What Is OER?

As you may know, OER stands for Open Educational Resources. This essentially means that your course does not require students to purchase a textbook, and all the course readings and assignments are made available online, following Fair Use copyright considerations.

Does OER = ZTC?

ZTC and OER courses are not the same. Zero Textbook Cost (ZERO/ZTC) simply means that there is no textbook cost for your particular course. ZTC classes are at least 3 undergraduate credits and the designation is focused on required texts, not where the readings come from and how they are licensed, or the additional course materials. In fact, a course may even be considered ZTC if the purchase price for required supplies, homework system or online platform are less than $40.

All instructors are encouraged to consider how they can lower student costs and move towards ZTC designation. If your course requires no textbook, and/or you provide a course pack to your students, your course can be listed as ZTC on CUNYFirst and Akademos. However, this does not mean the course is OER.

OER courses incur no student cost, as the materials are free and easily accessible to not only your students, but also others outside of your course. This means that using Blackboard as your course hosting platform is not “OER-friendly”, as only students who are registered and cleared by the Bursar are able to access your site. You may use Blackboard in conjunction with your course, for uploading assignments, plagiarism checks, and grading, but the course materials need to be posted on a site that provides access to students outside of the course as well. In addition, OER course texts must have Creative Commons (CC) licenses. OER includes and goes far beyond textbooks.

One exception regarding textbooks: if teaching a FIQWS course, it is fine for a class to reference readings in required texts from the topic course, but students should not be assigned separate readings from this text in your course.

Again, OER courses, including content materials and assignments, must be available online to a wide audience, and have the proper copyright permissions for the use, adaptation, revision, and distribution by others of the uploaded/accessible materials. (See copyright/fair use section for more details.)


CCNY received a grant in for 2017-18 school year as part of $8M New York State split between SUNY and CUNY schools to increase OER offerings with the goal of saving students from purchasing textbooks.

According to a 2018 article from Inside Higher Ed, “…SUNY and CUNY, respectively, re-engineered roughly 3,700 and 1,500 course sections that served roughly 56,000 and 40,000 students. By using OER instead of traditional textbooks, officials say, students in the sections were estimated to have saved about $12 million.” (Inside Higher Ed.com “New York Doubles Down…”)

This large success led to both schools receiving an additional $8M for the 2018-19 academic year. Currently, reports from last year’s funding and a new application are under review. CCNY expects to receive continued funding in the new application cycle. Part of this is due to the interest expressed by English instructors in converting or adopting courses, attending workshops, and participating in projects that study implementation or provide additional instructional material for these newly designed courses.

English instructors who participate in the OER workshops (generally offered once or twice a semester) receive $300 for attending a 5 hour workshop led by CCNY’s OER staff.

Develop and convert a course to OER, and you will receive an additional $700 once the course has been officially adopted by CCNY. Keep in mind that this amount may change depending on the grant funding, which is updated on an annual basis and expected to decline in the future, as the need for new OER courses will decline.

Adopt a previously created and approved OER course from another instructor, you will receive $300 for completing the training and $200 for adopting a course.

Attending OER workshop $300
Developing course adopted by CCNY $700
Adopting previously created course $200

For more information contact:

English Department:
Tom Peele, Ph.D. Associate Professor/Director First Year Writing Program
E: tpeele@ccny.cuny.edu O: 212-650-6328

Vivian Chan IT Assistant, Information Technology
Ching-Jung Chen, Ph.D. Associate Professor/Digital Scholarship Librarian
E: oer@ccny.cuny.edu O: 212-650-7607

Steps To Create Or Adopt An OER Course

    1. Complete required CCNY OER training workshop (CCNY OER)
    2. Decide whether you will convert or adopt a course
    3. Confirm interest in converting or adopting a course (CCNY OER)
      1. Complete paperwork (PA-F7) and time sheets for stipend
    4. Inform Director First Year Writing Program and/or Dept. Chairperson and Dir. of Administration (ENG)
    5. Create account and upload CC licensed content to CUNY Academic Works
    6. Develop course on CUNY Academic Commons or other free platform
      1. Blackboard cannot be sole platform
      2. Privacy settings should still protect students’ rights
    7. Send course link and CC licensed content to OER team
    8. Ensure that CUNYFirst indicates course as ZTC/OER
    9. Update Akademos or other textbook ordering site and select “Adoptions not Required/Course uses OER/Zero-cost materials”
      1. This step should be completed as soon as possible to assist students during registration, within two (2) weeks of the call for book orders
    10. If you miss the deadline, retroactively code course (ENG)

Why OER?

This section will focus on the benefits of creating, or adopting an OER course.

Is It Really Worth The Time?

While the process may seem complicated and time consuming, these efforts have a tremendous impact on student satisfaction and extend learning beyond classroom, and campus walls. Reports show that many students avoid taking certain courses because of the prohibitive costs of textbooks that add up quickly, class after class, semester after semester. With the proliferation of materials available online, and the increased digital savvy of our students and selves, creating or adopting an OER course is a literally a “gift that keeps on giving”.

OER Benefits For Instructors & Students

As an instructor, while the initial investment in creating or adopting an OER course may seem exhausting, the preparation ensures that your syllabus, schedule, and materials are extremely organized, far in advance of the beginning of the semester. Not only will this save you plenty of time later on, when papers begin piling up and hours seem to evaporate, it also ensures that your students will have easy access to all documents and assignments, preventing the confusion and excuses that often come with missing handouts and lost, or inaccessible materials. Another great benefit is the knowledge that all students will be accessing the same materials, not different editions of textbooks or online versions. OER courses provide the perfect opportunity for the entire class to finally be on the same page.

In addition, using a website hosting platform like CUNY Academic Commons, where students are also encouraged to build their required portfolios, provides a scaffolded learning experience that gives them practice and preparation for their own website. It also has the benefit of making you an expert and strengthens technological skills sure to be of increased importance in this digital age, in the classroom and beyond.

Students will be able to access course materials whenever necessary, and on a platform that is much more mobile-friendly than Blackboard. Students have more freedom and flexibility to print documents or read ahead, if they’re accelerated learners. While they may be overwhelmed by the materials and links, with detailed information and time built in to allow them to get familiar and up-to-speed, students will quickly adapt to the technology and feel more empowered by the transparency and accessibility. Another benefit of using CUNY Academic Commons, a WordPress site, is that it presents text and media in a “blog” format, much more recognizable to students than the staid, stark quality of Blackboard. This will help students to more consistently consider clarity of communication, media, and design when creating and submitting work.

Let’s not forget the powerful ecological impact of minimizing the use of paper, saving not only trees, but also reducing pollution in our communities and around the world. While some students may truly prefer paper, their student technology fees will more than cover the texts they choose to print.

Finally, as mentioned before, the generous funds to support OER development and adoption won’t be around forever. As instructors increasingly convert courses and accessible materials multiply, the need for new courses diminishes, along with the financial incentive to fund their creation. At this juncture, however, you can be part of the movement to provide greater access to excellent learning to students, regardless of their academic institution, financial situation, or major. Not only can your OER course provide plenty of material to build your professional portfolio, it also contributes to the development of instructors in your institution and others online, strengthening your network and collegial interactions. Your materials will be have copyrights and be available to learners of diverse ages and backgrounds, as well as contribute to the open source community and CUNY’s digital archive of instructional tools.

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