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Arkansas State University

Open Educational Resources (OER): Home

Learn what are OER and where to find them.


The term "open educational resources" was first coined in 2002 at UNESCO's Forum on Open Courseware. However, the idea of freely accessible, open access online material is even older with several initiatives beginning in the late 90s. 

While today there are several accepted definitions of open educational resources (OER), all definitions include the following:

OERs must:

  • Be digital
  • Be educational or research focused
  • Be freely accessible
  • Open access or open source

Generally OERs are digital items, although some definitions do include non-digital resources. There are no limitations on the format. OERs can range from entire courses to textbooks to videos. OERs are also educational or research focused - however, there is some debate whether it matters if the resource was originally meant to be educational. What matters most is if the resource can be used to support education or research.

Finally, OERs absolutely must be freely accessible and open access. Freely accessible means that anyone can access the resource as long as they have an Internet connection. OER access cannot be limited by passcodes or proxies. Open access means that the resource can freely be used by anyone without any payment requirement or access limitations. Open source refers to openly available software that anyone can download, modify, and use. However, not all open source software is free accessible or free.

Definitions of the open access vary with some stating that OERs must be public domain while others saying that the resources must at least be available to use for educational purposes. Because of the varieties in the definitions of OERs and access, it is important for the users and developers of OERs to have an understanding of the licenses used in open educational resources.


The most obvious benefit of open educational resources is cost. Students are struggling with the cost of textbooks:

  • Between 2006 and 2016, textbook prices rose 87% while overall consumer prices rose only 21% (1)
  • Between 1977 and 2015, textbook prices rose 1,041% (2)
  • In 2018-19, the average undergraduate student budget for books and supplies was $1,290 (3)
  • 41.5% of students use financial aid to pay for their textbooks (4)
    • Of students who receive financial aid, only 20.6% of students reported that their aid covered all their textbook costs.
  • 66% of students have decided against buying a textbook because it was too expensive (4)
    • 38.6% of student who did not buy the textbook earned a poor grade
    • 19.8% failed the course
  • Of students who skipped buying books, 94% were concerned doing so would impact their grade (5)
  • Nearly half of students say cost the of textbooks impact how many or which classes they take each semester (6)
  • In a 2017 study, 78% of American students and 76% of Canadian students reported that they believed fewer students would go to college in 10 years due to rising costs (5)
  • Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, textbook prices rose. Between 2019 and 2020, average textbook prices rose by 27%. Bookstores also so an increase in new textbooks and significant decreases in used books and rentals - likely due to fears of contamination on pre-owned items. (7)


While we understand how open access benefits students, it can be easy to overlook how it might negatively affect professors. In order for professors to be considered for tenure, they must participate in scholarly or creative activities. And unfortunately, open access, even peer-reviewed open access journals, still lacks the prestige of being published in subscription publications or university presses. As more millennials become professors and as more grants require open access reports, we can hopefully expect an thawing on the resistance to open access in the tenure process.

Another major con is that open access is rife with predatory publishing. Many fake and fraudulent companies are taking advantage of the open access format and purposefully scamming authors and/or publishing fake or misleading research. This does not mean that all open access resources are poor quality - there is some amazing high-quality, peer-reviewed, scholarly research - but it does mean that researchers have to pay extra attention to the quality of the resource and the publisher. You can learn more in our Fake News and Predatory Publishing guide:


1. Bureau of Labor Statistics. College Tuition and Fees Increase 63 Percent Since January 2006. August 30, 2016. Web. Retrieved from

2. Popken, Ben. College Textbook Prices Have Risen 1,041 Percent Since 1977. NBCNews. August 6, 2015. Web. Retrieved from

3. CollegeBoard. Average Estimated Undergraduate Budgets, 2018-19. 2019. Web. Retrieved from

4. Donaldson, R. L., & Shen, E. (2016, October). Florida Virtual Campus. 2016 Florida Student Textbook & Course Materials Survey. Retrieved from Student Textbook Survey.pdf.

5. Senack, Ethan. Fixing the Broken Textbook Market: How Students Respond to High Textbook Costs and Demand Alternatives. Rep. The Student PIRGs, Jan. 2014. Web. Retrieved from

6. Wakefield Research. VitalSource Survey. 2017. Web. Retrieved from

7. COVID-19 Severly Impacts Back to School Textbook Industry Reports PR Newswire. July 30, 2020. Retrieved from

The Library maintains an extensive list of free online databases. Some of the databases are only available to residents of Arkansas (and therefore, aren't open access) and some are fully open access. It is up to you to verify if you can use the content in your OER creations.