The phrase “Open Access” refers to published scholarly research — often shorter form articles or papers, but also longer form open monographs. By contrast, the phrase “Open Educational Resources” tends to be used to refer to open textbooks and other course materials like question banks, handouts, or worksheets.
Due to the divergent uses of these phrases, many people don’t see open access scholarly publications as having much impact on teaching and learning — but this overlooks the disciplines in which published research is frequently used for teaching (in person or online)!
Instructors for introductory courses in the sciences and some social sciences do, broadly speaking, often rely on textbooks as their main course materials. In some disciplines, textbooks remain the focus even into higher levels of instruction. By contrast, instructors in the social sciences and humanities often use selections from scholarly books and articles in introductory courses, and may rely solely on research publications to teach higher-level courses. (Instructors in the humanities and other disciplines may also rely on primary source materials and non-scholarly publications.)
A recently-concluded copyright lawsuit about online course readings focused entirely on book chapters posted online as course readings. The court affirmed that sharing chapters is sometimes permitted without payment as a fair use under copyright law — but making decisions about fair use takes time and energy that many instructors don’t have. Open access monographs such as those produced by the Libraries’ Publishing Services, the University of Minnesota Press, and many others, are free for all instructors to link to and in some cases reproduce, in whole or in part, without additional consideration of copyright issues, and without additional fees for students.
In disciplines where articles are a main focus of instruction, online subscription access via the Libraries is one option for instructional use. But subscription access is costly, and usually limited to enrolled students at a specific campus. In courses that include students across multiple University of Minnesota campuses, or with audiences beyond enrolled students (such as Extension educators, professional and continuing education programs), many participants may not have access to subscription materials. In these cases, open access articles, either directly from the publisher, or as shared by authors on subject or disciplinary repositories, can be key to providing broad student access to course readings.
Open access research can also be useful for K-12 teaching and learning. Teachers can use open access research to keep up to date on research related to their subject areas. Teachers can also use open access materials to help their students understand research practices, and prepare for college. Advanced students may also use open access sources to build deeper understanding through independent research projects.
Open access materials can also expand the possibilities for undergraduate and graduate student writing and other course assignments. See “Crowd-Sourced Textbook” for an example of students using open access resources to create their own open textbook here at the University of Minnesota over this past spring and summer.