Open Educational Resources: Who’s Paying?

A stack of books.

This post was guest authored by Scholarly Communication and Publishing Graduate Assistant Paige Kuester.

Who wants free textbooks? If you’re a student, you probably just jumped out of your seat, depending on how much you have spent on books during your college career. According to an article in The Capital Times, one study has shown that the majority of students have not bought a textbook for a course because of its high price.

If you’re not a student, and especially if you’re a faculty member, you’re probably thinking, “What’s the catch?” You know that everything has its price, and in this case, you’re right.

So what are we talking about?

According to the article “Breaking free: To save students money, colleges are looking to the Open Educational Resources movement,” there is a trend among higher ed to provide open access resources to students instead of requiring traditional textbooks. Though the article cites that during 2015 and 2016, only 5.3 percent of courses across the country used open education resources, this is likely to increase in the coming years.

Open educational resources are just what they sound like: books are other items whose copyright makes them available online openly for educational purposes. Since books and materials are open, they can be shared between different institutions and updated more easily than a physical textbook. They can also be reused, revised, and remixed with other material to suit a professor’s needs.

But someone has to pay, right?

Right. In the case of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the school that is the focus of the article, the burden falls on the professors and instructors. Kristopher Olds, a professor of geography featured in the article, seized the opportunity to create an open textbook when it was presented with him, but it paying for it by patching together small grants, sabbatical funds, and other resources, and volunteering some of his own time. He feels his effort is worth it; however, after realizing that his students were not buying the expensive book he was assigning or were getting outdated information from older textbooks.

Surprisingly, Olds does not say that funding is one of the main barriers to institutions and professors implementing OER, but actually, awareness about OER and how to use them are bigger problems. However, the landscape is changing as knowledge about this type of resource spreads.

Here at the University of Illinois, we are encouraging professors and instructors to look into this facet of teaching. The University has just joined the Open Textbook Network, but data has not yet been gathered about its implementation on campus. Over the next few years, the library will be putting out more initiatives for OER as a part of joining the OTN. The Office of Information Literacy has put out a guide for helping instructors understand what it OER, how to use it, and how to find resources. Learn more at the Open Educational Resources LibGuide.

Schneider, P. (2017, August 9). Breaking free: To save students colleges are looking to the Open Educational Resource movement. The Cap Times. Retrieved from