Open and Affordable Educational Resources

At Mason, we want to make your courses accessible to all students.  One way to do that is to reduce the costs of the textbooks and other educational materials you use—and University Libraries can help.

We offer support for reducing the cost of textbooks  and for making library-licensed e-content available to your students.  We’re also ready to help you discover, use or even develop and publish your own open educational resources.

So there are several ways to make educational resources affordable for your students:

  • Choose a standard textbook, put a physical copy on reserve, then let your students know how to access it.
  • Choose a textbook or articles where the library already offers free digital access.  Place the item on ‘e-reserve‘ and then link to the item on your Blackboard site or include a link in your syllabus.
  • Choose an existing Open Educational Resource (see Finding OERs below).
  • Work with us to develop and publish an OER for your course(s). Contact John Warren at jwarre13 at to get started.

What are Open Educational Resources?

Open Educational Resources (OERs) are freely-accessible teaching, educational, and research materials that either exist in the public domain or are available to users via an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing. These resources include complete online courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, assessment tools, and software. They provide people worldwide with access to quality education and the opportunity to share, use, and reuse knowledge.

Finding OERs

Mason’s Open Educational Resource Metafinder

In conjunction with Deep Web Technologies, University Libraries is developing a search engine that simultaneously queries more than a dozen sources of educational materials–content that is open access and immediately available for use in your courses. We’re still adding search targets but today our OER Metafinder searches fifteen sites and returns the top 250 or so hits from each site–in seconds!

Search Mason OER Metafinder


Explore the links below for additional information  on this topic:

Course Content and Textbooks

Open Courses and MOOCs

Grants and Advocacy

K-12 Resources

Articles and Research on OERs

OER Part 1: Course Content and Textbooks

The following Open Educational Resources (OER) collections include course content and textbooks you may use, re-purpose, and distribute for your teaching and learning needs. Learn more about high-quality open courses, educational resources, and OER advocacy by checking out the rest of the series below:

Part 2: Open Courses and MOOCs | Part 3: Grants and Advocacy | Part 4: K-12 Resources | Part 5: Articles and Research

Return to OER overview

Continue Reading OER Part 1: Course Content and Textbooks

Fair Use

We are happy to discuss copyright and fair use but you may well find that the American Library Association’s Fair Use Evaluator can help you get started on a “fair use” evaluation:

Alternatively, many organizations have written guidelines or best practices to help define fair use for specific audiences or types of content. These best practices provide an important framework for educators, in particular, in the event your decision supporting fair use is questioned by a court of law. American University’s Center for Media & Social Impact has compiled these documents (see CMSI’s Best Practices), or you may link to the document in the list below that is most applicable to your current needs). Topics are bolded for easier identification.


OER Part 2: Open Courses and MOOCs

The following Open Educational Resources (OER) collections include open courses and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) that you can take to supplement your curriculum or simply explore new subjects. Learn more about high-quality open educational resources and OER advocacy by checking out the rest of the series below:

Part 1: Course Content and Textbooks | Part 3: Grants and Advocacy | Part 4: K-12 Resources | Part 5: Articles and Research

Return to OER overview

Continue Reading OER Part 2: Open Courses and MOOCs

Innovation and the Publishing Start-Up

This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of Choice magazine.

Note: Choice magazine’s annual University Press Forum offers the perspectives of University Press directors on a variety of topics. This year’s Forum—the 13th in the series—addresses the topic of Innovation at the University Press. Essays from eight University Press directors are included in this year’s Forum, including Bruce Austin, RIT Press; Courtney Burkholder, Texas Tech University Press; Faye Chadwell, Oregon State University Press; Steve Cohn, Duke University Press; Linda Manning, The University of Alabama Press; Gianna Mosser, Liz Hamilton, and Jane Bunker at Northwestern University Press; Mary Rose Muccie, Temple University Press; and yours truly.

John W. Warren
Head, Mason Publishing/George Mason University Press

Statue of George Mason at George Mason UniversityOne of the questions I frequently field, professionally speaking, is: “You’re starting a new university press? I thought many presses are closing.”

As with many, if not most, things these days, perception does not perfectly correlate with reality. Despite the fact scholarly publishing is undergoing a period of change, turmoil, and reinvention, relatively few presses are closing. Many academic institutions continue to see the value in supporting a press and most, if not all, presses do a fair job of breaking even, coming close to breakeven, or generating a modest surplus. Press closures, or attempted press closures, however, receive an exceptional amount of press coverage, social media activity, and activist response from scholars, publishers, and others involved in the scholarly ecosystem. The establishment of a new press, on the other hand, frequently goes unnoticed, for reasons that are understandable—it usually takes a while to make any kind of impact and gain attention.

Although precise numbers are hard to come by, two areas that have grown over the past decade in terms of new presses appear to be academic library publishing and scholarly publishers in developing countries. My institution, George Mason University, provides an example. The University Libraries had been involved in various publishing services for several years, including dissertations and thesis services, scholarly communications, open access journals, and an institutional repository. There had also been a separate effort to establish a university press in the mid-1980s, through a partnership with the University Press of America, formally an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield. Subsequently, an initiative was started in 2007, under the aegis of Mason’s College of Humanities and Social Science, which published a handful of regional titles. In 2014, the University Libraries established a formal publishing program incorporating both library publishing services, under the imprint of Mason Publishing, and the George Mason University Press, to support the creation, dissemination, and curation of scholarly, creative, and educational works.

Our approach to this new publishing venture is as a start-up. Even though we were not exactly starting from scratch, there was no “legacy” operation to be concerned with (nor, unfortunately, a vibrant backlist to fund publishing efforts). The framework of a start-up provides an opportunity to define (or redefine) the priorities, strategies, and tactics to pursue.

As in any start-up, several questions need to be addressed, including but not limited to the following:

  • What is our organization’s (library and university) vision/mission?
  • What are the interests, concerns, and expectations of our stakeholders (administration, staff, partners, funders, audience, etc.)?
  • How important is the pursuit of revenue/profit versus social good?
  • What opportunities exist for growth and innovation?
  • How can we add value and what contribution(s) do we want to make to the world?

As the start-up organization takes shape, it’s crucial to consider what the ideal composition and characteristics of the staff should be. For example, diversity is important and it should not just be “token” diversity. A certain amount of “deviance” can be a good thing, but the right balance is critical. It’s not important that everyone always agrees, but some people disagree with everything as a matter of practice. In a previous organization, a staff member routinely commented on every new idea: “I’ve tried that before and it doesn’t work.” The squeaky wheel gets the grease, but this may be someone you don’t want to work with day after day. Within organizational ethics, positive conformity leads to innovation, experimentation, a change in organizational product or processes, such as continuous improvement and not accepting “what we’ve always done around here.”

More specific questions relevant to a publishing start-up include the following:

  • What is the role and makeup of the advisory or editorial board?
  • What is the role of or focus on open access versus commercial sales?
  • What kind of books do we want to publish?
  • What kind of books do we not want to publish?
  • What other products will add value to our organization?

An important first step was to align our strategic priorities with those of George Mason University. This involved explicitly connecting our specific objectives and tactics with those of Mason’s 2014–2024 Strategic Plan, with the stated priorities and concerns of the University’s Provost, and with the University Libraries’ strategic plan. A few examples that have informed the objectives of our press include Mason’s strategic focus on innovative learning, access, and diversity; creating learning partnerships that emphasize innovation and collaboration; contributing to the cultural vitality of our community through regional partnerships; engaging students in research; supporting excellence in teaching and scholarship; focusing on multidisciplinary research; and elevating research of consequence.

Some of the ways these strategic goals translate into our publishing priorities include increasing the number of student and faculty led journals, particularly those focused on multidisciplinary research; providing increased training and editorial services to these journals; and leveraging our journals platform (Open Journals Systems) for conference proceedings and course use. For example, we approached Mason’s Center for Teaching and Faculty Excellence, proposing a partnership to publish abstracts, presentations, and papers for the annual Innovations in Teaching and Learning Conference, none of which had previously been archived. We are working with an English Composition professor to utilize OJS for peer review of student work in her course, an application that is generating interest among other faculty. We have also reached out to the larger scholarly community by helping to host and publish the papers of the Open Scholarship Initiative conference, a global collaborative effort between all major stakeholders in scholarly publishing to improve the future of how research information gets published, shared, and accessed.

We sought to increase partnerships for faculty collaboration and opportunities for publishing student research by partnering with the Provost Office and Mason Online, Mason’s Office of Digital Learning, to promote the development and publishing of open educational resources (OERs) on campus. Our pilot project is focused on innovative course redesign that reconsiders the materials currently used with the intent purpose to integrate digital materials, with the aim of reducing the cost of instruction for students, improving teaching and learning outcomes, and increasing economic opportunities through open access to quality educational resources. While not a revenue opportunity, this effort adds value to the university by publishing faculty workbooks, open textbooks, and other publications that can be used as OERs both at Mason and beyond.

And yes, we are looking forward to publishing a few scholarly books this fall that will make meaningful contributions to their fields (and, I hope, begin to build a backlist). Another important goal of our press, and we are certainly not alone in this, is to consider and start planning digital opportunities from the very genesis of a new project—not as an afterthought. Meanwhile, we need to continue to seek additional sources of funding for Press projects—subventions, grants, donors, crowdsourcing—and develop a revenue stream that sustains a growing Press publishing program.

Longer term, we plan to implement a rich media journals publishing platform (i.e., Vega, in development at the University of West Virginia) that will support digital research and publications that include multimedia, data, and interactive aspects. Digital humanities are an established strength at Mason, and we aspire to support publication of this innovative research in its diverse forms. This approach underscores the importance of partnerships with other departments in the libraries and centers in the university. These include the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, innovative faculty in the English and Rhetoric department, faculty in game design, and others. Our staff is contributing to the development of a new digital scholarship center and a new scholarly production lab within the library.

Several principles help drive innovation and creativity, whether in a start-up or established organization. These include fostering an attitude of openness, of seeking diversity, of being open to criticism and not being afraid to make mistakes, looking for ideas everywhere, identifying hidden talents among staff, and instilling a drive to keep growing and learning. As important as trying new ideas is to jettison the ones that are not working or are no longer adding value to the organization.

It’s also important to ask yourself frequently, “What kind of leader am I? What kind of leader do I want to become?” I like to use the phrase “experiment with intent”—meaning it’s great to experiment and try new things, but have a reason for it, such as what you can learn from the experience, even if the results don’t turn out as well as you hope. Assign important projects to staff, establish stretch goals, deliver feedback that is relevant, review the results, debrief staff, and articulate the business or social implications.

Our quest is to redefine what it means to be a scholarly publisher, to find new ways to tell stories and connect with readers, and to make an impact on the future. As Henry David Thoreau said, “Be not simply good—be good for something.”

OER Part 4: K-12 Resources

While most of the energy around Open Educational Resources is in higher education, affordable and open educational resources are important to K-12 educators as well.

Part 1: Course Content and Textbooks | Part 2: Open Courses and MOOCs | Part 3: Grants and Advocacy | Part 5: Articles and Research

Return to OER overview

Curriki (

Curriki is a nonprofit global community that offers free K-12 learning resources for teachers, students, and parents. The resources on Curriki cover a wide range of subjects in the arts and sciences. Curriki offers over 55,000 Open Educational Resources and its 400,000 members represent nearly 200 countries.

Khan Academy (

Not-for-profit Khan Academy is an organization dedicated to providing a “free world-class education for anyone anywhere.” Content includes interactive challenges, assessments, and video in an array of topics for kindergartners through adult learners. Create an account to practice standardized tests and keep statistics on assignments and coursework you’ve completed, noting your progress as you learn.

Lumen Learning (

Lumen is dedicated to facilitating broad, successful adoption of OER at higher education and K-12 institutions. Lumen provides training and support for faculty members to teach open courses and also publishes open courses in over 30 high-demand subjects. Lumen’s catalog of open courseware includes courses in mathematics, general education, business, and science and technology.

Mason Author Series: with Helon Habila

The University Libraries, Mason Publishing,
and the University Bookstore
in conjunction with the New Leaves Festival


Author Helon HabilaHelon Habila

In a reading and booksigning of The Chibok Girls: The Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria

Wednesday, April 5
7:30-9:00 pm
Main Reading Room
Fenwick Library
Fairfax Campus

George Mason University’s Associate Professor of Creative Writing Helon Habila offers a compassionate and powerful account of one of the most horrific recent tragedies to occur in Nigeria: the kidnapping of 276 girls from the Chibok Secondary School in April 2014 by Boko Haram, one of the world’s deadliest terrorist group whose name translated into English means “western education is abhorrent.” Habila, a native of Nigeria, traveled to the country twice to track down some of the escaped girls and their families and reconstruct what happened on that fateful day and how the town is coping. He situates the kidnappings within the political and historical context of the rise of Islamist extremism in Nigeria, which is deeply rooted in its tragic history of colonialism.

Cover image of Chibok Girls“A dispatch from the front lines, as Habila travels to the town of Chibok, where the landscape is riddled with burned tanks and bullet holes, and vigilantes pick up the slack for the inadequate and ineffectual military….Habila incorporates vital background knowledge on the situation in Chibok and the surrounding area; as a poet, he adds sensitivity and eloquence, capturing the raw emotion of the wounded town.”
~ Publishers Weekly

Helon Habila grew up in Nigeria and is the author of three novels, Oil on Water, Measuring Time, and Waiting for an Angel. His fiction, poems and short stories have won the Commonwealth Prize for Best First Novel (Africa Section), the Virginia Library Foundation’s Fiction Award, and the Windham-Campbell Prize. Oil on Water was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize, the Orion Book Award, and the PEN/Open Book Award. He is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at George Mason University.


Refreshments will be provided.

The Mason Author Series is sponsored by the University Bookstore.

Student Senate Support for the Open Textbook Initiative at George Mason University

The University Libraries is excited to report that the Student Government Senate has issued a resolution in support of open textbook adoption at Mason. This resolution encourages faculty to consider replacing expensive textbooks with open access materials and is a huge step on the path toward making college more affordable to Mason students.

What is an open textbook? It is a freely available digital book to which the author(s) has assigned a license permitting others, such as instructors, to use and adapt the content to suit their specific course learning objectives. That is, instructors can download, modify, remix, and share the item at no cost to themselves, their students, or their colleagues.

What do open textbooks offer students? Course material that is relevant, up to date, and varied in format, as well as accessible to all students as soon as a course begins. Concerns about the cost of pursuing a particular degree are diminished when textbook costs become immaterial. Not least of all, money that would have been spent on textbooks becomes available to help pay for rent, food, transportation, or even another course,.

What do open textbooks offer faculty? Some powerful incentives are:

  • the option to tailor course material selections to fit personal pedagogy,
  • the opportunity to work collaboratively with other disciplinary experts to select or create content that may be used and modified by colleagues around the globe, and
  • the ability to support students in a way that is deeply meaningful and purposeful, both inside and outside of the classroom.

The University Libraries invites your queries, discussion, and concerns about open textbooks. We are available to help you find these textbooks and other openly licensed materials to work with and integrate into your course(s). We are also experts in subscription content that may be appropriate for your course needs.

Please contact John Warren in the Mason Publishing Group about the open textbook initiative when curiosity overcomes you or you need assistance with existing open projects. As the expert in research materials specific to your discipline (both open and proprietary), your Subject Librarian is also available for consultation and assistance.

OER Part 5: Articles and Research

The following Open Educational Resources (OER) collection includes scholarly articles and other research on the benefits, uses, development, and adaptation of OER. Given the rapid growth of the OER movement, both in terms of the academic credibility and attention of policy makers it has gained, it is important for us to monitor the OER landscape as it continues to evolve. To learn more about open educational resources in higher education and how you can get involved in the OER movement, check out the rest of the series:

Part 1: Course Content and Textbooks | Part 2: Open Courses and MOOCs | Part 3: Grants and Advocacy | Part 4: K-12 Resources

Return to OER overview

Continue Reading OER Part 5: Articles and Research

Faculty Support to Explore Open Ed Resources

How can you, as an educator, have increased control over your teaching materials, be more creative in the classroom, AND lower student costs? Use existing open educational resources (OER) or create your own materials!

Mason 4-VA, in collaboration with the University Libraries and Mason Online, invites you to submit a proposal for innovative redesign of a course that integrates digital (and accessible) materials. That is, you supplant expensive textbooks either with digital works that you create, or with existing digital content that is in the public domain, licensed Creative Commons, or available in databases to which the University Libraries subscribes. To that end, you are reducing the cost of instruction to students and improving learning outcomes.

Courses of particular interest are those that:

  • have high enrollment,
  • are required for majors,
  • count in the Mason Core, or
  • carry high textbook costs.

This initiative is a Mason 4-VA pilot project. Any Mason full-time instructional faculty who teach high demand, heavily populated courses are eligible to apply, as are adjunct faculty who are part of a team proposal.

Depending on the nature of the proposed project and the level of team collaboration, you may receive a competitive grant ranging from $1,500 to $5,000. Funds will be distributed in Summer 2016.

The library is ready to support your use of OER content or answer your questions related to copyright and the Creative Commons licensing of your own materials. Mason Publishing Group, a department of the University Libraries, is available to aid faculty in developing OER textbooks or workbooks as a part of this pilot project. Let us know how we may help you! Contact your subject librarian or John Warren (, Head, Mason Publishing.

For more information and cover sheet, see: Course Redesign: Using Open Educational Resources

Proposals due: March 18, 2016 EXTENDED to March 21, 2016!

Award notification: April 4, 2016

Submit your proposal electronically to:

Linda Sheridan,

Deputy Coordinator, Mason 4-VA