Measuring the hidden costs of OER

Open educational resources hold the promise of providing districts with ‘free’ curriculum, but in reality, they can cost districts in four different ways

1. Finding and evaluating resources

Who will search, vet, modify, align, and maintain your district’s OER? You need a plan for how your staff will find OER to meet the needs of all students, how the resources will be updated, and to ensure that links students must access to complete lessons are working at all times. You’ll also need to develop district-based criteria to evaluate OER. Essential considerations here are:

  • Student safety: Does the OER site allow for inappropriate content or does it protect students from such content? Are there any links that take students to sites that are inappropriate?
  • Diverse learners: Does the OER have strategies to support diverse learners?
  • Differentiation and personalization: Are there materials that support personalized learning? Do the materials offer a systematic progression?
  • Standards alignment/gap analysis: Does the OER offer comprehensive alignment to frameworks? What framework will guide the OER curation? Who will create materials for any gaps?
  • Measuring progress: How can teachers measure their students’ progress toward mastery with the OER?

Answering these questions will help districts develop a comprehensive plan and rubric to assess their needs.

2. Organization and maintenance

Once the OER has been through the vetting process, you’ll need to enable teachers to organize and search on their own. Will the OER be hosted on an existing platform? What keyword tagging will make the material findable for teachers: topic, grade level, standard? You’ll need an ongoing maintenance program to evaluate OER performance, modifications, and updates. Regular audits will help districts weed out underperforming OER.

3. Professional development

As with any districtwide implementation, professional development is vital. Making time for and paying for professional development is already a challenge for many schools and districts, so this extra teacher training is a significant hidden cost. Teachers will need training on how to access OER, understand any copyright restrictions, and modify and use it. If teachers will be curating new OER, they will need to be trained on the district criteria. Additionally, you’ll need a plan for teacher feedback and evaluation of the OER.

4. Operational costs

If the OER is digital, you’ll need to consider the cost for any required printing, binding, and copying of materials. Not all students have online access and may need a printed version of the material. How, when, and where will this be done? What are the costs associated with this?

A strategic implementation process starts with a detailed evaluation of costs, both in money and time. While OER offers some tremendous advantages, it is not entirely free. If your district is considering a comprehensive OER program, be sure to plan for all costs and inform stakeholders of ongoing curation, maintenance, and training associated with the implementation.

At the end of the day, the resources educators use in classrooms and the instruction they provide should all be focused on producing the best possible student outcomes. Just because OER is free doesn’t mean it is equal. Everyone who serves educators, including philanthropists, nonprofits, investors, technologists, and governments must unite around the common goal of doing the very best we can for our students.

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at


We’re Celebrating 25 Years with 25 Giveaways!

Enter Each Day to Win the Daily Gift Card Giveaway

and the Grand Prize drawing for an

Apple iPad!

Visit eSchool News each day through April 1, 2023 to enter the daily $25 Gift Card drawing.
Each daily entry counts as one entry for the grand prize drawing. See details and rules.
Giveaway is open only to legal residents of the fifty (50) United States and Canada who are employed full- or part-time in K-12 education.