Using open access resources in teaching

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In this post, Lauren Smith, Digital Support Librarian, outlines why open access resources are important in teaching, how lecturers can incorporate open access resources into their teaching materials, and how Library and University Collections can support them…

What is open access?

Open access (OA) can be seen as one string of the bow in the open education landscape. Open access and open education both stress the importance of making knowledge available for individuals around the world, regardless of wealth or status (Elder 2020).

Open access literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. What makes it possible is the internet and the consent of the author or copyright-holder. Open access works can be made available through OA publishers and/or OA repositories (Suber 2004).

Benefits of using open access resources in teaching

There are many reasons engaging with OA content is beneficial across all aspects of higher education. Two reasons from a teaching perspective are that using OA resources is of benefit to students for their current studies and future engagement with academic research and theory for professional development.

Accessibility: From an affordability perspective, the cost of accessing academic resources is increasing dramatically; textbook costs have risen 414% over the past 30 years, more than double the rate of inflation (US Bureau of Labor Statistics 2019). This makes the cost of accessing textbooks increasingly difficult for students, particularly the least advantaged. Using openly licensed textbooks in your courses that can be accessed for free online, and bought cheaply as print versions, makes courses more financially accessible for students, thereby enhancing the student experience.

Post-graduation professional development: For many students, access to paywalled journals with high subscription costs is a privilege they will only have whilst studying at university. When they enter their chosen fields of work, they are likely to be expected to continue their learning and development, which may include keeping up to date with developments in their areas, but their workplaces are unlikely to provide subscriptions to many of the places such knowledge is shared. In professions like veterinary medicine, social care and education, continuing professional development (CPD) is core to professional practice, but access to high quality resources are limited. Open access publishing is a key way for professionals to engage with valuable research and theory. Including open access resources in courses can help students hit the ground running after graduation. Educating students about open access from the beginning of their studies, helping them understand how publishing (and library subscription) works, and how they can access open access publications, will help them develop their digital and information literacy skills immensely in their future careers.

How you can find open access resources

Through DiscoverEd: When searching DiscoverEd, the University Library’s discovery service (catalogue), you can filter results to only display open access resources.


Digital tools: There are a number of tools you can use to develop your own digital skills around finding and using OA resources. This page on the Library website details some approaches you can take: Finding resources without a login

Repositories: An open access repository is a database or a virtual archive established to collect, disseminate and preserve academic outputs, and make them freely available. OpenDOAR is a global directory of Open Access repositories and their policies. You can search this to find OA repositories relevant to your field.

Support with finding and using open access resources: It can be tricky to know where to start with getting hold of good quality OA resources. In partnership with the University’s Open.Ed service and the Copyright Advisory Service, Academic Support Librarians can help you find and use open access resources for your teaching, including embedding teaching and learning activities to help students understand this aspect of the scholarly communication landscape, signposting you to key resources in your subject area, and advising you on licensing and copyright queries. To get in touch, email the Library Academic Support Team at

Lauren Smith

Dr Lauren Smith is the Digital Support Librarian, working in Library and University Collections to support the University’s Digital Learning at Scale Programme.

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