Open Educational Resources (OER): Faculty & Instructor Toolkit

How to use this resource

The purpose of this page of the OER guide is to give Columbia researchers and instructors some starting points for using OER in the classroom. If you are interested in creating your own OER, check out the Digital Scholarship Publishing Toolkit on another page of this guide.

What are OER?

Open Educational Resources (OER) are 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 5 Rs of OER activities for educational purposes: Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix, and Redistribute.

Some free resources, such as Google Books or HathiTrust, may appear to be open. Because they require licensing or a paid subscription by the institution to access in full, they are considered paid resources.

The resources included in this guide are free to access and use, and vary from course material aggregators to specific textbooks. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What are the benefits of using OER over traditional textbooks?

Switching to open textbooks is beneficial to students because it decreases the cost of their education. This makes your course more financially equitable. Open textbooks are also specifically beneficial to students who need accessible formats for disabilities since they can be reformatted more easily than traditional textbooks without additional permissions from the publisher.


Are OER textbooks as good as non-OER textbooks?

Only you can evaluate a textbook’s appropriateness for your own course, but a growing number of studies show that OER textbooks have the same or better learning outcomes as non-OER textbooks.


How do I find OER in my discipline?

Columbia University Libraries staff have created a research guide for exactly this purpose. Find it on the Libraries website. If you are looking for more specific recommendations, you can contact the Libraries ( and/or join the SPARC LibOER listserv. Don’t see what you’re looking for? Then you might be interested in creating your own OER.


Can I edit an open textbook for my course?

Yes! If you have never edited an open textbook before, you may need some technical support. Contact to consult with a librarian.


I want to create my own OER! How do I do that?

If you are interested in creating and licensing your own OERs and disseminating them through Columbia platforms, check out the Digital Scholarship Publishing Toolkit, which is another page in this guide. If you’d like to get started on your own, you can check out these guides from other institutions:


Can I convert my older published works to OER?

Yes! Open educational resources do not need to be new works. While works such as digitized books old enough to be in the pubic domain tend to not be considered OER, since they are generally not textbooks, there are ways that you can license works that you created, for which you hold the copyright, so that they can be used more openly. This might be a textbook you wrote 20 years ago or a course packet you created 10 years ago. For questions about copyright reclamation and choosing a license for your work, please contact our Copyright Advisory Services. For questions about sharing your older published works through the Libraries' publishing infrastructure, please contact


Some FAQ text adapted from the Northwestern Libraries’ OER Toolkit.