UNF Center for Instruction and Research Technology

Instructional Design

Tips for OER


The high financial burden of traditional college textbooks and its impact on accessibility and student success has brought national and global attention to textbook affordability issues. Although a 2018 National Higher Education Report shows steady growth in awareness of open educational resources (OER), the survey of over 4,000 faculty and department chairpersons indicated only 46% had any level of awareness of OER alternatives.

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation provides the following definition of OER.

At Hewlett, we use the term “open education” to encompass the myriad of learning resources, teaching practices and education policies that use the flexibility of OER to provide learners with high quality educational experiences. Creative Commons defines OER as teaching, learning, and research materials that are either (a) in the public domain or (b) licensed in a manner that provides everyone with free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities– retaining, remixing, revising, reusing and redistributing the resources.

In Practice

Regardless of what level of implementation you are in currently – from supplementing a textbook with OERs to teaching an entire course with only OERs – the following tips are best practices for finding and sharing online resources.

  • When linking to resources from the Canvas LMS, use descriptive titles for links instead of pasting the full URL. Although it may be tempting to copy and paste the full URL for a website or digital resource into Canvas for students to access, this creates an accessibility issue for students who may be using screen readers. Instead, use a title that describes the resource and insert a hyperlink.

  • Provide structure and organize content for easy access. You can use your Canvas course to share and direct students to instructional materials. Articulate to students how the content or resource should be used. CIRT’s course template D is designed for web enhanced face-to-face courses.

  • Provide ways for students to interact with the content and consider multiple means of representation. There are many instructional strategies and educational media tools for engaging students with content. Talk to an instructional designer in CIRT to learn more and discuss your course objectives.

  • Begin your search for course content using some of the larger, established OER databases. Many of these repositories will offer full courses or full textbooks with supporting instructional materials. Try searching the Open Textbook Library for textbooks that are affiliated with higher education institutions or professional organizations. See more databases in the additional resources section below.

  • Consider using articles and eBook chapters instead of textbooks for targeted course readings. Sometimes an entire textbook isn’t necessary or students could gain more from current, up-to-date resources in their field of study. If appropriate for your course, give the responsibility to students to research and share resources with the class.

  • Use the Advanced Search field in Google. You can narrow your search results by usage rights and select “free to use, share, or modify”.

  • Trust your gut, and your training. If the content doesn’t appear accurate, ask a librarian to fact check it or don’t use it.

  • Identify tools to support student success in your course and consider low-cost options for interactive courseware. OpenNow from Cengage as well as Lumen Learning offer many common course titles that include OER content, plus videos and assignments. Alta by Knewton boasts an adaptive learning courseware platform. Also, some departments or programs may be able to adopt textbooks from the same publisher that offers low-cost options such as Cengage Unlimited.

If you are interested in learning more about using OERs or low-cost options for instructional materials, please set up a consultation with an instructional designer at CIRT or email cirtlab@unf.edu.

Additional Resources

Learn about the UNF OER Initiative.

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

OpenStax Partners create optional low-cost technology products that are integrated with OpenStax books to make adopting OERs easier or more effective.

Contact the UNF bookstore about creating low-cost course packs with a combination of publisher materials and open education resources.

The Hewlett Foundation offers grants for the development of OERs.


Open Educational Resources. (2019). Hewlett Foundation. Retrieved 25 February 2019, from https://hewlett.org/strategy/open-educational-resources/

Seaman, J.E., & Seaman, J. (2018). Freeing the textbook: Open education resources in U.S. higher education.

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