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FAQs

Where can I find an open textbook for my class?

We recommend you browse the Open Textbook Library or OpenStax to find full length textbooks. Use OASIS to search for full OER as well as modules, presentations, syllabi, and A/V materials. If you’d like to meet for a consultation to get 1:1 assistance, contact library@northwestern.edu.

Is the quality the same as other textbooks?

The primary value proposition of open textbooks is that all students will be able to view, download, and retain copies of the textbooks on the first day of class for free. Just like any other textbooks, we leave quality judgments to instructors with expertise in the subject area. There are a growing number of studies that show that students have the same or better learning outcomes when using open textbooks, and we like to point faculty to sources of faculty-reviewed textbooks found in places like the Open Textbook Library and OpenStax, which are two of the most well-known and highly regarded OER platforms.

If you’ve found an open textbook that you want to use, but it isn’t as rigorous as you would like, the open license allows you to edit it to fit the needs of your course.

Can students order a print copy?

Yes, there are on-demand online print services available, or students could print out only the sections they want at home. We recommend Lulu or the Northwestern Bookstore as third-party printing services, but can work with you to determine the best printing option for your needs.

Who writes OER and how do they get paid?

OER are free for instructors and students to use, but they’re not free to produce. Typically, authors are faculty or other subject experts who are paid through grant support via:

Why would an author want to give away content for free?

Many authors have been paid for their work, but giving away the content with an open license has many benefits:
  • Authoring a textbook is a form of scholarship. Sharing open content is a contribution to an academic discipline that has the potential to be widely read and shared.
  • Sharing open content promotes the building of expertise.
  • The open education movement is part of a larger social justice issue in which education and knowledge is made available to everyone. This has the potential to make the greatest impact on historically marginalized groups, or those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford a college degree.
  • For those who use OER to teach, sharing open content with your class ensures all students will have full access to course materials on the first day of class. Considering 45% of Northwestern undergraduates have reported not purchasing required textbooks because of cost, providing the text for free greatly increases the chance of student success.

Do open textbooks have ancillary and supporting materials such as presentations, tests and quizzes, and homework sets?

Like commercial textbooks, some OER has ancillary materials, but overall there is a need for new ancillary materials to be developed for many open texts. If you're interested in developing openly licensed tests, quizzes, presentations, or other ancillary material for your class, contact us at library@northwestern.edu.

How often is OER updated?

It depends on the book. OER search engines (such as the Open Textbook Library) work to provide the most recent edition of its textbooks. One of the benefits of OER is that you have the power to update and adapt textbooks yourself.

How can I edit OER?

OER is assigned Creative Commons licenses that allow for editing, adapting and making derivatives in any file format. Depending on the format you're trying to edit, you could convert the file to a Word document and go from there. The Libraries offer editing and formatting support if you're unsure. Contact us at library@northwestern.edu for assistance.

Are there accessible versions for students with disabilities?

Open content has huge potential to increase accessible content on campus. Unlike traditional materials, it is not locked down and can be adapted and reformatted without extra permission, and is usually available in different formats. We work with AccessibleNU to make sure OER content that is published by the Libraries follows accessibility standards and guidelines.

I am thinking of writing an open textbook or creating OER. What are my rights? Could I sell my materials to a commercial textbook publisher later if I want?

If you write an OER, you hold the copyright and have the power to share, edit, and sell your work as you wish. If you choose to make your materials open, you would designate a Creative Commons license, which would give others the right to copy, share, and modify your work. Creative Commons licenses work in parallel with copyright, so you would retain copyright even when assigning a Creative Commons license. We are happy to meet with you to discuss copyright, publishing, and licensing in more detail.

What is the Affordable Instructional Resources (AIR) group?

AIR is a network of Northwestern faculty and staff interested in reducing the course material costs in order to create more inclusive and accessible learning environments. The focus of AIR's work is on lowering the cost of undergraduate courses.

One of the programs AIR administers is the OER Faculty Grant program. If you teach undergraduate courses and would like to consult with a team member to learn about the ways you can reduce course costs, contact air@northwestern.edu.

Some questions have been adapted from the Open Textbook Network and BCcampus resources. Don't see your question on this list? Email us at library@northwestern.edu.