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Go Open: a beginner's guide to open education

A guide to engaging with open education practices in your teaching, research and support activities

According to Butcher (2015, p.13), one of the main reasons to use OER is to ‘build on common intellectual capital, rather than duplicating similar efforts'. Additionally, at its best, OER provides students and educators with access to high-quality learning materials at low or no cost. This is very important in a climate where as a result of the Covid pandemic, there have been reports of eBooks costing up to 500% more than in print (Fazackerley, 2021). The use of OER can help reduce the increasing dependence on specific textbooks. Many textbook publishers are offering online assessment materials that can only be purchased via the publisher. For example, an undergraduate textbook might have student resources aligned to it, and to access these, each student is required to purchase a new copy of the textbook. The benefits of using OER are listed below:

Cost savings

Financial savings associated with the adoption of OER are documented – to date, for example, in the context of textbooks, BCcampus has reported over $20 million in student savings (BCCampus, 2020)

A large benefit to students who are often short of funds and cannot afford to purchase expensive texts.

Remove barriers to access

The main purpose of Open Education is to remove access barriers to Higher Education (HE) so that everyone has an equitable chance to complete a HE credential.

Barriers to HE access include cost, entry requirements, flexibility (to accommodate diversity), content, courses, support, assessment, and accreditation.

OER open up access to information, knowledge, and learning resources. As such, they are enablers of continuous professional development (CPD) and lifelong learning. They can reduce the costs of learning resources for students and institutions.  

Nevertheless, engaging with openness in higher education directly links to the UN Sustainable Development goal 4 - based on its key pillars of access: equity, equality, quality, and inclusion (UNESCO, 2019). A holistic strategy combining different open elements may ‘have the potential to reconfigure the way higher education is realised’ (Dos Santos, Punie, Castaño-Muñoz, 2016, p. 30).

Facilitation of wider world view 

A recognition that knowledge is inevitably marked by power relations and an attempt to readjust these dynamics.

Contributes to the decolonisation movement within higher education by providing opportunities to decolonise and diversify curriculum resources (Arday, Belluigi & Thomas, 2020; Costello, 2020; Farley, 2019).

Increase student agency and engagement

By opening up assessment and student learning opportunities to real-world contexts through open education practices, students gain agency over their learning. This could be done through co-producing content with your students and creating a shared OER.

A large study was done in 2018 within the University of Georgia, assessing the impact of OER on 21,000 students over a multi-year period. Results found that, on average, student grades improved, and this was partly attributed to continual textbook access from day one (Colvard, Watson & Park, 2018)


In the case of public universities, they are established to provide public good – higher education – and are a public good themselves. Therefore, equipping students with the means to improve society is its highest goal. OER facilitate this process.

It’s less about saving money and more about removing barriers so that students have early and continuous access to course materials.