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Affordable Course Materials

"The most surprising thing, or the biggest thing, that changed just from using OER was realizing how much I wanted to also incorporate open pedagogy – opportunities for students to learn from each's actually made some of my teaching easier because I'm putting some of the work on student-to-student interaction."
     Dr. Bailie Peterson
     Philosophy Department

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For questions, more information, or other concerns, please contact any member of the University Libraries Scholarly Communication Department:

Jen Mayer, Head of Scholarly Communication
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Nicole Webber, Scholarly Communication Librarian
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Stephanie Wiegand, Scholarly Publishing Librarian
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Affordable Course Materials: No-Cost and Low-Cost Alternatives to Commercial Textbooks and Educational Materials

A Brief Explanation of Affordable Course Materials

The traditional model of textbook publishing is based on for-profit companies selling textbooks that are purchased by students and/or educational institutions and the cost of commercial textbooks increases at a rate that far outpaces the normal rate of inflation. As this exponential increase in textbook costs has not slowed over the years, and thus movements to find solutions that provide textbooks at either no cost or a low-cost are emerging – known as affordable course materials. There are many benefits in shifting from commercial to affordable course materials for students, instructors, and other stakeholders. If you are considering converting part of course, an entire course, or multiple courses from commercial to affordable course materials and would like assistance in identifying affordable materials, contact UNC's Scholarly Communication librarians (see contact information under Contact Us on this page).

Types of Affordable Course Materials


Instructor-Created Materials

Original content authored by faculty or instructors for the courses they teach. Formats include text, audio recordings, video recordings, and much more. This category also includes instructor-created ancillary materials such as slide decks, quizzes, and tests. 



Student-Created Materials

A form of open pedagogy, students create course materials and/or ancillary materials as part of their coursework. Examples include a course wiki that introduces course concepts and digital flash cards created in a third-party app. 


Open Educational Resources Acronym

Open Educational Resources (OER)

Teaching, learning and research materials in any medium – digital or otherwise – that have been released under an open (often Creative Commons) license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation, and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.


Open Access Acronym

Open Access Materials (OA)

Journal articles and books that are free, immediately accessible, and online with users allowed to use the materials freely in the digital environment. OA allows for access and use, but not for adaptation or redistribution. The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB) are examples of OA collections.



Library-Licensed Educational Resources (LER)

Content and resources that are paid for by the University Libraries and openly available to the UNC community through user authentication. Not all electronic library materials are licensed for simultaneous use by an entire class, but many are.


World Wide Web

Authoritative Free-to-Use Web Content

Materials determined by the instructor to be factual and accurate and are freely available through the internet. Resources include TED Talks, Khan Academy, TED Ed, iTunes U, PBS Frontline, EdX, YouTube EDU, and much more.                                                                                                                                      


Public Domain

Public Domain Works

Creative materials that are either no longer covered by copyright laws or are released directly by creators into the Public Domain. These works can be used freely by anyone without obtaining the creator’s permission.             

Fair Use Scale

Copyrighted Materials Used under the Fair Use Exception

Fair use allows for limited, socially beneficial uses of copyrighted material without seeking permission. It applies to purposes such as criticism, parody, news reporting, research, scholarship, & teaching. Fair use is determined by the purpose, nature, amount, and effect of the market of the use.