Supporting OER Adoption

14 Finding Ancillaries for OER

Abbey K. Elder

OER programs tend to focus primarily on open textbooks and the cost of commercial textbooks in relation to open alternatives. However, ancillaries, also referred to as supplementary or supporting content, are also an important part of the course materials landscape. When a faculty member adopts a commercial textbook from a major publisher, the publisher often includes a range of supplementary materials, such as lecture slides, homework and test banks, notes, and other materials to help the instructor coordinate their course. In contrast, OER ancillaries may take many forms, from full courses pre-built with OER slide sets and test banks to freestanding materials that can supplement a course without an accompanying open textbook. In a study of barriers to OER use, Carson (2020) found that interest in creating and working with ancillary content was high:

“The most discussed barrier to using OER within the survey data was not being able to find suitable OER, making the creation of strategic high-quality OER with ancillary resources an obvious solution to the barriers faculty face. Faculty would like to create OER on topics that do not currently have quality OER available or add on to the material by developing ancillary resources such as slide decks and assessments” (60).

It’s important for OER program managers to have a good grasp on the ancillary content required in courses at their institution and how OER can meet instructors’ needs. In this chapter, we will discuss ways to find open ancillary content, some popular OER ancillary software, and low-cost commercial ancillaries that are available to supplement OER.

Types of Ancillaries

Ancillaries can take many forms, from static documents to interactive software. Below is a list of some ancillary types you will likely run into when talking about OER:

  • Question banks: Banks of questions aligned to a course’s learning objectives that can be used to generate a quiz or exam for student assessment.
  • Lesson plans: Pre-generated plans for guided labs, activities, or other interactive learning opportunities.
  • Lecture notes and slides: Presentation slides and accompanying notes to guide and structure lectures around a specific module’s learning outcomes.
  • Videos: Examples, animations, or lecture recordings that review one or more topics relevant to a course or module.
  • Homework platforms: Automated systems for managing and grading practice exercises or other student assignments. These may be simple, grading against a basic answer key, or they may be more complex, and include adaptive learning tools. Adaptive learning tools provide multiple versions of the same type of question so students can get more experience practicing the concepts they struggle with while studying (Posner 2017).
  • Workbooks and lab books: Text-based collections of lessons or labs that walk students through topics related to their course.
  • Interactive content: Simulations, games, or other activities that students can engage with to enhance learning.
  • Full courses: Sets of course materials bundled to ease OER adoption for instructors. These might include a syllabus with mapped readings and slide sets, review questions, and quizzes or other course assessments.

Locating Ancillary OER

Because ancillary OER are so varied in scope and format, ancillary OER may be difficult to locate for some courses. After all, not all OER ancillaries are part of a complete set tailored to a course. When ancillaries paired with open textbooks can be found, they are often part of projects supported by librarians, staff, and/or a network of peers, as with the open textbook Scientific Inquiry in Social Work (DeCarlo 2018). Alternatively, OER ancillaries paired with open textbooks may be intentionally solicited to support their textbook’s ongoing use, as with the open textbooks published by OpenStax.

The variety in complexity and comprehensiveness for OER ancillaries does not indicate that these materials are lacking in substance, however. In a study of faculty perceptions of OER, Lantrip and Ray (2020) found that among faculty who had adopted OER, 76% rated their ancillary OER as the same or higher quality than commercial ancillary course materials. The challenge comes in locating the right kind of materials for your context. To help locate ancillary OER for your faculty, we’ve compiled a few search tips below. Some of these tips may seem familiar from Chapter 13, but the processes differ in some respects due to the supplemental nature of ancillary content.

Program Manager Tips: Start Small
Using OER as ancillary or supporting course material can be a great first step toward OER use for reluctant faculty, or a partial victory where OER are not available for certain courses. Beware of the “all or nothing” approach to OER. Encourage faculty to add optional OER to their courses, such as self-study resources, videos, and infographics that can supplement their existing course materials. Supporting faculty who want to test out OER and learn more about the open content available to them can help you build a sense of community at your institution and encourage more familiarity and interest in OER in the future.

Planning Your Search

As we mentioned in Chapter 13, Searching for Open Content, you should start your search by planning ahead based on what you already know about the instructor you are supporting. Review the instructor’s course schedule or syllabus and any notes you have from previous discussions with the instructor.

After consulting with the instructor about their priorities, consider narrowing your search to a specific topic and format, such as “problem sets that cover the content in chapters 5-8 of this open textbook” or “videos about the content covered in week 3 on the course’s syllabus.”

Tips for searching

  1. Use ancillary-specific platforms. Some websites and repositories specialize in openly licensed ancillary educational content. Popular examples include PhET simulations, SageMath, the H5P OER Hub, and MyOpenMath. Mathematics homework platforms were some of the first and most widely requested OER ancillary platforms created, due to the widespread use of expensive homework platforms for general education mathematics courses in higher education. For full courses, consider searching for “OER” in a platform like Canvas Commons, which is used to share easily imported course modules which have been created and shared by other instructors.
  2. Search repositories that contain ancillaries. In addition to using repositories that specialize in ancillary content, you can also locate ancillary OER in general repositories that include a wide range of resources. Popular examples include OER Commons, LibreTexts, and SkillsCommons. Often, these repositories include Material type options in their advanced search or browsing menus to help you narrow your search.
  3. Check institutional repositories (IRs). Often, OER ancillaries are developed by the faculty who use them and are shared via their institutional repositories (IRs). Two examples of IRs that contain OER are GALILEO (affiliated with the state of Georgia) and UNI ScholarWorks (affiliated with the University of Northern Iowa). Checking these repositories may yield surprising results! Tip: In some cases, IRs will have separate collections for OER materials, which can make searching for this material easier.
  4. Explore open courseware (OCW) repositories and adopted resource lists. As we discussed in Chapter 5, Common OER Projects & Programs, OCW repositories contain both ancillary OER and open textbooks aligned to a specific curriculum. These repositories, along with lists of adopted OER for specific campuses, may be able to fill the gaps in your program’s ancillary OER needs. Popular places to look include MIT OpenCourseWare, Open Oregon OER, and eCampusOntario’s H5P Studio. Open Oregon OER even offers an option to narrow by courses with ancillaries available in their adopted resources list (See Figure 14.1).
    A screenshot of the Open Oregon Resources table, with four columns highlighted: course, materials, links, and ancillaries.
    Figure 14.1. If ancillary content is reported as available for a resource, Open Oregon places a checkmark in the Ancillaries column for their table of adopted OER.
  5. Check for affiliated ancillary materials posted alongside the open textbook. Ancillaries might be linked within the book itself or on the same website where the book is hosted.
    Sometimes, ancillary resources are linked in an open textbook or linked within the same listing in the institutional repository where its related textbook is listed. These types of connections are useful to have because ancillaries shared in this way are often created by the same instructor(s) or team that created the open textbook, ensuring that the ancillaries are aligned to the book for which they were created and follow the same tone. A good example of this type can be seen in Professional Communications, an open textbook out of Fanshawe College (Smith et al. 2019).
    Other times, ancillaries might be linked within or near the description of an open textbook. The Open Textbook Library has an “Ancillary Material” section in itsitem records, for example, and OpenStax links to free instructor resources from its textbooks as well (OpenStax, n.d.). Keep in mind that because OpenStax textbooks have been widely reused and adapted, the ancillaries available on the OpenStax website represent only a selection of the ancillaries for its books.
  6. Search in LibGuides. LibGuides are a great way to find materials that aren’t collected elsewhere. Searching “Libguides” and “[your topic]” in your web search engine of choice may yield some useful ancillaries in addition to open textbooks. Some, such as the California State University Dominguez Hills’ Open Educational Resources LibGuide, even have a separate page specifically for ancillary materials (California State University Dominguez Hills, n.d.).
  7. Ask for help! Reach out to the original authors of a text to see if they have recommended ancillaries or use a specific set of content for their course that is openly available somewhere online. Just because you can’t find it, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. If the authors don’t have help for you, you can reach out to OER listservs for additional recommendations.
Program Manager Tips: Can’t Find It? Make It!
If you have trouble finding ancillary materials, your faculty may want to create ancillary OER instead. This is a great chance to share back with the greater OER community, and a project of this scope is much more achievable than a book-level creation project as well.

Non-OER Ancillaries

While moving courses fully to OER is the goal for many OER programs, sometimes taking a step in the right direction is better than nothing. It’s possible that instructors at your institution may be interested in adopting an open textbook where open ancillaries are not available or appropriately robust for the faculty member’s adoption, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Ancillaries can come from a wide variety of venues and price points, and understanding the options available can make you more effective when discussing these options in your community.

Free but not open ancillaries

The first type of non-OER ancillary you might want to recommend are free-but-not-open ancillaries. Widely known resources of this type are YouTube videos (the ones that aren’t under a Creative Commons license). However, videos are only one example. Free online tools and applications, such as LearnItFast, are also popular no-cost course supplements, and there are many you can find online.

Often, free-but-not-open resources make great ancillary materials for faculty. However, there are a few situations where OER may be preferable. For example, if an instructor wants to adapt and publish a new version of a free-but-not-open resource, they will need to get permission from the original creator in order to do so, whereas this type of remixing is inherent to OER.

Ancillaries that are free for some users

The second type of non-OER ancillary resources you may encounter are the ones that are free for students but require an institutional fee and are not open. These might include library-licensed ebooks and materials provided through your institution’s Course Reserves system. While e-books and other subscription content provided through your institution’s library do have a cost attached to them for your institution, they are still a better investment than purchasing 10 copies of a course textbook that may have a new edition released next year.

Paid ancillaries for OER from smaller companies

The third type of non-OER ancillary you may encounter are the ancillary resources intended to support open textbooks that require a fee to access. Often, these fees are minimal, generally less than $20 per student. Examples of this type include companies like Grasple, which offers interactive mathematics exercises to supplement OpenStax textbooks, and Lumen Learning, which offers both integration with your institution’s LMS and homework software like their Online Homework Manager (OHM).

Program Manager Tips: Understand Your Options
Yes, you can support ancillaries for OER that are not free or not open! There are multiple free and paid options available to help supplement and support the adoption of OER at your institution. However, as a program manager you need to be aware of the different models at play in the ancillary market and their values. Faculty may be solicited by publishers who develop OER ancillaries and have more expensive options pushed upon them if your institutional community is not aware of alternatives like the ones available through OpenStax, LibreTexts, or Lumen Learning. Make sure that all of these options are discussed at your institution and that you have information handy to help people understand the pros and cons of various ancillary sources, including fully open ones.

Paid ancillaries for OER from commercial publishers

Fourth and last in this list, there are paid ancillaries for OER that were developed by traditional textbook publishers and companies that work in education technology, such as Cengage and Pearson. These ancillaries are often the most expansive, building off of the content and staff power of the companies managing them.

Paid supplemental materials for OER developed by traditional textbook publishers have come under fire for openwashing over the past few years, particularly in 2018 and 2019, when textbook publishers were first jumping into the “OER ancillary market” (Jhangiani 2019). Openwashing is defined as “[spinning] a product or company as open, although it is not” (Thorne 2009). As David Wiley (2016) once explained in a discussion of openwashing:

“Because the power, and ethics, and brand of ‘open’ are so universally admired and respected, many organizations want to be associated with it. If an organization can’t reshape its business model in order to actually be open (that is, provide free access and open licenses to its products), then the only way it can benefit from the public’s good will toward open is to redefine the word as describing something their business model actually permits.”

It is important to evaluate providers not just by their products but also by their alignment with your institution and program’s values. Both smaller and larger ancillary providers who work in the OER space can have ethical issues tied to their work. As a program manager, it is important that you learn how to discuss the pros and cons of each platform that faculty may want to pursue. For example, you might want to discuss the overall cost of each platform and the aspects of their systems that might impact students, such as their privacy policies and their accessibility.


This chapter largely focuses on ancillary content that pairs with an open textbook. These ancillaries are truly “ancillary” to a “primary” resource. However, not all ancillary OER pair with a specific book, nor should that be the only way we think of ancillary content.

An OER can be any resource that is used for education, free, and openly licensed. Open ancillaries are not adjacent to OER, they are OER. As program managers who are charged with educating and reaching out to those new to OER, it’s important that we not conflate the concept of OER with open textbooks alone. Yes, textbooks are often the focus of our work managing OER programs. Textbooks are in high demand from faculty and replacing traditional ones is where the bulk of OER savings for students comes from, which is a major driver of many OER programs. However, looking beyond the textbook is just as, if not more, important for the long haul.

Recommended Resources

Key Takeaways
  1. As new platforms, tools, and resources are developed each year, OER ancillaries are becoming easier to access. Check back regularly to see if there is something new that meets your instructors’ needs.
  2. Just because you cannot find any ancillaries for an OER doesn’t mean that nothing exists. Reach out to your network of peers online or to the author of the open textbook your instructor is using to see if there are ancillaries your instructor can access that aren’t openly available yet.
  3. The range and complexity of OER ancillaries vary widely by discipline and topic. Be prepared to offer alternate options for faculty who need access to test banks for their courses, such as paid platforms like Lumen Learning.


California State University Dominguez Hills. n.d. “What Are Ancillary Materials?” Open Educational Resources (OER) Library Guide. Accessed January 30, 2022.

Carson, Brandon Thomas. 2020. “Breaking Barriers: Understanding and Removing Barriers to OER Use.” Master’s thesis, Royal Roads University.

DeCarlo, Matthew. 2018. Scientific Inquiry in Social Work. Open Social Work Education.

Elder, Abbey K. 2018. “Commercial Platforms That Utilize Open Educational Resources: A Crowd-Sourced Tool for Sharing Information and Assessing Products.” Last updated December 13, 2021.

Jhangiani, Rajiv. 2019, October 15. “For-Profit, Faux-Pen, and Critical Conversations about the Future of Learning Materials.”

Lantrip, Jennifer, and Jacquelyn Ray. 2020. “Faculty Perceptions and Usage of OER at Oregon Community Colleges.” Community College Journal of Research and Practice 45 (12): 896–910.

OpenStax. n.d. “Calculus Volume 1 Instructor Resources.”

Petrides, Lisa, Doug Levin, and C. Edward Watson. 2018, March 4. “Toward a Sustainable OER Ecosystem: The Case for OER Stewardship.”

Posner, Zach. 2017, January 11. “What is Adaptive Learning, Anyway?” McGraw Hill. Accessed January 22, 2021.

Smith, Jordan, Melissa Ashman, eCampusOntario, Brian Dunphy, and Andrew Stracuzzi. 2019. Professional Communications. eCampus Pressbooks.

Thorne, Michelle. 2009, March 14. “Openwashing.” Accessed January 30, 2022.

Wiley, David. 2016, January 29. “What Does ‘Open’ Really Mean?” EdSurge.


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The OER Starter Kit for Program Managers Copyright © 2022 by Abbey K. Elder is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.