OERs are educational materials that are specifically designed by their creator/s to be openly available, and are often licensed to be re-used, re-mixed, and re-distributed. Open is not just about low cost (though that is an important benefit of using OER) but about the ability to take what others have created, customize it for your specific educational needs, and then share your creation with others.
OERs can come in a variety of forms:
Primary sources - Images, video, and sound recordings. Some sources are in the public domain, while others have been licensed as open by their creators. In addition, many texts that are in the public domain are available online/electronically.
Learning content - created content that ranges from individual lectures, animations, and assessments to complete courses and textbooks.
The open resource movement has been around for a while, starting with static learning objects (about 2000), and transitioning to OERs that allowed for revision and reuse. It is the ever increasing cost of textbooks and materials for students that is now pushing the OER movement forward. Textbooks and learning materials cost students approximately $1,100 per year. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, 7 in 10 students didn't purchase a textbook because it was too expensive. Through OERs the cost of student materials can be drastically reduced. OERs also give instructors the ability to customize the materials, creating the "perfect" textbook instead of being bound to traditional print resources.
At the University of Idaho, the Library provides numerous services related to scholarly communication, including:
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