Getting started guides and tutorials
Search for OER
Resources to find OER
Mason OER Metafinder
The Mason OER Metafinder is a tool to help you find Open Educational Resources.
Unlike other stand-alone OER repositories (e.g. OER Commons, OASIS, MERLOT, OpenStax, etc.), the George Mason OER Metafinder performs a simultaneous search across 21 different sources of open educational materials. Because it is a real-time, federated search, it can take a bit longer than searches of pre-indexed, curated content. However, as compensation, the results returned are absolutely up-to-the-minute for each search target. Additional results will continue to trickle in as the search continues running and you begin examining your results.
The process of evaluating the quality of OER is similar to the process for evaluating the value of any material you choose to use within your courses.
- Does this OER cover the content you’d like your students to learn in this course?
- Is the level of the content appropriate?
- Is it too high-level, low-level, or technical?
- How can you use the content?
- Once you determine how you can use the OER, what would you like to do with it?
- Does only a portion of it apply to your class?
- Would you possibly want to combine this OER with another OER or resource?
- Does the library have access to articles that could act as supplemental readings?
How are you using OERs?
The term adaptation is commonly used to describe the process of making changes to an existing work, though we can also replace adapt with revise, modify, alter, customize, or another synonym that describes the act of making a change.
Reasons for adapting or modifying an OER or open textbook can include:
- Update examples or content, correct inaccuracies
- Adjust the level of the material (too low/too high)
- Develop Canadian specific content
- Add multimedia content
- Add case studies or other course specific activities
- Make the material more accessible for people with disabilities
- Add material contributed by students or material suggested by students
- Translate the material into another language
- Correct errors or inaccuracies
- Use only a portion of the book for a course
Degree of difficulty
How easy or difficult this will be depends on a number of factors, including:
- How much content do you wish to change?
- Do you want to remove chapters, or rewrite entire chapters of content?
- What technical format is the original textbook in?
- A Word document is much easier to modify than a PDF document.
- What type of licence is the content released under?
- Does it have a Creative Commons licence that allows for modification or adaptation of the content?
- How comfortable are you with using technology and creating content?
- Whatever tools you choose to work with, remember that students prefer format flexibility with their textbook.
- For the BC open textbook project, each book modified or created will be made available in PDF, ePub and HTML (website) formats.
- If you use a tool that does not output those formats by default, you will need to find additional conversion tools to convert your final textbook to those formats.
- If you wish to edit or create graphics, images, charts, and/or multimedia content, you will need to use additional, specialized tools to create those beyond the tools listed here.
- The tools listed here are primarily designed to modify text or (in the case of LaTeX) scientific or mathematical formulas.
- Keep it simple is a good rule of thumb, especially if you are approaching a remix project for the first time.
- While it may be tempting to make a number of major changes to a textbook before releasing it to your students, think of the textbook as a living resource that you can improve incrementally over time.
First, check the licence to make sure you have the permission to modify the contents. As long as the Creative Commons licence does not have a “No Derivatives” clause, you are able to change the contents of the book. See Creative Commons for more information on licences.
If you are unsure as to the licence, please contact our copyright experts in the library for assistance.
If you wish to adapt an open textbook, you need to be able to have the textbook in a technical format that you can work with. This usually means the original source files used to create the textbook.
Common source formats for open textbooks that you should look for are:
- HTML files (webpages)
- Word or OpenOffice documents
- text files
- LaTex files (if the original book includes math or science formulas and equations)
What tools you will use to create your version of the textbook will depend greatly on what format you find the original textbook in and what you feel comfortable working with.
Avoid PDF documents
It is common that open textbooks may only be available as a PDF document. PDF documents are not editable. If you want to modify an open textbook that is only available in PDF format, you will need to convert the PDF document to one of the formats above.
Before you consider converting a PDF version of the textbook, you should contact the original author and asking for a copy of the textbook source files. Converting a PDF document to an editable format is a difficult, time-consuming and imprecise process.
Once you have a format that you can edit, you can begin to modify the textbook. What tools you will use to do this will depend greatly on what editable format you are working with, and your comfort level with working with that format.
Once you have finished creating your own version of the textbook, you should decide on which Creative Commons (CC) licence you will use to license your book. This will depend a great deal on how the original textbook was licensed.
CC licensing at this stage can be a complicated process. For assistance, feel free to contact the copyright experts in the library to learn how the various CC licences work together.
Students like flexibility when it comes to their textbooks. Some may prefer printed versions of the textbook, while others will prefer using a website. Still, others will like to use an e-reader or e-reading software.
To make your book as accessible as possible, consider making your textbook available in multiple formats so students have the ability to choose the format that works for them. At a minimum, the open textbook project will make textbooks available as a website (HTML), ePub document for e-readers, and PDF document which students can print or choose to have printed via a print on demand service.
Once you have edited your version of the textbook, you will need a place to put your textbook where your students can access it.
Please contact Alissa Bigelow to discuss hosting options.
You may choose to create your own OER if you cannot find one to adapt, or you may already have content created but would now like to share it.
Keep in mind creating an OER from scratch is a lot of work that can take several hours to complete. Make sure you have consulted with the Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL) to see if there is an OER you can adapt to use with your students.
If you are sure an OER already exists that you can adapt, here are some steps to get you started creating your own OER:
- Contact the CTL
- Have a conversation with the instructional design team and discuss options before starting from scratch.
- Discuss your ideas with your co-ordinator or associate dean
- Ask if there are any resources available to assist with development
(e.g. course release).
- Ask if there are any resources available to assist with development
- Contact the copyright experts in the library
- Get advice on licensing, fair dealing and other concerns involved in creating and publishing content.
- Consult development frameworks
- Choose your platform
- Gather and create materials
- Cherry picking is highly encouraged. Feel free to grab parts of individual chapters and then add some content of your own. Please make sure you are working within copyright and licensing terms. Consult with the copyright experts in the library if you have any questions.
- Pilot with a small number of students. Learn more about evaluating OERs.
- Conduct user and accessibility testing
- Please see our OER accessibility section for a list of tips to create various types of accessible content, best practices and accessibility checklists.
- Test on multiple devices and platforms
- Test on smartphones, tablets, laptops, Mac- and Windows-based computers, etc.
- Edit and modify
- Develop maintenance schedule
OER creation toolkits and guides
Accessibility and OER
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA) is an Ontario law mandating that organizations must follow standards to become more accessible to people with disabilities. The goal for the province is to be fully accessible by 2025. All levels of government, private sectors, and non-profits must comply with this legislation. Under AODA, it is your responsibility, as a user, creator or publisher of educational content, to ensure that your material meets the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 accessibility criteria.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
- WCAG guidelines were created to help define how to make web content more accessible with the goal of providing a single shared standard.
- WCAG 2.0 are the most widely-accepted set of recommendations and the Revised 508 Standards are based on WCAG 2.0.
- When WCAG guidelines are followed, they improve usability for everyone.
- WCAG 1.0 focused heavily on the techniques for accomplishing accessibility, especially as related to HTML.
- Subsequent versions of WCAG focused more heavily on the principles of accessibility, making them more flexible, and encourages developers to think through the process of accessibility conceptually.
- WCAG 2.0 is based on four main guiding principles of accessibility known by the acronym POUR: perceivable, operable, understandable and robust.
POUR guiding principles of accessibility
There are four main guiding principles of accessibility upon which WCAG has been built. These four principles are known by the acronym POUR for perceivable, operable, understandable and robust. POUR is a way of approaching web accessibility by breaking it down into these four main aspects. Many of the technology challenges faced by disabled people or people with disabilities can be described using one of the POUR principles. Read to learn more about POUR.
Perceivable means the user can identify content and interface elements by means of the senses. For many users, this means perceiving a system primarily visually, while for others, perceivability may be a matter of sound or touch.
Perceivable problem examples
- A website’s navigation consists of a number of links that are displayed in a different order from page to page. If a user has to relearn basic navigation for each page, how can they effectively move through the website?
- A Word document contains a number of non-English words and phrases. If the languages are not indicated, how can assistive technology present the text correctly?
- Provide text alternatives for any non-text content so that it can be changed into other forms people need, such as large print, braille, speech, symbols or simpler language.
- Provide alternatives for time-based media.
- Create content that can be presented in different ways (e.g. simpler layout) without losing information or structure.
- Make it easier for users to see and hear content including separating foreground from background.
Operable means that a user can successfully use controls, buttons, navigation and other interactive elements. For many users, this means using assistive technology like voice recognition, keyboards, screen readers, etc.
Operable problem examples
- Mouse-dependent web content will be inaccessible to a person cannot use a standard mouse.
- People with low or no vision also relay on the functionality of the keyboard. They may be able to manipulate a mouse just fine, but it doesn’t do them much good because they can’t see where to click on the screen. The keyboard is much easier for a person who is blind to manipulate.
- Make all functionality available from a keyboard.
- Keyboard accessibility is one of the most important principles of web accessibility because it cuts across disability types and technologies.
- Provide users enough time to read and use content.
- Do not design content in a way that is known to cause seizures.
- Provide ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are.
Users should be able to comprehend the content, and learn and remember how to use your OER site. Your OER should be consistent in its presentation and format, predictable in its design and usage patterns, and appropriate to the audience in its voice and tone.
Understandable problem examples
- A website’s navigation consists of a number of links that are displayed in a different order from page to page. If a user has to relearn basic navigation for each page, how can they effectively move through your OER?
- A site makes use of numerous abbreviations, acronyms and jargon. If these are never defined, how can users with disabilities and others understand the content?
- Make text content readable and understandable.
- Make web pages appear and operate in predictable ways.
- Help users avoid and correct mistakes.
Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of users, allowing them to choose the technology they use to interact with websites, online documents, multimedia, and other information formats. Users should be allowed to choose their own technologies to access OER content.
Robust problem examples
- A website requires a specific version of a web browser to make use of its features. If a user doesn’t or can’t use that browser, how can that user experience the features of the site?
- A document format is inaccessible to a screen reader on a particular operating system. If a user employs that operating system for day-to-day tasks, how can they gain access to the document?
- Maximize compatibility with current and future user agents, including assistive technologies.
Accessibility best practices
Review best practices for accessibility for titles, text or typographical layout, headings, lists, meaningful link text, alt tags, videos, audio, tables, colour and colour contrast, and design dos and don’ts.
These accessibility toolkits are excellent resources and provides tips on accessibility throughout the authoring process outlining best practices of how to incorporate multimedia materials, resource template considerations and test a sample chapter for keyboard accessibility, any instructional content and reading navigation order. They also address principles of Universal Design and provide tips that outline best practices.
Some of the accessibility guides and content was created by Accessibility Librarian Amy Wolfe for CUNY and are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.