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Navigating the Creative Commons License: A Tailored Approach to OER

As evidenced by the variety of introductory textbooks available on the market, there is no one-size-fits-all option for teaching physics. What one instructor likes about textbook A may be the very reason that another instructor has decided to use textbook B instead. While many understand the benefit of saving their students money by moving to open educational resources (OER), understandably there are still a number of instructors who feel that these textbooks don’t completely meet their needs. If you fall into this category, we would like to share an option you have to create a custom version of an open-source text that fits the specific scope and sequence of your course.

OpenStax, a long-time partner of Expert TA, has an expansive library of open educational resources and textbooks offered completely free for students and instructors. As OER has gained momentum in recent years, OpenStax has also seen a rise in popularity, due in part to their efforts to invest heavily in development, including the same rigorous levels of peer review that big name publisher textbooks receive. Backed by funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, among others, OpenStax is able to provide a quality educational product that is free.

Since we have already established that not every book works for every instructor, it goes without saying that some find this to be true for OpenStax titles as well. All OpenStax resources, however, fall under the guidelines of the Creative Commons Attribution License. This means that anyone has the ability to “copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format,” and “remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially.” An excellent example of how the creative commons license works is outlined by the efforts of Dr. Edward Neth from the University of Connecticut.

Dr. Neth utilized $21,000 in funding from UCONN’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG) to revise the OpenStax Chemistry textbook and adapt it for use in his classes. As we have shared previously, there is a return on investment associated with OER, which is exemplified by USG Chair Daniel Byrd stating, “If just Neth’s class used the open-source textbook over the next five years, students would save $400,000. For a $21,000 investment, we’re getting a big return.” Dr. Neth’s version of the chemistry text is now available on the OpenStax website for others to utilize, and this is all part of the licensing under the Creative Commons; one person’s work can be adapted and revised continuously, adding to the larger community and body of work.

There are numerous ways to revise and adapt open resources for your classroom, and with the growing collection of available open source material, it’s becoming easier to offer students a great educational experience at low or no cost. At Expert TA, we have always sought to offer a product free from the confines of a publisher “bundle,” with an independent library of problems that includes the end-of-chapter questions from OpenStax College Physics. We have the flexibility to accommodate users of the standard OpenStax text, those who use other introductory books through our textbook mapping feature, and the ability to create a completely new problem arrangement, including the addition of new problems, based on those who choose to revise the OpenStax book.

If you're in the process of repurposing an OER like OpenStax for your classroom, or if you are just interested, we'd love to continue the conversation. 

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