Ang Lama; Astride Toh; and Jennifer Van Allen


The hype surrounding the use of open educational resources (OER) in higher education classrooms is not understated as there is compelling evidence of the cost savings to students as well as many other benefits (Brandle et al., 2019).  As students and an instructor at Lehman College in the City University of New York (CUNY), we strongly advocate for the use of OER. CUNY is a large urban institution of 25 campuses that serves a diverse community across New York City’s five boroughs. Lehman College, a midsize Hispanic serving institution, is one of those campuses and is the only public senior liberal arts college in the Bronx borough.  Our student population represents historically underserved students: including diverse demographics (49.9% Hispanic, 32.3% Black/Non-Hispanic, 7.3% White/Non-Hispanic, 7.5% Asian/Pacific Islander, <1% American Indian/Native Alaskan); 52% who come from low socio-economic backgrounds; 33% are immigrants; representation of over 120 different cultures;  and 57% are first-generation college students (Lehman College, n.d.).  Many students qualify for financial aid: 60% receive Pell grants, 53% work more than 20 hours a week, and 37% come from households with incomes less than $200,000 per year (Brandle et al., 2018; CUNY Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, 2019).  Additionally, results from the #RealCollege survey conducted in 2019 revealed that 48% of students were food insecure in the prior 30 days, 55% were housing insecure in the previous year, and 14% were homeless in the previous year (Goldrick-Rab et al., 2019).

The textbook cost savings to students afforded by the use of OER in Lehman College classrooms is imperative given our student body.  However, OER also provides an opportunity for instructors to customize textbooks for their courses and for student population supporting efforts toward more socially just instruction for all.  Additionally, open educational practices (OEP) empower students as active participants in their learning with the potential to develop OER for future courses and classes.  To raise more awareness about Open Education among students, Dr. Jennifer Van Allen taught an undergraduate honors seminar titled Open 4 Social Justice. As part of the course, students were invited to participate in OEP through social annotation, blogging, and co-creation of the syllabus by selecting specific topics the group wanted to explore, determining weekly readings, and defining class projects related to broad modules predetermined by the instructor: 1) Open Education -What is it?; 2) Interrogating Openness; 3) Open Education in our World and Community (see the course syllabus for details).  In addition, we engaged in dialogue with open education leaders and scholars around the world and in our local community as we grappled with social justice and openness.

This resource is a result of the thinking and work that was done during that course.  As part of the resource, we include an OER 101 brochure providing background on essential concepts, an OER Evaluation Rubric that centers on Social Justice, examples of OER reviews completed using the rubric, and a tutorial for those using the rubric to guide their selection of OER.  To contextualize how these resources were created, we provide some background in the following sections.

Designing and Using the OER Evaluation Rubric

In our unit on Interrogating Openness, we spent much time discussing the benefits and challenges of open education, specifically thinking about issues related to social justice. Our discussions revolved around the question: There are a lot of OERs, but which ones are worth using?

In order for us to find quality OER resources, we used websites like Pressbooks, Open Textbook Library, and Oasis which were curated in an OER resource page developed by Lehman’s OER librarian Stacy Katz. Upon searching through these repositories, each student selected an OER to review with the lenses we discussed throughout the unit. After reading Lambert’s (2020) article, Changing our (Dis)Course: A Distinctive Social Justice Aligned Definition of Open Education, we better understood the need to ensure that open education is analyzed through the three principles of social justice: redistributive justice, recognitive justice, and representative justice. Using our selected OER as a guide, we set on a journey for reviewing this resource through these principles with an emphasis on recognition and representation from diverse authors and perspectives.

Our discussions with guest speakers and classmates caused us to realize the need for helping instructors and students of all ages learn about OER and decide on specific resources that are appropriate for their purposes, are of high quality, and ensure more equitable access to the knowledge of all people. Thus, we collaboratively designed a rubric for evaluating the quality of OER with a social justice lens. We broke the rubric into six categories: content; structure, organization, and technical; images and interactive features; social justice and equity; accessibility; and supplemental materials. Our hope is that instructors and students of all grades can use the OER rubric we created to find alternatives to expensive textbooks and supplemental materials that support their learning.

The process of creating the OER rubric took a month. Throughout the month we read and annotated seven readings along with a podcast to broaden our perspectives and provide us with the tools necessary for creating an OER evaluation rubric for social justice. We drew our inspiration from several organizations that had already developed rubrics and criteria for evaluating OER, including:

We engaged in weekly discussions in small groups and as a whole class, which allowed each student to brainstorm and add evaluation criteria they deemed important within a shared Google document. After much discussion and consideration, the class decided on the final criteria through a collective vote. Upon finalizing the rubric as a class, we invited open education researchers like Dr. Sarah Lambert to review it and provide constructive feedback. This led to the complete version that you see in this resource.

Great! The rubric was complete but it would have been hypocritical of us to make a resource that we never piloted. As the criteria was being finalized, each student evaluated the OER they selected earlier in the course using the rubric. Since our class is composed of students majoring in many different disciplines, our reviews cover a range of topics from food and nutrition to midwifery to digital learning to eye diseases. While piloting the rubric, we discovered some of the criteria were overreaching or unclear leading us to revise wording and refine criteria to make it more realistic and generalized for diverse subject areas. Thus, our final rubric has been reviewed and tested by our class and outside open education researchers. The criteria we developed represent the ideas and features that are important to us as students and have been validated by those who reviewed the rubric and provided feedback.

Creating this Resource

As part of the final unit on Open Education in World and Community, our class examined various projects and initiatives taking place to support OER development. We also took a look at student advocacy and how we could take action as a class. These discussions led to proposals for our final project in which we each decided whether we wanted to work individually or in groups and which project proposal we wanted to work on. The outcomes of three of those projects are represented in this resource and include:

    • OER 101 Brochure
    • Understanding OER Tutorial
    • Evaluating OER for Social Justice book design

OER 101 Brochure

As members of the Lehman community, we felt that we had a responsibility to advocate for OERs to our peers. We hope to raise awareness of what OERs are, how you can find them, and the advantages and disadvantages they provide to users through this brochure. OERs are tools that can benefit all members of this campus to share knowledge for little to no cost and increase accessibility to students and faculty who are looking for an alternative to traditional pedagogy.  This brochure is intended to provide a quick source of key information to elicit interest in OERs.

Understanding OER Tutorial

As college students, we saw the potential of OERs and realized that they could help students and teachers with the flexibility that the resources offer. We chose a few OER websites and explain how to navigate them. We also discuss some ideas that educators should keep in mind when choosing an OER for their class. We hope teachers will be able to use this tutorial as a tool to make finding OERs easier. We also hope that students can use this tutorial to persuade their instructors to consider using OERs.

Evaluating OER for Social Justice Book Design

The editors of this book decided to take the rubric a step further. Our goal was to educate more people in the Lehman College community, CUNY, and beyond about evaluating OER with a social justice lens. The main problem remained: How can one identify and evaluate a resourceful OER with a social justice lens? So we decided to publish the rubrics and reviews to assist students and instructors in finding quality works. We hope that the rubric and students’ OER reviews can assist students and instructors in selecting high-quality, effective, equity-focused OER alternatives to pricey textbooks and supplemental materials.

Seeking Your Contribution

We encourage you to utilize these resources to deepen your understandings of open education and social justice.  Since we would like to further develop this resource with more OER reviews through a social justice lens, we invite you to use our rubric to write your own review of an OER  If you would like to have your review included in this resource, please email it to

Most importantly, we hope you find these resources helpful!


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Evaluating OER for Social Justice Copyright © 2022 by Ang Lama; Astride Toh; and Jennifer Van Allen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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