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Zero-Cost Textbook Adoption: Locating Open Resources

This guide offers information and best practices related to the adoption of zero-cost course materials.

Many Types of OER

 Close-up image of watercolor paints with a list of different types of Open Educational Resources (OER) overlapping it. The OER listed are: Images, videos, audio recordings, full courses, textbooks, instructor materials, simulations, and game-based learning platforms.

This guide focuses on open textbook adoption, but it is important to understand the breadth of OER available that can be used to complement or replace a complete book.

Some common types of resources you might use are:

Open textbooks

These are complete texts that have the potential to be a one-to-one replacement for a traditional textbook. You can always supplement open textbooks with other open resources, though. OpenStax textbooks are one example.

Open courses
These can include lectures, syllabi, readings, activities, and assignments, or some combination of them. Sometimes the readings are from open textbooks, but sometimes they are not. MIT OpenCourseware is one example.

Open lessons/modules/labs/etc.

These are discrete, modular portions of a course that you can plug in to your own course as you see fit. OERCommons lets you filter and find this course content.

Open media
There are openly licensed music, videos, and images available for use in your course, or in creating your own open content to share with the world. Others may be under a Creative Commons license and can be shared freely, but may have restrictions on adapting them, for example. 

Where to Look

You can find content with an open license or in the public domain in many different places. Open resources to consider for your course are largely grouped by format. Open textbooks have a library, open images live in image databases, open videos are on video sites, and so on. 

Here are recommended places to search for OER:


The Open Textbook Library is a collection of openly licensed full textbooks. If you want to completely replace your existing textbook, this is the place to start.

Also try: OpenStax, BCCampus Open Textbooks, OpenSUNY


Multiple Formats

OER Commons is a repository for open content in many different formats - whole courses, textbooks, videos, handouts, modules, and more.

Also try: Mason OER MetafinderOASIS, MERLOT, LibreTexts



Images and Videos

Flickr and Google Images both employ the ability to filter results by creative commons license. In Flickr, use the drop-down menu labeled “Any license.” In Google, use the drop-down menu labeled “Usage rights” under “Search tools.”

To get openly licensed videos, visit YouTube and use the "Advanced Search" "CC license" option.

Searching Tips

Graphic image of an arrow pointing right with three blocks overlapping it. Each block contains a word. From left to right, the words are: Identify, compile, evaluate.

Identify keywords related to your course and its learning objectives.
Start with broad search terms.
Compile resources from OER repositories and aggregators.  Record the location of resources as you find them.
Keep an open mind. Useful resources may come from unexpected sources.
Evaluate what you have (more on that in the next module) and refine your search if needed.


Locating Ancillary Materials

Like commercial textbooks, some open textbooks have ancillary materials.  These may come from directly the book's author and/or publisher, or be developed by other another entity.

screenshot of OER Commons' OpenStax Hub.

OpenStax Resources on OER Commons.

OPENSTAX HUBOpenStax teamed up with OER Commons to create this venue for instructors to share ancillary materials that they have created to pair with OpenStax textbooks.  In addition to the OER Commons’ OpenStax hub, instructors can also access ancillary content for OpenStax texts through the Instructor Resources tab on any OpenStax textbook. To use the instructor resources provided by OpenStax, you will need to verify your identity to ensure that students cannot get easy access to homework or review answers.

PHET INTERACTIVE SIMULATIONS (PHETSIMS): PhET provides free, interactive, research-based science and mathematics simulations. These simulations cover topics taught in K-12 and higher education contexts, with primary coverage for Physics, Biology, Mathematics, Chemistry, and Earth Science.

MYOPENMATH: “A free, open source, online course management system for mathematics and other quantitative fields,” is an exceptional example of a tool for sharing open ancillary materials.  The site does require a login to ensure that only instructors can access the answers to exercises, but otherwise, its content is open and free to access.

LIBRETEXTS: This site contains resources for thirteen subject areas and its content has been adopted for more than 150 courses. Each subject area in LibreTexts contains a mix of content such as texts, homework exercises, interactive applications, visualizations and simulations, laboratory experiments, and worksheets. Although the resource still leans toward the physical sciences, it also carries materials for mathematics and statistics.



Commercial Ancillary Materials

Here are some examples of commercial products to complement OER resources.




Interested in a Deeper Dive?

For a deeper dive:

  • Consult the suggested readings below.
  • Contact the PALSave Team or your librarian to get help with your search.

Suggested Readings

Creative Commons. (n.d.)  Education / OER Resources.

Elder, A. (2017).  How to Find and Evaluate OER [Video].

Gong, R. (2019). OER by Discipline.

West, Quill. (n.d.). Searching for Open Materials