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ZTC/OER Basics: Evaluating OER

A basic guide to help fellow librarians, students, faculty and staff diving into the world of Zero Cost Textbook Courses (ZTC) and Open Education Resources (OER)

What to look for

Evaluating OER

Evaluating OER is an essential part to helping gather resources and building an ZTC course. Everyone should be able to evaluate sources based on some standard guidelines: 


  1.  Does this OER content meet the needs of your learning objectives and what you will cover in your course? 
  2. How accessible is the content? Is it the right level for your students? Is it easy to find the necessary information? 
  3. How can you use the content? I.E. what Creative Commons License does it have? Every OER has a different license. Some will allow you to make all the changes you wish while others are only free to use. Please see the Creative Commons tab for a breakdown of the various licenses and what they mean. 
  4. What will you do with the OER for your class? Will you adapt and use a small part, or all of it? You can combine OER materials if the licenses will work together. Does the library already have access to resources that will be helpful? Sometimes its easy to forget how many resources the library has access to and its always worth a short to see if there is free access already available. 
  5. Remember to save all the OER you find in one spot and organize based on the course you are building. The more organized you are the better you can continually evaluate the sources you have and the future ones you find.


Although librarians should also pay attention to these 5 guidelines it is also important to remember that you are supporting the faculty member who is building the course. Here are some tips I have found helpful in my work. 

  1. Listen to faculty who ask for help building OER. Conduct a reference interview and be sure to get a clear picture of what the faculty member wants. Sometimes they won't know and that's ok just conduct a broad search, share you findings and that will help narrow it down for future searching. 
  2. Set boundaries. Remember that the faculty are the content experts and do  not try and do more than help find useful resources. You should not be editing OER for faculty or be evaluating the subject material. You are looking for the types of materials that faculty want. 
  3. Lean on OER sites that come from .edu/.org or other academic library libguides. Be cautious when searching for OER. There are many databases out there are the same. Searching through OER sites created by colleges/universities such as OpenStax (Rice), Oasis( U of ILL.) or Merlot (CSULB) can weed out some of the more questionable resources. 
  4. Most OER is intended to be changed. There are OER with restrictive licenses (that can only be freely shared) but most are intended to be changed so when searching remember you don't always have to find an exact match for what a faculty member would like. Many OER are base materials meaning that they are bland, small or a bit out of date because it makes it easier for other faculty to come in an make it their own. So evaluate based around what could be created.