On barriers to adopting OER, and some strategies for overcoming them

In last week’s post, I touched on some of the main benefits of OER for postsecondary instructors. This week, I’m going to take a closer look at two of the main barriers for instructors, and propose some solutions that can help to mitigate them.

In "Incentives and barriers to OER adoption: A qualitative analysis of faculty perceptions," Belikov and Bodily (2016) identify a number of perceived barriers that instructors face in adopting OER. While some of these barriers are rooted in a lack of awareness or understanding, the following barriers pertain to real challenges faced by even the most OER-literate instructors:
  1. Time required to find, evaluate, and implement OER 
  2. Difficulty of finding OER, or lack of applicable OER for a specific course - both of which are compounded by the time pressures faced by instructors 
Without discounting these challenges, here are some strategies that instructors can use to overcome them:

Search for OER from respected sources.

Start with sources like OpenStax and the Open Textbook Library, which provide access to high-quality open textbooks that have been written and reviewed by experts, and often come bundled with ancillary materials to reduce the time required to implement the textbooks in courses. If you are using a commercial textbook that includes a proprietary online learning environment that you rely on for grading (etc.), search for OER courses from providers like Lumen Learning, which include comparable time-saving resources for instructors, but are still available to students at very low cost (as low as $10 / student)

See if there are mini-grant programs to support OER adoption on your campus.

At FSU Libraries, we launched an Alternative Textbook Grants program in Fall 2016 to help support instructors who are interested in adopting OER for their courses. In addition to a modest monetary reward, these programs typically provide instructors with hands-on support with finding, evaluating, and implementing OER in their courses, and so they can be a great solution for instructors who are struggling to find time to undertake this work on their own. Programs like the one at FSU are available at many academic institutions across the U.S. You can use SPARC’s Connect OER tool to search for one at your campus.

Ask your subject librarian for help with finding applicable resources.

If there isn’t an OER mini-grant program at your campus, or if the funding for such a program only supports applications from a small number of instructors, contact you subject librarian to ask for assistance. In many cases, subject librarians will have the expertise to help you find and evaluate applicable OER, and will be more than happy to support you in these endeavors.

Enlist the help of TAs or instructional design support staff.

Do you have a TA assigned to your course? Do you have a center for teaching and learning or equivalent unit on your campus that has dedicated instructional design (ID) staff? If so, these can also be powerful resources to leverage in your efforts to adopt OER. As with subject librarians, TAs and ID staff typically have the skills required to help you find and evaluate OER, and may also have the time and expertise to aid in implementing applicable OER in your courses.

Design assignments that empower your students to create new OER and/or ancillary materials.

Let’s say that you’ve tried the strategies above and determined that there is a lack of applicable OER for your course. Perhaps there is no suitable open textbook on the subject. Perhaps there is an open textbook but it would need to be adapted to fit with your learning objectives. Or perhaps you are concerned about the lack of ancillary materials for open textbooks that would otherwise be suitable. Whatever the case may be, one strategy for addressing these challenges involves designing student-centered assignments that empower your students to create new OER content and/or ancillary materials for your courses. For instance, following the lead of instructors like Robin DeRosa, you could have your students work together to collaboratively author a new open textbook. Or, if that seems like too tall a task for your students, you could have them create ancillary materials and assessment questions for an existing open textbook. Either way, these kinds of assignments can be very powerful tools not only for overcoming barriers related to lack of time, but also for accomplishing your course learning objectives, since they generally demand a high level of understanding of your students and also motivate them to produce higher quality work than disposable assignments that don’t connect with a broader audience and won’t be reused (or even serve a purpose) after the course is complete.

The solutions above may not be immediately feasible for all instructors. This is especially true of tenure-track professors who need to focus on their research output in order to get tenure, particularly in cases where they teach courses for which there are few suitable OER alternatives to their traditional course materials. Even so, exploring the benefits of OER should not be an all-or-nothing decision: using the strategies above, instructors can use support from the Libraries and other campus partners to quickly get a sense for the existing OER in their areas and the extent of the work required to implement them. It may be the case that there are excellent OER available and implementing them would not require as much effort as originally expected. Alternately, there might be small steps that the instructor can take toward adopting or creating OER, such as designing even one assignment each semester that asks students to use their knowledge of the course materials to create OER content or ancillary materials that could ease the process of adopting existing OER (or creating new ones) when the instructor has more time to devote to the project.

While time pressures may be redoubtable right now, take heart from the fact that they won’t remain so forever. Once tenure has been attained or other time commitments have become less demanding, instructors can revisit the question of whether or not to utilize OER for their courses, and they will be much better prepared to do so if they have already explored some of the strategies discussed above.


Belikov, O. M., & Bodily, R. (2016). Incentives and barriers to OER adoption:

A qualitative analysis of faculty perceptions. Open Praxis 8(3), 235-246. Retrieved from https://www.openpraxis.org/index.php/OpenPraxis/article/view/308/219


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