other free-for-students options in their discipline. Also, a Google search that combines your discipline name and “OER” or “open educational resources” may help you find some lists of OER for your discipline, often those that were compiled by other libraries. If you are concerned about whether the OER you find is accessible, you can work with the instructional accessibility team.

What if you want to customize the OER content you find?

In addition to combining chapters or learning objects from different places, you can adapt the resources themselves. Ann Diker in Nutrition recently completed a major adaption project. She started with an existing textbook but extensively updated and streamlined it to make optimized for Introduction to Nutrition at MSU Denver. Faculty at MSU Denver who create original content can share it through the Auraria Repository, as did Todd Laugen and Meg Frisbee from the History Department with their “Colorado History Detectives” book (Laugen & Frisbee, 2019).

The increased teaching and learning possibilities enabled by open licensing have been termed “OER-Enabled Pedagogy” (Wiley & Hilton, 2018) and “Open Pedagogy.” Some faculty members have iteratively adapted or created textbooks from scratch by working with their students. For example, Robin DeRosa created the Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature with her students; learn more about her experience at her blog post “My Open Textbook: Pedagogy and Practice” (DeRosa, Robin, 2016). Melissa Randall, our colleague at Community College of Denver, recently completed a Business Law textbook made with contributions from her students (Randall & Students, 2020). Students who are involved in the creation process can help create resources that are specifically targeted to student learning needs while also gaining confidence in their ability to contribute intellectually to a field.

Still thirsty? Take a SIP of this: 

A recent book, “Open Pedagogy Approaches: Faculty, Library and Student Collaborations,” provides chapters describing different projects enabled by open licensing.

Explore the Open Pedagogy website, which includes discussion of what open pedagogy is and examples of projects from classrooms.

Attend the spring 2021 OER faculty learning community. This FLC will meet Thursdays from 2-3:30 p.m. to support faculty in incorporating OER into their courses and offers a $500 stipend upon completion. Sign up at

Learn more about the Creative Commons licenses that allow adaption of open resources at or view these introductory videos:

A Quick Introduction to Copyright

A Quick Introduction to Creative Commons Licenses


Clinton, V., & Khan, S. (2019). Efficacy of Open Textbook Adoption on Learning Performance and Course Withdrawal Rates: A Meta-Analysis: AERA Open5(3), 1–20.

Colvard, N.B., Watson, C.E., & Park, H. (2018). The Impact of Open Educational Resources on Various Student Success Metrics. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education30(2), 15.

DeRosa, Robin. (2016, May 18). My Open Textbook: Pedagogy and Practice. Actualham

Laugen, T., & Frisbee, M. (2019). Colorado History Detectives

Nusbaum, A.T., Cuttler, C., & Swindell, S. (2020). Open Educational Resources as a Tool for Educational Equity: Evidence From an Introductory Psychology Class. Frontiers in Education4

Randall, M., & Students, C.C. of D. (2020). Fundamentals of Business Law

Wiley, D., & Hilton, J.L. (2018). Defining OER-Enabled Pedagogy. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning19(4).

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