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OER (Open Educational Resource)

Guide for faculty who would like to use OER materials

OER vs. Inclusive Access – What’s the Difference?

image of a chart comparing OER and AI

Accessible description of this chart found on the OER vs. Inclusive Access document.


Terms like OER (Open Educational Resource) and Inclusive Access are sometimes used interchangeably, however, they refer to different models and materials.

OERs are free or low-cost educational materials and resources available for perpetual use that are available in a wide range of subjects and can be fully customizable.

Inclusive Access is a for-profit procurement model in which students pay to lease access to commercially created digital materials during a specified academic term that are available the first day of class. The benefit sold by Inclusive Access and Equitable Access programs is that they offer “Day One Access”, which simply refers to materials being available on the first day of the academic term.

“Day One Access” can also apply to OERs. Publishers facilitate Inclusive Access materials for faculty for a fee, while faculty can add OER to their course LMS for free.

Let’s explore some of the differences between OER, Inclusive Access, and how those differences can impact student success.

Ability to save materials and access them offline indefinitely

“Open Educational Resources (OERs) are learning, teaching and research materials in any format and medium that reside in the public domain or are under copyright that have been released under an open license, that permit no-cost access, re-use, re-purpose, adaptation and redistribution by others.” (UNESCO)

Lifelong learning starts with the ability to use the materials needed for success. OER materials are created and openly licensed with the intent to allow learners to download and keep the materials indefinitely, and to be able to use them without the need for internet access.

Digital materials that are paid for in an Inclusive Access program are rarely available after the end of the academic term. While some materials can be saved to a third-party website called BookShelf, not all materials in an Inclusive Access program can be saved to the account without providing additional payment. Texts saved to BookShelf cannot be downloaded to devices, creating a barrier for students who need print materials or who need to share the information in the resource. Students without internet access cannot access BookShelf materials.

Developed with Equity, Justice, and Universal Access in mind

OER materials promote not only open access and open learning, but also cultural connections and knowledge sharing; filling in the gaps of who has access and who can share knowledge. OER content tends to be created within the ethical framework that believes everyone has the right to education and the freedom to access information. Western education is

“a system that nearly exclusively values recognized expert voices—those put through the gauntlet of vetting by other anointed experts—many voices are marginalized, while others are explicitly expunged. This erasure primarily targets people that do not fit in the normative model of cisgender, heterosexual, white, and male.” Adams and Dannick, 2022.

As many universities move towards models that serve historically excluded students, the acceptance of biased traditional texts and materials often goes unnoticed. The bias, however, is still deeply ingrained in the content creation and commercial publication of traditional education materials.

“US history textbook authors and publishers have made politically conservative falsifications of historical narrative in the past decade. […] In 2010, Texas state history standards for curriculum were amended to deliberately introduce severe oversights that amounted to the state-sanctioned negation of histories of Native Americans, slavery and Jim Crow. Thus, we can see that the modification of the accepted historical narrative of the United States may be accepted but only in favor of further whitewashing.” --Adams and Dannick, 2022.

Inclusive Access programs do not address course materials content in any way; it is merely the procurement method of commercially created publisher content that is integrated into the campus LMS. While often used as a selling point with regards to early access as an equity issue, matters of diversity, justice, and universal accessibility for those selected materials are less likely to be considered.

Inclusive Access procurement models follow the theory that access directly equates to success. The false assumption that simply providing access to materials will equate to students having greater success in a course is one of the main selling points for Inclusive Access programs. Studies analyzing the impact of Inclusive Access programs, however, found “no evidence to support statistically significant benefits or detriments to academic achievement from participating in an Inclusive Access automatic billing program. Through the lens of equity, these findings indicate that the disadvantaged populations the program purports to serve are no better or worse off (from an academic outcomes standpoint) by participating in an Inclusive Access automatic billing program.” Spica, 2023.

Customizable by faculty without limitations

One of the many benefits of OERs is the freedom for faculty to adapt materials to meet their instructional needs. Open licensing of OERs allows educators to freely edit, reorder, and remix materials in many ways. The ability to update existing OERs, revise materials to include region-specific information, or update the cultural context to reflect the students in the classroom, are some of the many ways faculty can improve OERs for their courses and increase student engagement and usage.

Some publishers allow limited customization of course materials that are offered as part of the Inclusive Access programs. As that customization is facilitated by the publisher and publisher representatives, customization changes the pricing of the materials in the program and those price increases are passed directly onto the students enrolled in that course. For physical items, customized print editions are often non-refundable and print-on-demand, and are not resalable back to campus “book buyback” programs.

Available free in at least one format

OER materials, by definition and philosophy, are created with the intent to be open and free: free to save, free to edit, free to redistribute, and free of cost in at least one format. While OER materials are free in at least a digital format, OER books also allow downloading and printing to create a physical format. There are some that are available free in print forms.

Inclusive Access is a for-profit business model and will not offer publisher-created materials free of charge.

Available before and after term

Since OER materials are licensed in a way to allow users to download resources, students can keep materials to use after the academic term and reuse them to support future course learning. Materials that can be available offline are a huge benefit to students who face barriers to technology or internet access. Faculty also benefit from materials being available perpetually as they can reuse sources, remix them to best fit their course, and redistribute materials for future courses or for professional development.

Inclusive Access materials are available before the term when the faculty opens the Canvas course for student use. However, the materials embedded in the Canvas course are not available after the course is over. If students set up a BookShelf account, some materials can be transferred to an online bookshelf that is available after the course has ended. Those materials cannot be saved, edited, or redistributed and are not available without internet access.

Why choose OER?

While Inclusive Access (Day One Access) programs relieve the “logistical burdens” of obtaining some course materials, it fundamentally fails to address equity or the financial burden of course materials.

Access to course materials does not equate to the usage of those materials. While Inclusive Access programs can assist students in accessing materials on the first day, studies show that the usage rates are not affected. Implementation of Inclusive Access programs have also been shown to have little to no effect on a campus’ Drop, Fail, Withdrawal rates (DFW).

More studies come out each year regarding faculty and student perceptions of the efficacy of OER materials. For instance, in the Community College Journal of Research and Practice, Erica Spica's multi-institutional study of Day One Auto-billing programs (Inclusive Access) show that students enrolled in OER courses have increased usage of materials and show increased student success, as well as decreased DFW rates (Spica, 2023). Courses that were Inclusive Access showed no measurable increases of usage, success, or any positive effects on DFW rates.

For more information on OER, reach out to your Guided Pathway Librarian or the OER Starter Kit for more resources.

Citations and Resources

Adams, K., Dannick, S. “Repairing the Curriculum: Using OER to Fill Gaps,” Using Open Educational Resources to Promote Social Justice, ed. CJ Ivory and Angela Pashia. Pg. 28-40.

Davis, J., Cartwright, S. “The Effects of Using Open Educational Resources on Minority Achievement in Undergraduate Mathematics.” Open Educational Resources (OER) Pedagogy and Practices, ed. Molly Zhou. Pg. 20-41. IGI Global, 2020.

Elder, A. The OER Start Kit. Iowa State University Digital Press, 2019.

Hurley, T., Hallmark, J. “Inclusive Access and Open Educational Resource Programs: A System Perspective.” Pg 3-13. Inclusive Access and Open Educational Resources E-Text Programs in Higher Education. Springer International Publishing, 2020.

Ramoutar, S. “Open Education Resources: Supporting Diversity and Sharing in Education,” in Association for Educational Communications & Technology. Springer Nature, June 2021.

Senack, E. et. Al. “Access Denied: The New Face of the Textbook Monopoly”. Student PIRGs, 2016.

Spica, E. “Inclusive Access: A Multi-institutional Study of Academic Outcomes from a Statewide Community College Automatic Billing eTextbook Program.” Community College Journal of Research and Practice. Pg. 179-216. Taylor & Francis, 2023.