Appendix: Tough Questions about OER

Adapted from the Open Textbook Network Tough Questions by Theme Cheat Sheet

Academic freedom

Are you going to force us to use open textbooks?

  • Academic freedom and your expertise as an educator are important. Only you can decide which resources are best for your students.



Are there accessible versions for disabled users?

  • 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. In addition to accessibility expertise and resources that may be available to all on your campus, OER-related resources such as the BC Campus OER Accessibility Toolkit continue to develop.


Accreditation concerns

Will I get in trouble with my accreditors for using an open textbook?

  • Accrediting bodies do not typically dictate what course materials faculty must use, but in highly specialized programs (medical, for instance), there may be special parameters for course materials.



Do open textbooks have supporting/ancillary materials?

  • Some do. Like commercial textbooks, some open textbooks have ancillary materials.



Why aren’t there more options?

  • There will be soon. There are lots of efforts underway: OpenStax, SUNY, Portland State, Ohio State, Open Oregon State, BCCampus. The Open Textbook Library is regularly adding new books!



What about our campus bookstore? If we support this effort, won’t they go out of business?

  • Bookstores are already facing many challenges, since students look off campus for cheaper books. Open textbooks are actually an opportunity for bookstores to get more students to buy on campus, as bookstores may choose to stock print copies of open textbooks (such as the OpenStax textbooks) for students who prefer that format.


If I adopt an open textbook, how do I know that it will be updated for currency?

  • There’s no guarantee that an open textbook will be updated for currency. The good news is that you could make these updates, or collaborate with others on this work, due to the permissions afforded by the open license.


Editing capability

How can I edit these?

  • You will likely need some technical support from the staff at your institution. Who might offer that on your campus: an IT office, instructional designers, colleagues in the library
  • Also, the OTN Community published an editing guide: Modifying an Open Textbook

Peer review

Are open textbooks peer reviewed?

  • Yes, in some cases. For example, peer review is part of the publishing process for OpenStax open textbooks.
  • Whether peer review has/hasn’t been part of the publishing process, it’s essential for educators to bring their own expertise to their direct consideration of open textbooks (like all educational materials). The reviews of peer educators, such as the reviews included in the OTL, may also be helpful.


Print copies

Can students order a print copy?

  • Authors and publishers almost always provide a PDF, so students can print pages as needed. In addition, some faculty make arrangements with the campus bookstores to provide printed copies at cost. Others upload the PDF to an online print-on-demand service and students order copies directly. There are many on-demand online print services (, for example), or students could print out only the parts they want at home or on campus.


Promotion & Tenure

Could adopting an open textbook impact decisions about my promotion and tenure?

  • This differs by institution and department. Does using a different traditional textbook affect the process?



They can’t be that good if they’re free, right?

  • Only you [faculty member] can tell if a book is good, open or not. What we can say is that faculty who reviewed textbooks in the OTL have given high ratings.
  • Educators can use the reviews that have been written by faculty and included in the OTL, unedited, to consider directly how peers have judged the quality of open textbooks across 10 criteria.


How do I know if a book is “good?”

  • The best way is to review for yourself — the books are free online. Also look at reviews on the OTL. (NOTE: do NOT claim quality unless you are an expert in their field.)


Is the quality the same as other textbooks?

  • There is a growing number of studies that show that students have the same or better learning outcomes when using open textbooks. One source of empirical studies is The Review Project by the Open Education Group at Brigham Young University, which collects empirical research on the impacts of OER adoption. But only you can judge quality for your own course.


Shouldn’t the peer review process for books in the OTL be standardized for

Quality control purposes?

  • We encourage publishers to include peer review information in front matter — and there are lots of ways it can be done. More info.
  • Textbooks often aren’t considered scholarly publishing. That’s a larger conversation, but important to note.
  • How commercial textbook publishers facilitate peer review is not transparent. Often it’s more about marketing, and getting textbooks in front of others in the field. Sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. We should not hold open textbooks to a higher standard.
  • Peer review is managed differently by every publisher, so it’s difficult to come up with a standardized system, or verify. It’s messy.
  • Open textbook publishing models are diverse. Trying to systematize peer review (say by prescribed system or symbol) will likely be a significant burden for fledgling programs. This could mean that big publishers that have the resources benefit, while local publishers are hurt.


If I adopt an open textbook, how do I know it won’t later disappear?

  • All of the open textbooks cataloged in the OTL are available in a portable file format (often several portable file formats). This is one of the criteria for open textbooks that we include in the OTL. However, the user should save a local copy to be sure to have access.


Student learning

Are students learning using these resources?

  • Numerous case studies have found that student outcomes are as good or better with open content vs. traditional materials. One source of empirical studies is The Review Project by the Open Education Group at Brigham Young University, which collects empirical research on the impacts of OER adoption.



Why textbooks (I don’t use textbooks)?

  • We’re focusing on textbooks today because many educators understand and continue to use commercial textbooks, and may find it helpful to learn of alternative open textbooks.
  • Open textbooks are part of the broader universe of open educational resources. Our hope is that the information we share today about open textbooks and open licensing will help and encourage you to explore OER in all of the formats and variations that may be useful to you.



How do I find the time to adopt an open textbook?

  • Affirm that it could take time. Ask how they normally handle adopting a new textbook, and emphasize similarities.



Where can I find an open textbook for my [CLASS NAME] class?

  • The best place to start is  If you need help, ask your librarian for help.


Why would I, or any faculty member, give away content for free?

  • No one is asking you to! You can still use open textbooks without writing one. Most authors of open textbooks were paid! Others are looking for increased exposure for their work and for themselves. Some have also experienced struggles in affording textbooks when they were students and choose to author an OER textbook as a way of helping to address textbook affordability issues in higher education.


Why would I adopt an open textbook?

  • Open textbooks decrease costs for students and increase accessibility to learning. They also allow for continuous improvement because you can edit and improve an open textbook.



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OER Subject Librarian Toolkit Copyright © by Jennifer Beamer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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