Can you trust open resources?

Not all open access resources are equal. But the same can be said of traditionally-published resources. 

Say you’re searching an online database to find some reading material to assign to your students and discover what seems like a useful article. After reading it, you find that the article is relevant to your course content, is published by a reputable publisher, and is written by a trusted expert in their field.

But then you realise you have forgotten to log in to the database with your University account, which means that the article you have been reading is openly available. What’s more, you notice it has been published with a creative commons license and can be edited by anyone. What do you do?

  1. Distrust and discard the article now that you know it’s an open resource, then look through one of the Library’s subscribed databases for a more traditionally published article?
  2. Share the article with your students, happy in the knowledge that the author has practiced open scholarship and created an open educational resource?

Just as there are both good and bad examples of traditionally published scholarly literature, some open resources you find will be of poor quality. However, there are also many high quality, reliable, and trustworthy open resources available for use in your teaching.

So, can you trust the quality of open resources? The short answer is yes!

Using open access resources for teaching and study

Increasingly, open publishers are using rigorous review and quality assurance processes to make sure the resources they produce are trustworthy. This has led open publishers to clearly outline their administrative and review processes. Even Wikipedia, long considered the bane of teaching scholarly research practice, now has a comprehensive system of editors, community-appointed administrators, and an elected arbitration committee tasked with weeding out misinformation or poorly written and uncited material.

Library bites for teaching: Wikipedia is (not) the enemy

Image shows the CAUL open educational resources publishing workflow

Council of Australian University Librarians. See the CAUL libguide for more information.

The same is true of most open publishers. For example, The Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL) Open Educational Resources Collective has developed a comprehensive publishing workflow that is informed by best practice across open publishing. The workflow guides authors through the basics of open textbook publishing and aims to ensure quality control.

As educators strive to more rapidly build on existing scholarship faster than traditional publishing allows, need more tailored content, and seek to engage with open data sharing practices, we are seeing a clear move toward building trustworthy open resources.

As with all scholarly materials, critical thinking is the most effective tool to determine the quality of an open resource. When assessing whether you should use an open resource, you should ask yourself:

  • Is the material suitable? Does it meet your needs, is it current and up to date?
  • Is the material high quality? Is the creator reputable? Is the work clearly written and free of errors?
  • Is the material accurate? Does the article make wildly different claims to other scholarly research in the field? Does it make clear the context in which it is written (region-specific or demographic-specific, for example)? Does it identify gaps in its own findings or scope for further exploration?

Library bites for teaching: Flexible and Free: an introduction to Open Educational Resources

The Library is here for support

For more information about using open resources in teaching, visit the Library’s Open Educational Resources guide. For information about the University’s Open Access Policy and about publishing open resources, visit the Library’s Open Access webpage. If you want to speak with a librarian about what open resources are available and how to use them in your teaching, contact the Library’s Learning Support team.

Tagged in open educational resources, library bites for teaching