Open Educational Resources

The TRAILS OER initiative supports improving textbook affordability in the state of Montana by providing resources, training, and grant funds to institutions of higher education.

Wondering what OER is, what’s the big deal, where do I find it, how do I do it, or other such ponderings? 

This is the place to get those answers.  The bigger conversation overlaying academics is not just Open Education, but addressing the issue of textbook affordability.  Everyone in academia acknowledges the rising cost of education.  Students are floundering between federal and state funding model changes, tuition hikes, and unprecedented mountains of educational debt.  The skyrocketing costs of textbooks is just another element in that debt.  What faculty are seeing in their classrooms is poor performance or inability to successfully complete courses when students make financial decisions to not purchase the required text, to share it, or purchase it late in the quarter.
Open Education is a movement of academic faculty and librarians to find a solution to this challenge.
While there is much to say about this topic, this resource page will give you highlights and definitions to the what/where/how questions you have about open.
The key to understanding open is to know who owns the copyright.  Here are some terms you will hear or see as you learn more about and join in the conversation.

Textbook Affordability – efforts and initiatives by institutions, libraries, state legislative bodies, Department of Education, and other organizations to reduce the total cost of textbooks to students.  These initiatives include but are not limited to OERs.  A lot of the really great affordable textbook work comes directly from campus libraries.

Open Source initially coined around software designers, platform programmers, and similar tech that allows the world at large to share products, improve them, and redistribute without cost to users.  Internet browsers like Firefox or web-design platforms such as Drupal are examples of Open Source.  While open sourcing was a front-runner in the world of open, don’t confuse these with OER.  While they fabulously open their source code to be used and modified by the public, the creators of open source systems still own the copyright to their work.

Open Access – This is a tricky term.  The common misconception is that if material is freely accessible online, that it is open.  This is not true.  In fact, the majority of free materials found online are indeed copyrighted.  Thus, they cannot be taken, shared, modified, or redistributed openly without violating copyright law.  Open Access is a platform, like an online journal, where users have free access to academic materials which can be utilized in any manner in any digital platform.

OER – Open Educational Resources are textbooks and other course materials created by faculty, ie. subject experts, and licensed with a Creative Commons copyright that allows others to freely access and use.  To truly be an OER, material should adhere to the 5R’s of open.

The Problem

OER for Students

It’s not just you!  Students have been fighting this challenge for decades in the US alone.  

What can you do?

  • Be informed.  Engage with students already working on this.  This report by Student Public Interest Research Groups discusses the rapid rise of textbook prices and its effects on students across the country.  
  • Join a study body group to advocate for more affordable solutions.
  • Get to know your Bookstore!  They are on the front-lines already working to make your education as affordable as possible.
  • Take a class that uses OER.  Let you instructor know how much you appreciate their efforts.
  • Ask your professors if they know about or would be willing to look into more affordable options.
  • Have ideas?  Share them with us @opentrailsmt 


More resources for getting involved

OER for Faculty

Faculty have the ultimate ability to affect change for student affordability when it comes to required course materials.  

That is not all that OER is about.  It is really about giving faculty new kinds of resources while opening up the world of academic freedom.  There are many ways to get started or even investigate OER materials.  In fact, there is so much, TRAILS has a whole page of further information for you.  

Why should you look into this?

  • because it is frustrating to see students continually under prepared for or drop your class because they cannot afford the required textbook
  • because you are tired of new editions of your textbook that have no new content
  • because it is not fair or ethical to require a student to purchase an expensive text when they really are only using the online homework platform
  • you value being the best teacher that you can be
  • even the best publisher textbook does not quite fit the course that you teach or the way that you teach it

More resources for getting involved


The Solution

The TRAILS OER program was created in collaboration between TRAILS and the Board of Regents.  This program is part of the Montana University System’s initiative to make higher education more affordable for Montana students.  Sponsored by the MUS Board of Regents under the direction of the Office of the Commissioner for Higher Education and supported by the TRAILS academic library community, addressing textbook affordability is truly a statewide effort.

This program supports Montana faculty, students, and all of its institutions of higher education in creating sustainable campus initiatives that impact students and the quality of education.





TRAILS - Treasure State Academic and Information Library Services

Treasure State Academic
Information & Library Services
P.O. Box 173320
Bozeman, MT 59717-3320

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