Enhancing and Refreshing Your Course with Open Educational Resources (OER)

What is OER? Is all free online content considered OER? What advantages do OER have over traditional textbooks? Can high quality OER be found for all disciplines? What is the ideal mix of OER and non-OER for my class? These are some of the many questions that you may have when considering the use of Open Educational Resources. 

Open Educational Resources are not only a way to provide savings to students by replacing costly textbooks with free content, but can also positively enhance the quality and level of interest in your course. This is especially true when you want to give students the benefit of the latest information, or content that becomes newly available in enriched formats. OER can also be supplemented or supported with the addition of your own content, remixed with other OER, or made the center of a key assignment.  

View the recording of Enhancing and Refreshing Your Course with Open Educational Resources (OER) webinar co-hosted byBertrade Ngo-Ngijol Banoum, Chair, Department of Africana Studies, Lehman College

You can also view the webinar presentation slides and read the overview of the webinar below - prepared by Susan Ko, Faculty Development Consultant, Office of Online Education.

The Why

OER, Open Educational Resources, can be defined as free digital teaching and learning content, and depending on the licensing rules set by the creator, can potentially be shared, adapted or remixed with other materials, and redistributed. Materials in the Public Domain are generally included as part of OER. “Zero Textbook Cost” is an indication in CUNY course registration, that no textbook or other expenses are required for a course.

Some reasons to use OER are to eliminate or reduce expenses to students, and to make course content available from the first day of class, or provide the most current information to students. OER can enrich and enhance your course materials, not just replace them.
Design is an essential element for effective implementation of OER. Coherent, intentional and engaging design for online delivery of OER often goes unmentioned but is necessary consideration so acknowledge that OER will be delivered online and plan for it.

Finding, evaluating, and planning are important steps in the process as well. You can search for and evaluate OER using OER resource sites and consult with college librarians as needed early on in the process. You may also find free, but not OER, resources like library materials for e-reserve and high quality text and multimedia on the internet that you decide to use in your course.

By mapping out your course week by week with the new content in mind, you can then identify gaps where you need to add your own commentary or lecture material. This process will not only ensure that you align your learning materials with your weekly learning objectives but will also allow you to re-think and recalibrate your instructional methods, learning activities, and assessments and develop an intentional course design that is learner-centered rather than textbook-driven.

The How

In planning, it’s recommended to use an organizing or planning document like that we use in the OER faculty workshop at Lehman, mapping out content to align with the learning objectives week by week, jotting down the licensing and permission conditions for each OER chosen, and noting any supplementary material you will need to add.

To build out and host your OER, you may use institutionally supported CUNY platforms like Blackboard, which faculty already use for online, hybrid, and web-enhanced courses, or those supported by CUNY Graduate Center like the CUNY Academic Commons, an easy-to-use web publishing platform, or Manifold, a publishing platform for interactive scholarly monographs. CUNY Academic Commons now features special teaching templates for hosting OER, and you may create private or public-facing sites. Manifold allows you to assemble your own versions of public domain works along with OER, adding supplementary notes and files.

Making sure that content is accessible is a consideration for all online design. Some tips for doing that are:

Using alternative text for visuals and captions or transcripts for video

Organize pages of text through headers; use descriptive hyperlinks; use clear fonts and contrast.

The Faculty Experience

Dr. Bertrade Ngo-Ngijol Banoum, Chair, Department of Africana Studies shared her experience learning about and using OER in her classes. She participated in the OER faculty workshop offered by Lehman College and also received a grant from the CUNY Scale-up Initiative to develop OER, working with the Lehman Library. Part of her OER development process included creating a syllabus with clear goals and learning outcomes, searching for scholarly open access materials for each course unit, and determining license attributions, availing herself of help from Lehman College librarians as needed.

Some of the advantages Dr. Ngo-Ngijol Banoum sees in using OER are the wealth of high quality open educational resources available online, the essential resources that can be discovered in unlikely sources, and having easy online access to different types of resources on a single platform.

She remarked on the greater versatility of her syllabus, as well as the flexibility, fluidity, and accessibility that became possible by using OER for her African Civilizations course, making her feel that she was no longer teaching to the textbook, and able to be more creative, and receiving more input from students. She observed that in her Introduction to Women’s Studies course, teaching and learning become more participatory and productive with this greater ability for instructor and students to solicit sources and resources for classes together, and bringing more cutting-edge content in an ever-evolving field of study.

Dr. Ngo-Ngijol Banoum discussed some challenges such as getting used to not having a physical book, making sure students have access to the technology and software needed, and the importance of technology-equipped classrooms for courses meeting on campus. She concluded that learning about how to use OER is well worth the effort for faculty, with potential to make one a better teacher and students more empowered and engaged learners.


To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact the Office of Online Education at online.education@lehman.cuny.edu