What does Open Educational Resources (OER) mean to you? Hear from two Ball State team members about how OER has helped them embrace a more accessible, affordable and equitable pathway for students.  

Consider one of your courses. What resources are you using to enhance the learning experience for students? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the textbook(s) you use in your course? What perspectives are reflected in those publications? What perspectives are missing?

As supporters of Ball State University faculty, we recently sat down to talk about the benefits of using Open Educational Resources and other low- and no-cost resources in the classroom. Together, we are big cheerleaders for TABS, or Textbook Affordability Initiative at Ball State. We see this initiative as an opportunity to better infuse information literacy concepts among students as we invite them to look at a good spectrum of viewpoints. A focus on information literacy means empowering students to not only see when information is needed, but be able to locate that information, evaluate it, and use it in meaningful ways. This is a good transdisciplinary skillset, and something you can teach, no matter the discipline, with the help of OER and other low- and no-cost resources. Take a peek into our conversation about OER and low- and no-cost resources below.


An image of Sarah Ackerman

Sarah Ackermann serves as executive director for teaching innovation, a part of the division of online and strategic learning. She helps lead faculty development programs and efforts in teaching and learning with a highly effective and productive team of instructional consultants and faculty development experts. 

An image of Laura Suman

Laura Suman serves as Head of Access Services for Ball State University Libraries. She leads a team of Bracken Library staff in several core library services that benefit members of the Ball State community and beyond, including Interlibrary Loan, circulation, and course reserves/Reading Lists. Laura and her team ensure folks have a comfortable place to study and the materials they need to succeed. 


Our Conversation About OER

What does OER mean to you?

Laura: OER means different things for me depending on whether we’re talking about faculty or students. If we’re talking about impact on students’ learning and lives in general, it means freedom from costly textbooks. If we’re talking about the impact on faculty, it means having ultimate flexibility in adopting and adapting course materials that are going to work well for a particular class. Faculty that dip a toe in OER might be taking a more progressive approach to teaching and learning, and that is really exciting to me. 

Sarah: The first thing that comes to my mind when I think about OER is firstday access of course content. With OER, you never risk a delay in ordering textbooks. With OER, students can start learning with their faculty and peers, no matter the modality, right away. The other thing that comes to mind when I think about OER is related to diverse perspectives and interpretations. When I’m teaching it’s really important to me that I expose students to resources that reflect a variety of ideas and approaches, and I can do that more easily with OER as opposed to textbooks in the classes that I teach. 

How did you learn about/get started with OER?

Laura: I studied library science and graduated in 2010 from Indiana University–Bloomington. At that time, none of my classes were talking about OER. Open access was a concept that scholars were leaning into as an alternative to traditional publishing, especially for research articles. But OER really just came up on my radar around 2018 when Ball State University Libraries began to invest in learning more about it and educating faculty on the benefits. We offer a variety of workshops and faculty services, such as consultations on OER.  

Sarah: I think back to my first teaching job. I was teaching high school photography in the early 2000s. My predecessor had been using a textbook called the Photographic Eye, and I had a class set. I used the textbook for my first year and realized along the way that I was supplementing constantly. There were a lot of photographers and styles not featured in the book, and I wanted a well-represented curriculum with diverse artists and processes to teach my students. I shifted to Open Educational Resources and low- to no-cost resources to address these concerns. 

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How does OER positively impact students?

Sarah: When it comes to our students, they may not know, or even care a whole lot about what OER means to us as instructors. But what they do care about is cost, and transferrable skills to the real world. I believe that OER helps students foster reflective and critical mindset. If we are exposing students to a variety of content and perspectives, we also need to critique those different pieces of content. 

Laura: Like any adult in the real world, our students have to be able to decipher what resources are out there, and if they will serve their purposes. They need to look at content critically and make decisions. If we don’t give them practice flexing that muscle, they might not be prepared to do those things after graduation. The reality is that this is not a text-based world anymore, and a lot of useful information is up on the web for us to find. Having the skills to find the information that we need, and also interpret it, is a lifelong learning skillset. What better way to prepare our students than by modeling this exercise ourselves when curating OER content and low- and no-cost resources for our courses at Ball State? 

Sarah: So I’m hearing two themes emerging from this conversation about what OER means to us, Laura. We’ve been talking about how OER can help us provide access to content to students on day one and onward. I’m also hearing that assigning OER and low- and no-cost resources can actually help strengthen students’ digital literacy to assess resources. 

How might faculty dip a toe in the OER pool?

Laura: My first step for someone just getting started in OER would be to share this research guide. This resource has been created and maintained by Ball State University Libraries and contains a curated list of OER repositories that already exist. So, depending on the subject area, you may find OERs that are already out there for you. From there, if you’re interested in something entirely new, or you aren’t finding what you’re looking for, then we can dive more deeply with you during a consultation. Donald Williams, Copyright and Scholarly Communications Manager at University Libraries, and I are happy to advise on next steps, alternative paths, and more. 

Sarah: I’ll put my faculty hat on, because I’m currently in the process of working on a course that will run in the fall. Committed to using your curated list of OER repositories and low- and no-cost resources, I’ve started up an annotated bibliography of resources organized by subtopics. Along the way, I know to lean on my friends in the University Libraries because they are the experts in copyright statements, Creative Commons Licenses, and more, and can help me ensure that I am making ethical decisions in my content usage. I’m slowly working away at the list, but I’m really excited about the end result – that being a more cost-effective and meaningful learning experience for my students. 

What Will Your OER Experience Be?

As you consider our conversation about OER and what it means to us, consider the possibilities for you and your students. How might Open Educational Resources increase satisfaction and well-being for students in your courses? 

And don’t forget – we are here to help! You can schedule a consultation with Laura Suman or Donald Williams today. Online and Strategic Learning is also available to help advise on how you can bring your OER course content to life. Email us today – strategiclrn@bsu.edu/ 

  • Sarah Ackermann

    Dr. Sarah Ackermann’s background is in educational technology, instructional design, teacher leadership, and art education. She has experience teaching and leading in online, face-to-face, and hybrid formats. Her most recent research is in the area of teacher response and professional development during the COVID pandemic. Additionally, she has written and illustrated a children’s book which encourages young learners to identify their personal strengths.

  • Laura Suman

    I am the Head of Access Services at Ball State University Libraries, where I focus on providing the best possible service to our community.