"Open Educational Resources are teaching, learning and research materials in any medium – digital or otherwise – that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions." (Definition from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation)
In other words, OER are educational materials that are free to use. They are free in both senses: freely available, and free of charge. OER can provide an excellent alternative to commercial textbooks because of what's known as the 5 Rs:
Note that OER are not just textbooks, although that's a common type of OER. There are course modules, test questions, handouts, videos, study guides, and so forth. Any kind of educational resource can be developed as an OER.
California Senate Bill 1359 mandates that all community colleges "clearly highlight, by means that may include a symbol or logo in a conspicuous place on the online campus course schedule, the courses that exclusively use digital course materials that are free of charge to students and may have a low-cost option for print versions." (See full SB 1359 bill text.)
This mandate is the reason we ask faculty to report each semester what courses they teach that have zero textbook cost (ZTC). These courses are denoted in the course schedule with the ZTC logo, and students can specifically search for ZTC courses. There are many ways a course may have zero textbook cost, such as using OER, not requiring a textbook, or using only materials in the public domain.
California Assembly Bill 798 was established "to reduce costs for college students by encouraging faculty to accelerate the adoption of lower cost, high-quality open educational resources." (See full AB 798 bill text.)
Los Rios Policy 2113 states,
"It is the policy and primary purpose of the Los Rios Community College District to provide viable educational opportunity experiences to the citizens of the community it serves and to enhance instructional pursuits for those who wish to take advantage of the District’s open door policy, regardless of previous educational background." (See full Policy 2113 text.)
If students can't afford to purchase their textbooks, they may struggle in their courses, drop courses, or even not sign up for crucial courses in the first place. Some students are only able to purchase textbooks when financial aid checks have cleared, meaning they are without a textbook for the first several weeks of class. For students to have "viable educational opportunity experiences," it is our duty to make course materials as affordable as possible.
Another crucial advantage of OER is the ability to revise materials to be culturally relevant and feature diverse representations of people. Watch "How OER can Support Student Equity and Diversity" for more on this topic.