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Are OER really free?

Yes! One aim of OER is to help students achieve their educational goals without the additional expense of textbook costs (which amount to $2 billion nationally). While all digital OER are free, some OER are also available in print at low cost.


OER are often released under intellectual property licenses (such as, Creative Commons). Some of these licenses allow faculty to freely reuse, remix, revise, and/or redistribute educational materials. There are other free educational resources in the public domain, but they are not considered OER since they require permission from the copyright holder in order to be redistributed or modified.


To learn more about the different types of Creative Commons licenses:


CC-BY licenses are the most flexible because they allow for the remixing, modification, and distribution of the work, as long as the original author is credited. For more on CC-BY: http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/4818


This graphic depicts the different licenses in terms of whether they are more open or restricted.



Are OER available for all disciplines?

OER are a fairly recent and ongoing endeavor. There are many OER options for some disciplines, and few for others. If you cannot find an OER for your courses now, check again in a few months or create your own! OER rely on volunteers who are knowledgeable in their field and willing to freely share their own teaching/learning material.

What about the quality of OER? Are they vetted?

Like traditional textbooks, OER vary in terms of quality. Similar to the process of selecting a textbook, faculty should use discretion and carefully review the material before assigning it to their students. Many OER include ratings and written peer reviews. Other OER require additional vetting by faculty. In terms of currency, OER are often more up-to-date than textbooks, since online material can be frequently updated. For more information on the efficacy and impact of OERs, see: http://openedgroup.org/review

How do I include OER on the Course Outline of Record (COR)?

The best course of action is for faculty to include a representative textbook commonly accepted as a required text on the COR. Faculty use the traditionally accepted textbook as guide when choosing OERs that best align with the representative text on the COR. Per, The COR: A Curriculum Reference Guide Revisited, pg. 34, “OER materials should be vetted by faculty in the discipline prior to adoption as required materials.”


How to reference an OER:


If you use an OER textbook resource as a bibliographic reference, at a minimum the textbook reference should include the list below (1-6). 


CSU & UC need the publication date and revision date if appropriate. 

Additional information that can be added if available includes, “Copyright holder.” This information can be added at the end of the reference. 


1. Author: e.g., OpenStax 

2. Name : e.g., Biology 

3. Publisher: e.g., OpenStax CNX 

4. Publication Date 

5. Link/course ID 

6. Licensed by/under 


For example: 

OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Oct 21, 2016 http://cnx.org/contents/185cbf87-c72e-48f5-b51e-f14f21b5eabd@10.61. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0.

Do OER affect course transferability or articulation?
Short answer: NO! 

The Grossmont AFT contract protects faculty’s academic freedom, including the freedom to choose which materials to assign in their courses. Title 5 (as it relates to curriculum) is broad and does not specify that faculty must use print textbooks published by for-profit publishers.


CSU & UC GE Transferability (Policy Updated Nov. 2016): Proposed courses should include at least one textbook. Reviewers use the representative text as a way to confirm their understanding of course content. It’s understood that the instructor in a given section may choose a different text, but the proposed one is still given close attention. It’s expected that the structure of the text will be consistent with the course outline. Including additional reading is a good way to demonstrate that multiple points of view will be evaluated, as a means of developing critical thinking. Texts don’t need to be published in hard copy. The UC and CSU welcome the use of online texts and other Open Educational Resources, so long as the resource is a stable, bona fide publicly available as a published textbook, and not just a collection of links to lecture notes or other web pages. 


Notes Regarding Course-to-Course Articulation: CSU and UC campus departments consider the content of textbooks when reviewing course-to-course articulation proposals and course outlines of record (COR) from the California Community Colleges (CCC). 

The use of online texts is reviewed by UC campuses on a case-by-case basis for articulation with the CCCs. Texts, both online and traditional, must be dated within seven years for most course submissions.

Are OER accessible?
While some OER resources are ADA accessible, others are not. It is the responsibility of each faculty member to ensure that their materials are accessible. The best approach is to incorporate universal design into the development of a course from its inception, rather than build the course and then make it accessible. Fortunately, some OER are modifiable (if, for example, they have a CC-BY license) so they can be changed to comply with ADA regulations.
Are supplementary OER materials available?
OER include a wide range of resources: entire online courses, modules, online textbooks, articles, videos, assessments (e.g. quizzes, tests), lesson plans, audio files, etc. While some OER include supplementary materials (e.g. test banks), others do not. If supplementary materials are important to you, then you may need to search more to find an adequate OER or you could contribute your own supplementary materials.
What is the difference between OER and ZTC?

OER, open educational resources, are defined as teaching and learning materials that are either in the public domain, or created and distributed under an open license which allows them to be revised, remixed, retained, redistributed, or reused. OER are free for students in digital form, and in many cases can be printed for a fraction of what commercial resources cost to buy. 


ZTC stands for "zero textbook cost" and is applied to courses in which faculty either use OER, or other freely available resources in place of traditional textbooks or other expensive learning materials. California SB 1359 established the following parameters for what constitutes a ZTC course:

  • All assigned textbooks are optional for the section.
  • All assigned textbooks are identified as Open Educational Resource (OER) textbooks.
  • Assigned textbooks (including course readers) are available online for free (i.e. through library databases), AND students are not required to buy a physical copy.

Other considerations for ZTC courses include:

  • Lab materials or required supplies are not considered a textbook cost. If a course section meets the parameters noted above, but requires a fee for materials then the section would still qualify as ZTC per State guidelines. (Note: a lab manual is considered a textbook and must be available to students at no cost to permit ZTC designation for the class.)
  • If students need to pay fees to access a software platform to do coursework or homework, this counts as a cost, and the course section would not qualify as ZTC. 
How do I get my course marked as ZTC in the class schedule?

The first semester that a faculty member is teaching their course as ZTC they need to complete the ZTC verification form.


Once the class has been verified as ZTC, the OER/ZTC task force will convey the information to Instructional Operations. 


Faculty should only have to do this one time for each course, as the line sheets roll over from semester to semester. However, errors do occur. If you need to check on your ZTC status, or if you see an error in the class schedule after you have submitted your verification form, please contact either Nadra Farina-Hess or Lara Braff.


 Does Grossmont College collect statistics for ZTC courses?

Yes, the Grossmont College OER/ZTC task force has recently begun collecting a nukber of statistics related to the ZTC courses offered on Campus. Below are some results from the Fall 2019 semester:


table showing student success rates in ZTC vs. general population


table showing success rates of ZTC students vs. general population


To learn more, contact a member of the OER/ZTC task force found under the Contact Us page on this website.