Yale Center for Teaching and Learning

Open Educational Resources

Open educational resources (OER) include textbooks, classroom modules, lesson plans, video content, and other media that are freely accessible, openly licensed, and adaptable for instructional use. The Cape Town Open Education Declaration emphasizes that OERs are meant for instructors “to use, customize, improve and redistribute … without constraint” (Shuttleworth et. al, 2008). As the 2012 UNESCO World Conference and others have observed, “OER” also signals a larger movement to disseminate educational content in ways that enable access for a range of underserved learners, including those with low socioeconomic status and disability. “[S]ocial inclusion, gender equity and special needs” often drive OER production and maintenance where firewalled textbooks and traditional classroom content are perceived not to (Kaatrakoski, et. al, 2017). These cultural sensitivities also place OER at the center of several pushes to remake and redefine teaching and learning practice. For their cost and accessibility, OERs often feature in debates about ways to reduce higher education costs (Sheridan, 2017), while their open licensure continues to raise questions about academic authorial copyright and the ethics of publisher fees (McKenzie, 2017).

Studies considering the impact of OERs in the college classroom remain few. However, a growing consensus suggests that OERs do not significantly diminish nor improve student learning outcomes, while often providing cost savings for both students and instructors (Winitzky-Stephens, et. al, 2017, and Hilton, 2016). Currently, instructors tend to adopt OER for supplemental content or when need arises, rather than as a design practice (Islim, 2016). Organizations like the Shuttleworth Foundation, Creative Commons, and UNESCO, and events like Open Education Week, advocate for more intentional adoption.

A variety of OERs exist for instructors to consider as they seek to provide their students with more resources, active instruction, and lower costs (see Examples). The Yale University Library offers open access support in the form of funding for publications and initiatives, free membership in the open access repository EliScholar, and consultations concerning “issues of scholarly communication and copyright.” Yale also celebrates Open Access Week with workshops, talks, and informational tables.


  • Repositories – OERs include data and studies placed outside the usual university or publisher firewalls. Yale hosts two such sites: EliScholar, an open access repository for Yale scholarship (note: some materials are restricted to Yale personnel, and none are available under a Creative Commons License); and Yale University Open Data Access (YODA), a project that shares clinical research data not integrated into published or disseminated findings. The Registry of Open Access Repositories maintains a searchable list of institutional data sets. While digitized archives typically do not maintain adaptable content, they are usually free and under Creative Commons licensing: major databases include the Library of Congress, New York Public Library, Smithsonian Libraries, and Yale’s and Harvard’s digital collections.


  • Implement Slowly – OER options are overwhelming, and can take time to sift, adapt, deploy, and assess. Instructors can consider starting by introducing one element per semester – a lesson plan, an assignment involving a repository, a textbook for one course – and ramping up as they feel more comfortable.
  • Think About Textbooks – Research suggests that while electronic textbooks do not significantly diminish nor enhance student learning outcomes, students tend to prefer physical books because of the ease of notetaking, focus, and recall (Weisberg, 2011, and Junco and Clem, 2015). Instructors should consider the immediate needs of their course content, the socioeconomic makeup of their students, and the hopes for their classroom activities.
  • Adopt New Teaching Practices – OERs are flexible enough to use as supplementary materials. When instructors feel comfortable with resources they have selected, they can also consider: shifting their syllabus to rely on OERs; inviting students to help adapt or create with OER material; teaching about the ethics and debates surrounding OER materials; and modeling open practices in class, including peer review, discussion, and collaborative work.
  • Attend Open Access or Open Education Week – Instructors can check if their institution will host events for International Open Access Week or Open Education Week, each held annually. Events at Yale typically include informational tables, lectures, and workshops.
  • Consider the CPT +10 The Cape Town Declaration provides ten strategies for engaging with OER, including teaching with OER, empowering student knowledge, and connecting with local OER initiatives.
  • Check the OER World Map – The OER World Map charts locations for local OER-friendly initiatives, programs, groups, and individuals. When clicked, points on the map deliver descriptions, links, and dates.
  • Consider Accessibility – OERs can be a powerful resource for making course content accessible. Instructors can consider how OER content might defray costs to balance socioeconomic status where possible, provide alternative media for print-disabled students, and enhance classrooms that share values with Universal Design for Learning.  


Hilton, J. (2016). Open educational resources and college textbook choices: a review on research on efficacy and perceptions. Educational Technology Research and Development 64: 573-590.

Islim, O., Koybasi, N., and Cagiltay, K. (2016). Use of Open Educational Resources: How, Why and Why Not? International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education 28.2: 230-240.

Junco, R., and Clem, C. (2015). Internet and Higher Educatin 27: 54-63.

Kaatrakoski, H., Littlejohn, A., and Hood, N. (2017). Learning challenges in higher education: an analysis of contradictions within Open Educational Practice. Higher Education 74: 599-615.

McKenzie, L. (2017). A Big Publisher Embraces OER. Inside Higher Ed: 10 October, 2017. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/10/10/cengage-offers-new-oer-based-product-general-education-courses#.WdzGTzDX3Ig.email.

Sheridan, Victoria. (2017). Savings and Student Success. Inside Higher Ed: 23 August, 2017. https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2017/08/23/tidewater-cc-saving-costs-boosting-student-success-oer.

Shuttleworth Foundation, and Open Society Foundations. (2008). The Cape Town Open Education Declaration. http://www.capetowndeclaration.org/.  

Weisberg, M. (2011). Student Attitudes and Behaviors Towards Digital Textbooks. Publishing Research Quarterly 27: 188-196.

Winitzky-Stephens, J., and Pickavance, J. 2017. Open Educational Resources and Student Course Outcomes: A Multilevel Analysis. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning 18.4: 35-50.

Yale University Office of Cooperative Research. Yale University Copyright Policy. Yale University: Faculty Policies. http://ocr.yale.edu/faculty/policies/yale-university-copyright-policy