Category Archives: merlot

OERs Are Amazing, But Require Funding

“Books HD” flickr photo by Abee5 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

The first time I learned about Open Education Resources was years ago when I was attending the WASSA Conference (Western Association of Summer Session Administrators).  I was surprised that free textbooks existed and I wondered why everyone wasn’t using them!  To me, it was the next best thing since sliced bread.  I couldn’t wait to share the knowledge when I got back from the conference.  I then found out that OERs are not a new concept, but they aren’t widely used.

According to Wikipedia, OERs have been around since the late 1990s and they originated from developments in distance and online learning.  I used to think that OERs referred to just textbooks, but I now realize that textbooks are just a small subset of OERs. According to BCcampus’s Open Ed, “there are many types of OER available, such as:

  • Online courses
  • Videos
  • Audio
  • Presentation slides
  • Syllabi
  • Course outlines
  • Supplementary materials, such as quizzes and assignments”

Knowing how long OERs have been around, I was surprised that they aren’t more popular in post-secondary education.  I slowly started to realize that some faculty members and instructors don’t support OERs for a couple of different reasons and without instructor support, they won’t be used.  I attended a presentation about OERs and faculty members brought up concerns they have about them.  Faculty members normally publish their research and then their research would be peer-reviewed.  They felt this wouldn’t be possible with OERs.  The faculty members stated that the quality of the work would decrease because it wasn’t being peer-reviewed and they wouldn’t be recognized for the work that they had done.  I am not a faculty member, so I am unsure how accurate this view is.  To me, it seems that research could be published to an open source, rather than a closed journal and still be peer-reviewed.  I do not know the process well enough to know if this is true though.

There are lots of advantages to using OERs and some disadvantages.  Below is a list according to OERs Wikipedia site:

Advantages of using OER include:

  • Expanded access to learning – can be accessed anywhere at anytime
  • Ability to modify course materials – can be narrowed down to topics that are relevant to course
  • Enhancement of course material – texts, images and videos can be used to support different learning styles
  • Rapid dissemination of information – textbooks can be put forword quicker online than publishing a textbook
  • Cost saving for students – all readings are available online, which saves students hundreds of dollars[38]

Disadvantages of using OER include:

  • Quality/reliability concerns – some online material can be edited by anyone at anytime, which results in irrelevant or inaccurate information
  • Limitation of copyright property protection – OER licenses change “All rights reserved.” into “Some rights reserved.”[39], so that content creators must be careful about what materials they make available
  • Technology issues – some students may have difficulty accessing online resources because of slow internet connection, or may not have access to the software required to use the materials[40]

I have found that while working with instructors creating online classes, they are fairly open to the idea of using OERs.  When talking to instructors about using OERs the most common concern is that there are no OER textbooks available that would work for their content.  This is sometimes true, but other times the instructor doesn’t know where to look.

When the instructors don’t know where to find OER’s, there are a couple of key sites that are great resources: Merlot, OER Commons and SOL*R.

Merlot – “The MERLOT system provides access to curated online learning and support materials and content creation tools, led by an international community of educators, learners and researchers.”

OER Commons – “OER Commons is a public digital library of open educational resources. Explore, create, and collaborate with educators around the world to improve curriculum.”

SOL*R – “a repository service provided by BCcampus that allows educators to access FREE online learning resources. It facilitates sharing, discovery, reuse, and remixing of a growing collection of content created by BC post-secondary educators.

SOL*R includes learning resources from a wide variety of disciplines and subject areas. Resources range from open textbooks, individual learning activities and tools, all the way to full programs.”

When the instructor can’t find an OER textbook that is appropriate for their class, they can adapt and modify an existing one.  I have found the biggest resistance to this is finding the time and resources to modify an existing OER textbook.  An instructor has to be very motivated to use OERs for that to happen.  Also, if an instructor finds a textbook they like through a publisher, there are lots of other resources that come with that textbook.  Such as question banks, learning activities, quizzes, presentations.  There is some funding available in Saskatchewan to encourage adapting and modifying OERs, but it isn’t a large amount.


A place that is doing a great job with creating OERs is BCcampus.  In 2012 they received funding from the government to develop 40 open textbooks, which would cover the most common courses for first and second year university students.  In 2014 they received additional funding to create 20 open textbooks for the trades and skills sector.  In April of 2019, they received $3.26M towards Open Education in BC.  According to an article posted on the BCcampus website, $3.26M pledged to OER to enable student savings throughout the province, they plan to put that money towards many things that will vastly improve OERs available to all post-secondary students in Canada.  Here is what they plan to put the money towards:


“With the $3 million+ investment, we will work with stakeholders, advisory groups, and industry professionals to:

  1. Create/adapt/adopt an open homework software system (or systems) to replace commercially published systems.
  2. Develop an entire suite of freely available resources, including textbooks, test banks, homework assignments and ancillary tools to replace costly commercial products in the following program areas:
    • STEM
    • Business
    • Health
    • ECE
    • Trades
  3. Build capacity in the institutions to assist instructors in the use/integration and development of OER and Open Pedagogy.
  4. Create collaborative relationships with smaller institutions in the northern and interior regions of B.C., establishing an open education network/infrastructure while building capacity for open education: hiring two regional representatives for these underserved areas.
  5. Create a more robust searchability infrastructure so educators can find appropriate curriculum for their courses through an easy-to-use search tool.
  6. Conduct research on and with administrators to measure and evaluate the return on investment of open education.”

This is a very exciting development for OERs in post-secondary education.  The more OERs that are available, the more they will be adopted and adapted.  Since the time and resources that instructors need to put into adopting an OER can be a deterrent, I am hoping this new funding will help ease that.  Saskatchewan currently does provide some funding for OERs, but hopefully, in the future, the funding will increase.  Then there will be more OERs created and their use will become more widespread.  Post-secondary education is expensive and stressful and eliminating the stress of buying expensive textbooks that sometimes aren’t used, would be amazing.