An Open Market in Classroom Resources?

Open Educational Classroom Resources

What are Open Educational Resources?

If you’ve ever assigned a textbook for your college course, you’ve probably noticed some truly creative efforts by your students to avoid purchasing the book. Sharing, renting, and inter-library loan are just some of the (legal) ways students maneuver the system to save a penny. And who can blame them? The cost of educational textbooks is astronomical (a 90% increase since 1998!), and individual chapters can be photocopied at low cost.

You might have your own frustrations with textbooks (or readers, anthologies, etc.) as well. Maybe two chapters are weaker than the rest, or the supplementary quiz materials are too easy. Maybe the textbook does an adequate, but not superb, job explaining key concepts. Maybe you just want to kick it up a notch.

Enter Open Educational Resources.

Open Educational Resources (or OERs) are the internet’s answer to the cost and customization problems presented by traditional textbooks. They are learning and teaching materials available online for anyone to use, repurpose, and share. Some of these materials might be entire textbooks, but they can also include lesson plans, lecture slides, classroom games, and videos. And, most importantly, they are affordable – and often free.

Take this free video series on the fundamentals of political economy, for example. Produced by IHS in partnership with the University of Arizona’s Center for the Philosophy of Freedom, these videos cover core concepts in political economy, including:

  • Comparative Advantage
  • Consumer Surplus
  • Coordination Through Prices
  • Israel Kirzner on Entrepreneurship
  • James Buchanan and Public Choice
  • Ronald Coase and Property Rights
  • Karl Marx and the Labor Theory of Value

…and much more. Because they are OERs, you would be free to use, share, and repurpose these videos any way you choose. You could assign the whole series as homework in lieu of textbook reading or kick off a class discussion with just one.  You could write a set of quiz questions to accompany the videos and then share the whole (improved) package with your colleagues.

And because they are free to use, your students wouldn’t stress over the seismic pressure on their pocketbooks.

So what makes OERs different from any old resource you’ll find on the internet? Licensing. Many traditional resources, including most proprietary textbook content, cannot be publicly shared because of copyright laws, and without the proper license, you could not share or repurpose the content (outside of what is permitted by Fair Use). OERs, however, have Creative Commons licenses that may grant the user permission to use, share, and repurpose the resource in accordance with the terms of the license. That is what makes Open Educational Resources, well, open.

Whatever your views are about copyright law (and there are both supporters and detractors in the classical liberal tradition), the current intellectual property regime makes it difficult for educators, students, and thinkers to freely and openly share and adapt teaching and learning tools. That is yet another reason why OERs are so important – they bring dynamism and creativity back to the forefront of education.

So now that we have a few good reasons to look into using OERs for your upcoming course – OERs are cheap, versatile, and open – how can you find these resources? The University of Pittsburgh has the most comprehensive list of OER repositories we’ve found, but in case you find this list dizzying, here are a few places we recommend you look:

For images, artwork, and media, you can’t do better than the Creative Commons search. There you can hunt down openly licensed works on popular websites like Google Images, YouTube, and Flickr.

To search for open educational content by discipline, check out the OpenStax CNX library or OER Commons. OER Commons includes an OER builder tool you can use to create shareable lesson plans and even entire courses.

The Institute for Humane Studies believes in the future of OERs because OERs unleash the creative potential of entrepreneurial professors while alleviating the financial burden on students. With the freedom to learn, borrow, build, and share with each other, professors can develop better tools than ever before to engage students in ideas both counterintuitive and complex. And command of complex ideas is just the first step towards unleashing the potential of students as they strive to build a more just, peaceful, and prosperous world.

You can find OER content produced by IHS on OpenStax CNX, OER Commons, and Merlot. All of our resources are free to use, share, and adapt. To co-create new OER content with IHS, please contact the Educational Resources team at


Photo Credit: John Schnobrich,

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