Open educational resources (OER) are teaching and learning tools, either in the public domain or released with an open license, that anyone can freely use and re-purpose. As universities across the US have embraced OER, academic libraries have become central to the adoption of open educational materials in the classroom.

Commercial textbook costs have risen more than four times the rate of inflation over the past few decades, and these constantly increasing costs have both financial and academic impact on many University of Houston students. A survey conducted by the UH Student Government Association found that over 37% of UH students reported not purchasing a required textbook due to cost.

“Students are a captive market for textbook publishers,” said Ariana Santiago, open educational resources coordinator at UH Libraries. “Faculty assign specific textbooks, and if students can’t afford it because it’s $200, they can’t simply choose another option.”

The average undergraduate budget for textbooks and supplies at public four-year institutions is $1,240 annually. Balancing the need for course materials with other costs associated with college is often tricky. Many students choose not to buy the textbook. Some students opt to rent textbooks, or borrow and share with friends. Some students avoid registering for certain courses or they drop out mid-semester due to the high costs of required textbooks.

These are not ideal scenarios. Students without access to course materials are not set up for success. Open educational resources (OER) provide a solution to the problem of cost-prohibitive textbooks by making high-quality educational materials free and accessible online.

“The impact on student success makes it essential to implement OER,” Santiago said. “With OER, students are prepared from the first day of class, perform better on course assignments, and can stay enrolled in the course.”

OER are free and licensed in a way that the creator gives permission for anyone to modify or access it early and often. OER can be accessed online or in print. Because there are many options for how to implement OER, a large part of Santiago’s focus is on education and promotion of OER. She works with several groups across campus to advance OER implementation, including UH subject librarians.

“Much of what I do includes outreach to faculty,” Santiago said. “With increased awareness of OER and the support available to them, faculty are more likely to try out OER instead of a commercial textbook.”

Because OER can be a very new concept, many of the questions that Santiago fields are related to copyright and open licensing. Faculty often wonder how OER can be free. “Instead of ‘all rights reserved’ copyright, you’re giving permission for people to use your OER in a variety of ways without having to seek additional permission,” Santiago said.

Once a faculty member decides to implement OER in their courses, Santiago provides guidance on how to accomplish that, in collaboration with instructional designers and focusing on the best outcomes for students. Santiago also connects with other campus partners, including the bookstore and registrar, to identify opportunities for the expansion of OER at UH.

Beyond the campus, Santiago said, staying connected to the broader OER community is essential. National organizations like the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) and the Open Textbook Network focus on advocacy and outreach for open education, and provide a network for knowledge sharing in the OER landscape. In addition, Santiago collaborates with regional groups such as the Houston-area OER Consortium, and she is part of the Texas OER coordinating committee.

UH Libraries offers the Alternative Textbook Incentive Program (ATIP) for faculty. Co-sponsored by the UH Office of the Provost, ATIP provides awards to faculty that take steps to implement an open or alternative textbook.

In the 1st year of ATIP, 16 projects were awarded, resulting in student cost savings of over $203,000 for the 2018-19 academic year. In the 2nd year, 23 projects were awarded, with projected student cost savings of over $757,000 for the 2019-20 academic year.

In 2019, UH Libraries has awarded the second cohort winners of ATIP, which includes faculty who are adopting OER as well as adapting library resources in lieu of commercial textbooks. Library resources for the purpose of OER comprise journal articles, book chapters, or any resource to which the library subscribes, and to which students have access at no additional cost.

Open and alternative textbooks saved UH students an estimated $2.3 million in two academic years.

With additional funding, OER could impact even more UH students and increase the amount of student cost savings by:

  • Providing increased award amounts for more projects in the Alternative Textbook Incentive Program (ATIP)
  • Supporting additional resources for outreach and faculty support
  • Funding services, programs and tools that support OER adoption and creation

2019-2020 Faculty OER Incentive Awardees


Emese Felvegi


Layci Harrison
Mark Knoblauch
Josh Yellen
Melody Yunzi Li
Jingyuan Fu
Melissa Markofski
Katherine McElvaney
Kelly Moore
Grete Norquist
Phillip Presswood
Maria Elena Soliño


Eulises Avellaneda
Kristen Hassett
Laura Turchi
Jane Cooper


David Mayerich


Simone Doudna
Nathan Jarvis
Chris Taylor
Kevin Simon
Arlene Ramirez
Agnes DeFranco
Scott Taylor Jr.


Daniel Hauptvogel
Jinny Sisson
Nouhad Rizk
Jiajia Sun
Anna Vershynina

Social Work:

Nicole Bromfield


Mary E. Henderson

“The students were relieved to know that there was no required textbook to buy at the beginning of the semester. As an instructor, I appreciated that there were no excuses regarding the ability to begin using the textbook for the very first assignment. In previous semesters, there were always students who for one reason or another did not have a copy of the textbook at the start of the semester. With the alternative textbook being available to all students enrolled in the class, they could hit the ground running, completing a quiz and discussion posting during the first week of class.”

Tomika W. Greer, Ph.D. Assistant Professor,Undergraduate HRD Internship Coordinator, Human Resource Development Program

“Teaching with an alternative textbook enhanced the dynamics of class discussions and assignments – the students seemed more prepared, and I think that open/free access resulted in more people actually reading the texts. In the past I have wondered if students skipped purchasing texts in favor of online summaries, because many past student interactions centered around a handful of points, which might suggest they didn’t go through the primary texts. This semester I noticed that there was a wider and more nuanced range of responses to the materials.”

Abinadi Meza Director of Interdisciplinary Initiatives, Associate Professor, School of Art, Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts