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FAQs

Open Educational Resources

Where can I find an open textbook for my class?

We recommend you browse the Open Textbook Library or OpenStax to start. If you’d like to meet for a consultation to get 1:1 assistance, contact air@northwestern.edu.  

Is the quality the same as other textbooks?

The primary value proposition of open textbooks is that all students will be able to view, download, and retain copies of the textbooks on the first day of class for free. Just like any other textbooks, we leave quality judgments to the faculty with expertise in the subject area. There are a growing number of studies that show that students have the same or better learning outcomes when using open textbooks, and we like to point faculty to sources of peer-reviewed textbooks found in places like the Open Textbook Library and OpenStax, which are two of the most well known and highly regarded OER platforms.

If you’ve found an open textbook that you want to use, but it isn’t quite up to snuff, the open license allows you to edit to to fit the needs of your course.

Can students order a print copy?

Yes, there are on-demand online print services available, or students could print out only the parts they want at home. We can work with you to determine the best printing option.

Who writes open textbooks? How do they get paid?  

Open textbooks are free for faculty and students to use, but they’re not free to produce. Typically, authors are faculty or other subject experts who are paid through grant support via:

 

Why would a textbook author want to give away content for free?

Many authors have been paid for their work, but giving away the content with an open license has many benefits:

  • Authoring a textbook is a form of scholarship. Sharing open content is a contribution to an academic discipline that has the potential to be widely read and shared.
  • Sharing open content promotes good scholarship and the building of expertise.
  • The open education movement is part of a larger social justice issue in which education and knowledge is made available to everyone. This has the potential to make the greatest impact on historically marginalized groups, or those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford a college degree.

Do open textbooks have supporting/ancillary materials?

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

How often are open textbooks updated?

It depends on the book. OER search engines (such as the Open Textbook Library) work to provide the most recent edition of its textbooks. One of the benefits of OER is that you have the power to update and adapt textbooks yourself. 

How can I edit OER?

The vast majority of open textbooks have a Creative Commons license that allows for editing, adapting and making derivatives in any file format. The Libraries offer editing and formatting support. If you need assistance, contact Digital Publishing Librarian Chris Diaz at chris-diaz@northwestern.edu.

Are there accessible versions for students with disabilities?

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, and is usually available in different formats.

I am thinking of writing an open textbook. What are my rights? Could I sell my book to a publisher later?

If you write a textbook, you hold the copyright and have the power to share, edit, and sell your book as you wish. If you choose to make your textbook open, you would designate a Creative Commons license, which would give others the right to copy, share, and modify your work. Creative Commons licenses work in parallel with copyright, so you would retain copyright even when assigning a Creative Commons license. We are happy to meet with you to discuss copyright, publishing, and licensing in more detail.

Questions are organized by theme and updated regularly. Some have been adapted from the Open Textbook Network and BCcampus resources. Don’t see your question on this list? Email us at air@northwestern.edu.