Open Educational Resources (OERs) and Visible Body Courseware: A Cost-Saving Combination

Instructors are constantly innovating as they seek to provide the most engaging and effective education possible to their students. We’ve spoken to many of those instructors, and one subject that has come up several times during our Office Hours video series is OERs, or Open Educational Resources. 

Today, we’re going to talk about how OERs can benefit students and instructors, and how instructors can use Visible Body Courseware alongside an OER to provide their students with a low-cost, interactive A&P education experience. 


What are OERs?

Open Educational Resources (OERs) are high-quality teaching, learning, and research materials that are free for people everywhere to use and repurpose.


Image by BCOER Librarians CC 4.0  Taken From BCcampus.

OERs typically follow the “5Rs” proposed by David Wiley, which include:

  • Retain - the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)
  • Reuse - the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
  • Revise - the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
  • Remix - the right to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
  • Redistribute - the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)

The 5Rs are structured around what can be done with material under a Creative Commons license. This material can come in many forms. Here are some of the most popular types of OERs, and some examples.


Complete Courses

Some OERs offer the content of entire courses, including curriculum, lectures, and notes. MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) is perhaps the most prominent example of this kind, providing course materials from over 2,000 past MIT courses in a broad range of subjects, from business to fine arts to engineering and the health sciences. 


Open Access Textbooks

One of the most popular and growing forms of OER is the open access textbook. Chances are you’ve heard of OpenStax, a nonprofit that is part of Rice University. They provide free, online access to 38 complete, peer-reviewed textbooks for a wide variety of university and (AP) high school subjects. At VB, we’re particularly familiar with OpenStax because many instructors we work with use the OpenStax A&P textbook in their courses.

There are many open textbook initiatives available through other universities and educational nonprofits, as well: 

  • Open Textbook Network (University of Minnesota), BCcampus, OASIS, Open SUNY textbooks 


Open Access Journals

Finding a journal article, getting excited about the abstract, and then running into a paywall when you want to view the full article—it’s a disappointing and all too common situation when searching the academic literature for sources. Maybe your university’s library doesn’t have a subscription to that particular journal. Maybe you’re not associated with a university. Either way, it’s not a pleasant experience.

Fortunately, open access peer-reviewed journals are becoming more and more popular. Big academic journals and book publishers like Wiley, Elsevier, and Springer have open-access collections. Organizations like the Public Library of Science (PLoS) and BioMed Central (BMC) publish many thoroughly peer-reviewed, open-access scientific journals. 


Other Free Resources

Here are a few “runners-up”—resources that don’t fit the exact definition of an OER because their content doesn’t fit all of the “5Rs” above, but they still provide fantastic educational content for free.


YouTube Channels

From individual professors and universities providing their students with instructional and study materials to YouTube personalities dedicated to giving curious viewers their daily dose of science facts, YouTube is a treasure trove of fantastic free educational content.

Visible Body has a YouTube channel with a whole playlist full of anatomy walkthroughs and virtual dissections

There are even whole courses available through channels like Crash Course. Crash Course is a particular favorite of mine because the content is taught in a humorous, engaging manner with plenty of animations and helpful mnemonic devices. The Ling Space is another great example—it’s not A&P, but it’s one of my favorite examples of what a great educational YouTube channel looks like. 

YouTube videos can be an awesome free resource for students, instructors, and people who just love to learn (guilty as charged). There are lots of creative folks out there making content that can help students study and help instructors clarify concepts for their students.  


Text/Multimedia Web Resources

Khan Academy is sometimes listed as an OER and sometimes not, since some content is under a Creative Commons license (adhering to the 5Rs) but some isn’t. It also does have some paid features. Whatever its open education classification, it’s an amazing resource for students at just about any level. Its articles and videos provide clear, thorough, simple explanations of topics students need to know for their courses and for specific exams like the SAT, AP exams, MCAT, LSAT, and NCLEX-RN.

The Visible Body Learn Site also provides free educational content to the general public! The Learn Site may not fit the strict OER definition because our materials aren’t under a Creative Commons license, but our content can be freely shared and used for educational purposes. We also offer 3D and AR models on the web alongside our text content. Who wouldn’t want to have an endoplasmic reticulum on their couch or a humerus on their coffee table?

endoplasmic-reticulum-couch-arWhen we say anytime, anywhere, we're not kidding! Visible Body recently partnered with Google Search to bring our 3D models into AR. This one is part of our collection of biology content


How can using an OER benefit students and instructors? 

Now that we’ve established what an OER is and what some examples and near-examples are, let’s talk about the advantages of using OERs and other free educational resources as part of a course. 


Cost Savings

The first, and perhaps most obvious, benefit is that using an OER is free for students and instructors. Instead of purchasing a textbook that costs $120 and weighs 10 pounds, students have access to a complete, online textbook that won’t cost them money or force them to lug a gigantic tome across campus. 

Given the amount of financial stress many students are under already, not having to pay for a textbook can be an enormous relief. In his recent Office Hours session, Professor Stacy Vasquez discussed the advantages of using an OER—you can check out the video (and a quick summary) here. Stacy also mentioned that he discovered Visible Body through our partnership with OpenStax, which he was already using in his classroom. We’ll talk more about that later. 


Expanded Access

Second only to the cost-savings is the increased accessibility of OERs. OERs can be accessed anywhere at any time without the need to log in through a library or cart around a heavy book. If students are using OpenStax, for example, all they need to access their textbook is an internet connection and their computer or phone. 

Also, being able to use Ctrl+F to find the term or section you need in a textbook is a game-changer. No more leafing through a chapter again and again to find that one paragraph you just know is there.


Enhancement of course materials

The digital format of OERs makes it easy to integrate images, videos, and interactive content alongside the text. This supports different learning styles and makes the experience of doing readings for a course a bit more engaging. OpenStax, for example, includes interactive link questions along with regular review and critical thinking questions in their A&P textbook. There are also interactive links like this one scattered throughout the text itself.


Ability to modify materials

Many instructors choose to create their own lab manuals for their A&P courses—Sheena Shoemaker, a high school instructor, explains how she did so for her course in this blog post. There are also open access lab manuals like this one from The University of Georgia/Affordable Learning Georgia.

One of the biggest advantages of creating or using open access course materials is that instructors are free to modify the content as they see fit, focusing on topics and activities that are more relevant to their course and only including those in their curriculum. 


Rapid dissemination of information

Lastly, OERs are easier to update than a paper textbook. Once again, because of the online format, new editions of OERs can be produced and disseminated quickly, keeping up with current research or, in the case of instructor-created lab manuals, aligning with curriculum changes. 


How can instructors use Visible Body Courseware alongside an OER?

Visible Body’s Courseware platform was designed with many of the same principles behind OERs in mind, so it isn’t surprising that Courseware works nicely as a companion to OERs like OpenStax and custom lab manuals. 

Accessibility and affordability are key components of Courseware. Courseware and the web and mobile apps it contains are accessible to students any time, anywhere—whether they’re on campus, waiting in line at the DMV, commuting on the bus or train, or just studying at home. Courseware is also a great value for students in terms of price. If students are paying for their own subscription, Courseware will cost them only $49.99 for two years. If the school pays for a Courseware site license, it’s free for students to use.

Courseware is also made to facilitate course customization. Instructors can create their own assignments in Courseware using assets from the Visible Body apps, as well as an extensive bank of quizzes and quiz questions and the ability to make their own quizzes and questions. Instructors can also create assignments using their own links and files, incorporating YouTube videos, PowerPoints, PDFs, journal articles, and more. 

It’s also quick and easy for instructors to share Courseware courses with colleagues—this support site article gives a step-by-step guide for making a copy of a course (so you can use the same course content for multiple sections) and generating a share link to send a copy of the course to a colleague. The original course won’t be affected by any changes made to a copy, so instructors can remix the content in those copies to their hearts’ content. 

So, how can you get started using Courseware and OERs? Visible Body has a premade Courseware course that follows along with the OpenStax A&P textbook, supplementing each chapter with 3D models, animations, illustrations, and quizzes from Visible Body’s content library. If you have an instructor account, you can download it from our Courses page


For those who use an open-source textbook or other OER that isn’t OpenStax, Courseware makes it easy to create your own course and integrate 3D anatomy education content with any textbook or lab manual. Our Courseware Support Site provides simple tutorials for creating courses and adding assignments, but if you’d like more personalized training, you can request a session with our Education Team and they’ll help you get your custom course up and running.

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