On finding and evaluating OER

This post provides advice for postsecondary instructors on how to find and evaluate OER. Specifically, I’ll offer some tips on how to prepare for your search, where to look, how to evaluate what you find.

How to Prepare

Before starting your search, it’s important to answer the following questions:
  1. What are your course learning outcomes, and what topics are covered in relation to each outcome? The answers to these questions will give you a list of search terms to use. Check out Quill West’s template for OER searching to get started on this step. 
  2. What kinds of materials are you hoping to find? An open textbook that could directly replace the commercial textbook that you’re currently using? Shorter, more granular works that focus on specific course topics? Primary source materials (texts, images, audio, video) that might be in the public domain? Ancillary materials such as lecture slides and assignments? A combination of some or all of the above? The answers to these questions will help you to determine which OER sources are best suited to your needs.

Where to Look

Once you have answered the questions above, select a few sources from the categories below. To expedite your search, consider using George Mason University’s OER Metafinder, which allows you to search simultaneously across most of the sources listed below and more.
  1. Open textbook aggregators (large collections of open textbooks from a variety of different sources) 
    1. Open Textbook Library
    2. College Open Textbooks
  2. Institutional open textbook collections (smaller collections of open textbooks published or sponsored by academic institutions) 
    1. BC Campus Open Textbooks
    2. OpenStax Textbooks
    3. Open SUNY Textbooks
    4. PDX Open Textbooks
  3. OER repositories (large collections of OER materials, including open textbooks as well as more granular materials on specific topics) 
    1. OER Commons
    2. MERLOT
  4. Private-sector collections (open textbooks and courses offered by private companies, often with modest fees) 
    1. Lumen Learning
    2. Boundless
  5. Public-domain collections (materials for which copyright has expired) 
    1. Project Gutenberg
    2. HathiTrust Public Domain Texts
    3. Digital Public Library of America
    4. American Memory (Library of Congress)
This list is far from exhaustive, but it should give you a great start! If you are short on time, it’s best to start with the open textbook aggregators and institutional collections under (1) and (2), above. By using some broad search terms in these collections, you can often quickly identify a number of promising options for further evaluation. 

What to Look For

There are several important criteria to keep in mind when evaluating OER. Below are a number general criteria that can be used to evaluate the quality of a specific resource. Depending on the nature of the course and the needs of the instructor, other criteria may also come into play, but this list provides a good starting point:


Is the author an expert in the field? What are her academic credentials? Is she currently affiliated with an academic institution? If you don’t recognize the author’s name, try to find a copy of her CV or a professional website or portfolio that details her qualifications and expertise in the subject area at hand.

Sponsoring institution

Is the material published or sponsored by an academic institution or other authority devoted to excellence in research and learning? If so, then the sponsoring institution may have contributed substantial resources to ensuring that the material is of high quality.


Many OER collections and repositories have implemented rating systems to enhance quality assurance. For instance, titles in the Open Textbook Library include an overall rating based on numerous reviews by other experts in the field.


Is there information on the number and nature of courses that have adopted the material? If not, is there a recourse for interested instructors to follow up for more information? Successful adoption of OER by instructors at other institutions is another useful proxy for quality.

Cited sources

What sources are cited in the material? Is there a bibliography or reference list at the end of each chapter or section? Are the citations to scholarly sources like peer-reviewed books and journals, or to popular resources that may be less credible?


Is the material available in multiple formats, to better facilitate access and reuse? If the material can only be viewed in a web browser, then this may create barriers for students who don’t have regular access to an internet connection. Similarly, if the material is only available in formats that are difficult to edit (e.g., PDF, EPUB, MOBI), then this limits the ability of teachers and learners to customize the material based on the course learning objectives.

You may have noticed that “presentation and graphic design” is not included in the above list of criteria for evaluating quality. This omission is intentional, and follows David Wiley’s sage advice that, when evaluating educational materials, “the degree to which they support learning is the only meaning of quality we should care about.” The criteria above are geared toward evaluating this particular meaning of quality.

In closing, if you have any doubts about OER quality qua supporting student learning, I encourage you to check out John Hilton’s Review Project, which documents dozens of peer-reviewed studies that have shown that students perform as well or better with OER compared to commercial course materials.


Hilton, J., & Mason, S. (n. d.). The review project. Retrieved from http://openedgroup.org/review

Plourde, M. (n. d.). OER treasure hunt worksheet. Retrieved from www.udel.edu/003275

West, Q. (n. d.). Searching for open materials. Retreived from https://libraryasleader.org/searching-for-open-materials/

Wiley, D. (2013, October 10). On quality and OER. Retrieved October 25, 2017, from https://opencontent.org/blog/archives/2947


Popular Posts