Open Education

Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching and learning resources (e.g., textbooks, powerpoint slides, activities, assessments, case studies, etc.) that are openly licensed[1] and free to use. These resources can be adopted and used in the classroom as is or modified as needed to best fit the learning outcomes of a course.

Studies of student success have found that on average students in OER courses perform as well as or better than students in commercial textbook courses.[2] In addition, course drop, fail and withdrawal (DFW) rates are significantly lower for open courses compared with commercial textbook courses.2,[3] Research also suggests that the adoption of open resources can help close student equity gaps. Improvements in DFW rates and course grades in open courses are most pronounced for Pell recipients, students of color and part-time students.3 These positive effects likely stem from the cost and availability of these resources; students in open courses all have access to their textbook materials on the first day of class for free (except for the cost of printing if the student needs a printed copy).

These positive effects on student success could also be due to the powerful ways in which instructors can modify open course materials to best fit the needs of their students and align the material with course competencies. Open resources can be remixed and adapted as long as their Creative Commons licensing allows for this modification (i.e., licenses without the ‘no derivatives’ or ‘ND’ attribute). These OER can then be modified to better contextualize the course content and provide more inclusive and diverse examples and perspectives, see below.

Image of textbooks flying through the air with the title "Free the Textbook"

“Flat World Knowledge: Open College Textbooks” by opensourceway is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

The power of open:

Contextualize course content to real-world challenges on the job, in the community, etc.

Students are more motivated in their courses when the content is contextualized and relevant to the career they are pursuing and their community. Often, traditional textbooks and course resources provide standard examples and problems, and/or outdated examples that do not resonate with students. Open textbooks can be continuously changed to better contextualize the content and keep the information up to date and relevant.

To learn about a faculty perspective on adopting and adapting OER, see the WTCS Voices interview with Ellen Mathein, a business instructor from Nicolet College.

Update the resource with inclusive and diverse examples

Representation is vital. If students cannot see themselves in the course materials, then that sends the signal that they may not belong in that course and program. Providing diverse and inclusive examples and viewpoints within course materials helps students succeed in their career pathway.

Some OER projects are already trying to diversify open content. For instance, OpenStax from Rice University has created general education open textbooks, and they allow users to provide requests for changes to help diversify these texts (see Palmiotto and Swift 2019). There is also a focused project on diversifying the OpenStax Psychology textbook. Instructors could implement a similar type of OER project in their course by providing a way for students to give their input on how to improve the text and make the resource more inclusive.

For more information, see:

Open pedagogy

Open pedagogy invites students to take part in the creation process of open content to enhance their learning and develop employability skills. Examples of open pedagogy include collaborative projects in which students create or remix an open resource or its ancillary materials (e.g., question banks, PowerPoint slides, website). This approach is powerful in that it can motivate students and incorporates student voice and perspective into the course content.

For more information on open pedagogy and how to incorporate these teaching strategies in your classroom, see the Open Pedagogy Notebook and David Wiley’s post on What is Open Pedagogy?



OER projects and resources:

  • OpenRN is a Department of Education funded project that involves all 16 technical colleges and led by Chippewa Valley Technical College in the creation of five open textbooks for nursing with 25 associated virtual reality scenarios.
  • Nicolet College offers the first Zero-Textbook Costs Degree (or Z-Degree) in our system. The Z-Degree is a Criminal Justice Studies Associates of Applied Science and saves students $1,300 in textbook costs.
  • WISC-Online is a non-profit organization based at Fox Valley Technical College that provides open educational programs, objects, videos, tutorials, and games.
  • Open resources for technical fields are provided on Skills Commons

Professional development opportunities:

  • OER Faculty Quality Assurance System Course taught by Vince Mussehl (CVTC). Information about the course is provided on the OpenRN website

WTCS OER Network:

The WTCS OER Network has over 90 OER champions from all 16 colleges and the system office. Within the Network, we strive to share strategies and resources to advance the adoption of open resources across the WTCS. To join our network, please contact Hilary Barker.

For questions regarding OER, please contact Hilary Barker, WTCS OER Network Coordinator.

[1] The open educational resource has either a creative commons license or is in the public domain.

[2] Clinton & Khan. 2019. Efficacy of open textbook adoption on learning performance and course withdrawal rates: A meta-analysis. Aera Open 5(3): 1-20.

[3] Colvard, Watson & Park. 2018. The impact of Open Educational Resources on various student success metrics. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education 30(2): 262-276.