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Using Open Education Resources to Enhance Student Engagement

Updated: May 17, 2023

Wake Technical Community College

This article originally published 9/24/2020 and was reposted on 1/19/2023.

Key Statement: Using OER helps students feel more connected to and competent with course material and has the potential to increase equity of information access.

Key Words: OER, Critical Thinking, Student Development, Student Engagement, Equity


On social media, a former student posted a picture of himself on his first day of fall 2020 classes. Instead of sharing an image of an excited student reuniting with friends and trekking through campus, he posted a selfie of himself at his computer staring groggily off into the distance. Due to COVID-19, many students find themselves in the perhaps unfamiliar world of virtual learning, a world that bears the stigma of being lonely and disengaging. Even if they can take seated courses, their minds might be drifting to concerns about their health or financial stability.

With those situations in mind, faculty need to do everything possible to ensure that our courses captivate student interest. One way to make classes more engaging is to incorporate Open Education Resources (OER) into coursework.

photo by: Viktor Forgacs

Why OER?

According to the OER Commons (n.d), “Open Educational Resources (OER) are

teaching and learning materials that you may freely use and reuse at no cost, and

without needing to ask permission” (para. 1). These resources come in the form of articles, textbooks, learning activities, and visual media. They often fall under a Creative Commons license that specifies how the resources may be shared. Since the early 2000s, schools and governments alike have fostered initiatives promoting the adoption of OER to lower textbook expenses for students (Bazeley et al., 2019). On a broader level, faculty and administrators have advocated for OER to democratize education. Although these are wonderful advantages of OER, these resources can also make courses more engaging.

Ways to Use OER for Student Engagement

In my writing classes, it can be challenging to engage students with content they

deem “boring,” such as grammar and citation styles. To counter this disengagement, I asked my students to assume the educator’s role. Their task was to peruse

different OER textbooks for composition classes, evaluate the textbooks, select

appropriate content on writing topics they felt were needed, and teach the content

to their fellow students by writing a how-to guide. To assist, I gave them a list of

recommended OER textbooks and suggested topics pertaining to writing mechanics.

To encourage students to find quality content, I tell them that I will compile their

resources into a help guide for future students.

Once I asked the class to become responsible for finding their readings, I noticed students were decidedly more engaged in ostensibly “boring” content. To gauge the project’s increase in student engagement, I considered interaction on three levels described by Eudice et al. (2016):

  • Interaction with the peers and instructor;

  • Interaction with their “future selves”;

  • Interaction with course content (p. 56).

Asking students to teach chapters on writing mechanics from OER achieved

all three levels of engagement. First, the project enabled student-to-student

interaction through shared lessons and helped me see which writing conventions they found especially challenging based on their topic selection. Secondly, the task helped students interact with their “future selves” (Eodice et al., 2016, p. 56),

encouraging them to become self-directed learners who can overcome future

writing roadblocks through educational resources they can locate themselves.

According to Lane (2016), this opportunity for “informal learning by learners” (p. 43) is one of the great benefits of OER (p. 43). Finally, the project facilitated engagement with course content. Students who did not seem to be doing the readings before were now summarizing chapters on writing mechanics and reporting a better

understanding of course content.

Requiring students to review OER on composition decidedly led to better engagement with their peers, me, and course content. The assignment also has additional benefits for instructors. For one thing, having students find their course content reduces planning time. The process requires some flexibility due to not knowing what students will uncover, but it can lead to less complaining if students end up not liking the material they select. Additionally, asking students to review OER offers faculty who hesitate to forgo physical textbooks an opportunity to dip their toes into the open resource waters. With student reviews of material, faculty can utilize OER with more confidence, knowing that the readings come “pre- approved” by students.

Suggested OER Projects

  • Ask students to create an extra help guide from OER to supplement course

  • content, review for an exam, or assist future students.

  • Ask students to review an OER textbook for the course to reinforce lesson material.

  • Ask students to select lesson material from OER.

  • Ask students to use OER to write an additional chapter for the course’s existing textbook, noting information and concepts the original textbook may have neglected.

  • Ask students to find visuals marked as open resources to represent a course concept.

Tips and Tricks

  • Equip students with some guidelines and context for success. I spent time explaining what OER are and how the licensing works when we discussed how to avoid plagiarism in my classes. I allowed them to select their topics, but still offered a list of possible topics for consideration if they were stuck. Finally, I gave students sites that listed useful OER, such as this collection of OER for composition from San Bernardino Valley College. Guiding students to these collections did not take a lot of work since many libraries and universities already offer OER lists for specific fields.

  • If you are not comfortable with OER, consider offering the assignment as extra credit for a few semesters until you see how students react.

  • Remember that some students might lack the technological resources to access OER. As Lane (2016) reminds us, freedom from paid content is not truly free if students do not have the means to access the material (p. 44). Consider creating an alternative assignment if students cannot utilize online resources.


No doubt, the semester ahead will bring many new challenges, but with that

newness comes the chance to experiment with different assignments and resources

to prevent future iterations of that first-day-zombie-selfie my former student

posted. With massive amounts of OER already in existence, the labor cost for

utilizing these resources is quite small, but the potential for increased engagement

and student success is excellent.

Discussion Questions

1) Describe one hesitation you have with respect to using OERs. What do you find exciting

about the availability of OERs?

2) In addition to the examples given in this article, explain how an OER may be

used to increase student engagement.

3) What OERs are available in your field to help students become more self-

directed learners?


Bazeley, J., Haynes, C., Myers, C. S., & Resnis, E. (2019). Avoiding the “axe”: Advancing affordable and open education resources at a midsize university. Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication, 7(1), 1–19.

Eodice, M., Geller, A., & Lerner, N. (2016). Engagement and the meaningful writing project. In The meaningful writing project: Learning, teaching and writing in higher education (pp. 55 – 80). University Press of Colorado,

Lane, A. (2016). Emancipation through open education: Rhetoric or reality? In P. Blessinger & T. Bliss (Eds.), Open education: International perspectives in higher education (pp. 31 – 50). Open Book.

OER Commons. (n.d.) Open education resources support equity and flexibility. OER Commons.

San Bernardino Valley College. (n.d.). OER -English/composition.

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