Free resources without an expiration date

Getting educators and students the course materials they need during COVID-19

Cailyn Nagle

To protect public health, institutions of higher eucation across the country are currently in the midst of the hard and important work of moving instruction online. Converting an in-person course to online is a challenge in the best of circumstances, but on a short timeline, faculty across the country are setting out into new territory.

At the same time that PIRG is connecting students and campus community members with necessary basic needs resources, we are also reaching out to faculty to support educators who are working hard to make sure their materials and classes translate online. Yet not all materials are created equal when it comes to level of access. 

Publishers and education tech companies offering temporary free access codes, but using content with restrictive copyrights, has downsides. We want to make sure educators know about the high-quality resources that are permanently free to students, and ensure faculty independence and student data privacy. These are some openly licensed resources that are free for students and can offer educators a greater degree of flexibility to suit their current teaching style and situation.

  1. Iowa State University’s OER Starter Kit provides information on switching from traditionally licensed materials to open materials as well as finding and using them in the classroom.

  2. The University of Minnesota Open Textbook Library is a user-friendly repository for open textbooks. The website allows a search by subject as well as reviews from professors currently using the books in their classrooms. 

  3. OpenStax has high quality textbooks available for free access online and gives students the option to purchase low price print copies, and in their blog, has developed lists of curated supplemental content written by faculty members to accompany their books. Additionally, in the “instructor resources” section of each textbook’s page, you can find “cartridges,” or ready-to-use frameworks for your institution’s learning managment system for class assignments. With some support from your institution’s IT department, this can replace an access code.

  4. Open-source sites like MyOpenMath and WeBWork can provide much of the supplemental content that an access code would provide, but for free, including file posting, discussion forums, and a full gradebook and management system.

  1. The Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources (CCCOER) put together a training webinar, “User-friendly OER Course Design for Remote & Face-to-Face,” on the best practices for course design and customization to create engaging, accessible, and inclusive courses.
  2. The open community has also crowdsourced an expanded list of resources and tip guides, also hosted by CCCOER. You may find resources tailored to your state there.

Beyond openly licensed materials, there are other free-to-student resources to consider. Faculty can ask librarians what free articles, movies, and other content are available based on their existing subscriptions. Educators can also provide materials such as chapters from books to students under fair use guidelines. Stony Brook University has a good guide to fair use for educational purposes on copyrighted materials here

It’s not easy, but we’re thankful for the work educators and their colleagues are doing to serve students in this difficult time. We’ll get through it, together!


Cailyn Nagle