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Affordable Learning Glossary

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The Momentum on OER Glossary is designed to provide definitions and references to build understanding of the rapidly changing landscape of the higher education learning environment in relation to Open Education, technological advances, and increasingly digital course materials. The Glossary synthesizes information from a variety of readily searchable sources and was compiled by members of the UT System Affordable Learning Accelerator Task Force. 






Access Codes—also referred to as Course Codes—are passwords that grant access to a variety of online course materials including textbooks, tests, quizzes, homework and problem sets, student guides, videos, and other resources.  Unlike “Inclusive Access,” students purchase access codes directly from the campus store or other vendors. Access code costs may be offered separately from, and in addition to, a required textbook, or may be bundled with a print or electronic text. Access codes are generally valid only through the end of the course; after that, the student no longer has access to course materials. 



Under university, UT System, state, and federal policies and laws, all instructional content must be accessible to all students. This requirement includes students with disabilities that could be visual, auditory, physical, and cognitive. Ensuring access means that a person with a disability must be afforded the same opportunities as a person without a disability to:  acquire the same information; engage in the same interactions; enjoy the same services; and experience substantially equivalent ease of use. Research demonstrates that accessible design implemented to address legal requirements and best practice has a secondary benefit of helping all students to learn on a more equal footing. See also Inclusive Design and Universal Design.

University, UT System, state and federal policies and laws are complex and ensuring accessibility to course content, digital and print, requires intentional planning and attentiveness. Many resources are available to guide higher educators, including The University of Texas System (UTS) 150 policy on access to electronic and information resources for persons with disabilities, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA, and—for Open Education and Open Educational Resources—the BCcampus Open Education Accessibility Toolkit



Adaptive learning focuses on providing an individualized learning experience for students. Adaptive learning is a data-driven approach that uses computer algorithms and digital courseware, including instructional content and assessments, to provide customized learning paths for individual students.   



Adaptive technologies are products, equipment, and services that help users with disabilities access digital content. They work best with materials created in adherence to accessibility best practices. Examples include screen readers, closed captioning, speech recognition systems, refreshable Braille displays, and screen magnification applications. 



The Affordable College Textbook Act (H.R.2107/S.1036), introduced in the 116th Congress on April 4, 2019, is an effort to reduce textbook costs at U.S. colleges and universities by expanding the use of open textbooks (and other open educational resources). Students can freely download, edit, and share these affordable alternatives to traditional textbooks.  



This federal law protects qualified individuals with disabilities from discrimination on the basis of disability in services, programs, and activities provided by state and local government entities. The ADA is intended to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities and provide broad coverage. 



Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to the development of computer systems that mimic a human brain and enable them to perform tasks that usually require human intelligence. AI is increasingly used in many sectors, including higher education, healthcare, business and government. While development time is significant, AI has the potential to improve adaptive learning in education, creating a basis for more personalized learning pathways. 



Augmented reality is an interactive experience of a real-world environment where the objects that reside in the real world are enhanced by computer-generated perceptual information, sometimes across multiple sensory modalities, including visual, auditory, haptic, somatosensory and olfactory.  AR is increasingly used in higher education settings, including laboratory and clinical settings, as well as in health care environments.  





Backward design, also called backward planning or backward mapping, is a process that educators use to design learning experiences and instructional techniques to achieve specific learning goals. Backward design begins with the objectives of a unit or course—what students are expected to learn and be able to do—and then proceeds “backward” to create lessons that achieve those desired goals.  



Bookstore fulfillment refers to the process by which campus stores list and provision required and recommended course materials. The process of listing and fulfilling those learning materials is a multi-stepped process that requires various interactions from faculty to content providers. Increasingly, states are adopting legislation that requires the marking of courses that utilize Open Educational Resources as well as low-cost and no-cost materials, and campus bookstores play a critical role in this process.   





The Capetown Open Declaration, originally written in 2007, helped and continues to help build global dialogue, engagement, and action to help the Open Education movement grow. It is a statement of principle, strategy and commitment signed by thousands of learners, educators, trainers, authors, schools, colleges, universities, publishers, unions, professional societies, policymakers, governments, foundations, and other open education initiatives around the world. 



According to the U.S. Copyright Office, “Copyright is a type of intellectual property that protects original works of authorship as soon as an author fixes the work in a tangible form of expression. In copyright law, there are a lot of different types of works, including paintings, photographs, illustrations, musical compositions, sound recordings, computer programs, books, poems, blog posts, movies, architectural works, plays, and more”. In Open Educational Resources, resources may be copyrighted in more flexible forms that allows others to access, modify, and distribute existing material.  



For the purposes of Open Educational Resources, course markings and listings are designed to indicate which courses incorporate free or reduced cost textbooks and course materials. Ideally these are included in the course search technology used by postsecondary institutions and the course catalogs for each academic year. Existing challenges with effective course markings include the ability to collect accurate information from faculty or departments, and to integrate these listings into digital platforms that host course searches and schedules.  



Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that provides free, easy-to-use copyright licenses resulting in a simple and standardized way to give the public permission to share and use their own creative and academic work as well as that of others, at no cost. There are a variety of Creative Commons licenses that spell out how the work of other people may be used, including copying, distributing, editing, remixing and building upon, all in adherence to copyright law and in the service of expanding availability of, access to and engagement with Open Educational Resources.  





Redlining refers to systematically denying services to specific neighborhoods, communities, or races. Digital redlining refers to the technology, policies, practices, pedagogies and investment decisions that regulate access to and participation in digital technologies and reinforce class and race boundaries.  It is also a set of education policies, investment decisions, and IT practices that actively create and maintain class boundaries through strictures that discriminate against specific groups.  Learn more here



According to the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, digital equity is required to ensure full participation in society, democracy, and economy. In the digital age, it is a fundamental component for civic and cultural participation, lifelong learning, and access to essential services. In the realm of higher education, digital access and resources are required to enroll, receive support, and complete assignments and courses, making digital equity central to student access and success.  



Digital Inclusion refers to the activities necessary to ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged, have access to and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).  This includes 5 elements: 1) affordable, robust broadband internet service; 2) internet-enabled devices that meet the needs of the user; 3) access to digital literacy training; 4) quality technical support; and 5) applications and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation and collaboration. From the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.





According to the Student Borrower Protection Center, educational redlining is the use of education data as a factor in determining a person’s access to credit and costs of financial products.  Such use continues/increases financial barriers for historically marginalized consumers, heightening inequality. 



Equity is about fairness as opposed to equality, which invokes sameness. In other words, it refers to the difference between treating people fairly (equity) vs. treating everyone the same (equality). In higher education, equity is determined by looking at student outcomes and closing attainment gaps disaggregated by populations across multiple dimensions (race/ethnicity, income, gender, first-generation status, geography). Equity is measurable and must be attended to across multiple touchpoints along the student success continuum, including:  access to, participation in, persistence through and completion of quality educational programs across student populations, disaggregated by race/ethnicity, income, gender, first-generation and geography, among other characteristics.  





Fair use is a legal doctrine that promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances. Section 107 of the Copyright Act provides the statutory framework for determining whether a work falls under fair use and identifies certain types of uses—such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research—as examples of activities that may qualify as fair use.  



The framework on which open courseware experts believe an OER course should be based for to maintain quality and consistency: retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute.  The material, whether public domain or licensed for free perpetual use, enable users to:  

Retain—make, download, and keep copies of the resource 

Reuse—use the original resource, or any variation of it, on a website, in a presentation, in a class. 

Revise—change the resource in a wide range of ways 

Remix—combine the original resource, or a variation of it, with another resource to create a new resource 

Redistribute—share the original or a revised/remixed version with others 





“Inclusive Access” (sometimes referred to as “day-one access”) is a name given by commercial publishers to automatic billing programs where a time-limited subscription to digital learning materials is automatically charged to students as part of their enrollment or tuition bill. This fee may cover a variety of materials, from digital textbooks to homework systems.  “Inclusive Access” prices are negotiated between the publisher and the institution. The institution may recover the cost of these subscriptions by direct-billing student accounts for each applicable course or by building the cost of course materials into tuition and fees



Inclusive design considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age and other forms of human difference in the development of learning environments. The Inclusive Design Research Centre at OCAD University focuses on recognizing the diversity and uniqueness of each person, ensuring that inclusivity is part of the process of design and the tools used in design, and that the impact of the design extends beyond the target beneficiary.     



An ISBN is an International Standard Book Number, i.e., a product identifier used by libraries, publishers, booksellers, internet retailers and others for ordering, listing, sales records and stock control purposes. ISBNs were 10 digits in length up to the end of December 2006, but since 1 January 2007 they now always consist of 13 digits.  





A learning management system is a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting, automation and delivery of educational courses (including, e.g., syllabi, assignments, grading), training programs, or learning and development programs. Colleges and universities use LMS not only to deliver course content, but also to manage course registration, data analysis and reporting, student progress and barriers, and other administrative and reporting services. 



Learning outcomes are statements of the knowledge, skills, and abilities individual students should possess and can demonstrate upon completion of a learning experience or sequence of learning experiences. 





Machine learning is a specific form of artificial intelligence (AI) and computer science that uses data and algorithms to extract, analyze and model useful information. Machine learning is increasingly used in many sectors, including higher education, healthcare, business and government. Practical application of machine learning in these sectors include making classifications or predictions and identifying key insights that impact decision making.  


MOOC (Massive Open Online Course)

MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, aim to provide unlimited participation and open access to learners worldwide via the web. First introduced in 2006, MOOCs emerged as a popular mode of learning circa 2012 as a model for delivering learning content online to any person who wants to take a course, with no limit on attendance. While the courses are free to take, learners who want to earn academic credit generally have to pay. 





Online Program Management (OPM) are third-party vendors and businesses that provide program development, analytics and platforms, among other services, to aid colleges and universities in recruiting, enrolling and retaining students in online educational programs. Examples include Wiley Education Services, Pearson and Academic Partnerships. 



Open access refers to the practice of making peer-reviewed scholarly research and literature freely available online to anyone interested in reading it. Open access has two different versions—gratis and libre. Gratis open access makes research available for others to read without having to pay for it. However, it does not grant the user the right to make copies, distribute, or modify the work in any way beyond fair use. Like gratis open access, libre open access makes research available free of charge, but it goes further by granting users additional rights, usually via a Creative Commons license, so that people are free to reuse and remix the research. There are varying degrees of what may be considered Libre open access. For example, some scholarly articles may permit all except commercial uses, some may permit all uses except derivative works, and some may permit all uses and simply require attribution. While some would argue that Libre open access should be free of any copyright restrictions (except attribution), other scholars consider a work that removes at least some permission barriers to be libre



Open data is data that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone, with requirements around attribution and sharing. According to the Open Data Handbook, open data is data that aligns with three guiding principles. First, the data must be available as a whole and preferably downloadable over the internet in a convenient, modifiable form (such as a spreadsheet). Second, the data must be permitted for re-use and redistribution. Third, there must be no discrimination in persons or groups having access to the data or restrictions on the ways the data can be used. These three principles ensure the ability of systems and organizations to work collaboratively together and integrate different datasets. Standardized examples of Open Data include the U.S. Census data and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). 



Education is a fundamental component of a creative, successful democratic society. Open Education is defined by the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) as “resources, tools and practices that are free of legal, financial and technical barriers and can be fully used, shared and adapted in the digital environment.” Collections of Open Educational Resources (see definition below) make up the broad field of Open Education.    



Open Educational Resources are teaching, learning and research materials in any medium – digital or otherwise –in the public domain or that have been released under an open license that permits others no-cost access, use, adaptation, and redistribution with no or limited restrictions. 

Texas Education Code, Section 51.451, defines OER as “a teaching, learning, or research resource that is in the public domain or has been released under an intellectual property license that permits the free use, adaptation, and redistribution of the resource by any person. The term may include full course curricula, course materials, modules, textbooks, media, assessments, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques, whether digital or otherwise, used to support access to knowledge” (SB 810). 



Also known as open educational practices (OEP), open pedagogy refers to using open educational resources to support learning, or the open sharing of teaching practices with a goal of improving education and training at the institutional, professional, and individual level.  Using open pedagogy invites student to be part of the teaching process, participating in the co-creation of knowledge.  As described by the University of Texas at Arlington Libraries, open pedagogy refers to “the practice of engaging with students as creators of information rather than simply consumers of it. It is a form of experiential learning in which students demonstrate understanding through the act of creation.”  The projects created become open educational resources, such as textbooks, videos, quizzes, learning modules.   



According to the Association of Research Libraries, open scholarship encompasses open data, open educational resources, and all other forms of openness in the scholarly and research environment while changing how knowledge is created and shared. 



According to the Open Science Training Handbook, Open Science is the “practice of science in such a way that others can collaborate and contribute, where research data, lab notes and other research processes are freely available, under terms that enable reuse, redistribution and reproduction of the research and its underlying data and methods.” The drive to expand open science is a result of the recognition that academic culture can be hierarchical and rigid, and often lacks incentives for openness and collaboration.  





Pressbooks is an authoring platform for OER and other public scholarship, that supports development of blended and online learning as well as a variety of digital content, and provides secure methods of delivering content to learning management systems (LMS). For example, Mavs Open Press, operated by the University of Texas at Arlington Libraries (UTA Libraries), offers no-cost services for UTA faculty, staff, and students who wish to openly publish their scholarship. 



The term public domain refers to creative materials that are not protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright, trademark, or patent laws. Anyone can use a public domain work without obtaining permission. Public domain tools enable authors and copyright owners who want to dedicate their works and intellectual property to the worldwide public domain to do so. They also facilitate the labeling and discovery of works that are already free of known copyright restrictions. 




ROI (Return on Investment)

In business, return on investment (ROI) is a financial ratio used to calculate the gain or loss investors will receive in relation to their investment cost. Generally, it compares how well something performs or the benefits of an enterprise in relation to the investment (cost in terms of resources, time, etc.) put into the endeavor.  

ROI is used in higher education settings in multiple ways. For students, ROI refers to the relationship between the costs of a student’s college education and the ensuing benefits they receive in terms of career prospects, salaries, and lifetime earnings that result from investing in a college education. For institutions, units and departments, ROI can be calculated from savings and additional dollars accrued through various investments across metrics like increased enrollments, and improved retention and graduation rates. In the world of OER, ROI is calculated by savings in textbook and course material costs to students, and in savings on proprietary textbooks and course materials purchased by libraries and other departments. 




SB 810 (Senate Bill 810 - 2017 Texas Legislative Session)

On June 9, 2017, the Texas Governor signed into law Senate Bill 810, legislation designed to support Open Educational Resources in Texas. Significant features of the bill included the establishment of an Open Education Resources Grant Program and OER repository at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), and statutory requirements related to course listings and textbooks, e.g., that Texas higher education institutions provide students the opportunity to search course catalogues for classes that require or recommend open resources as their textbooks and course materials. In subsequent legislative sessions, additional funding and statutory requirements have been passed to support OER and more transparent information to students regarding textbook and course materials costs and options. Additional information can be found on the UT System World of OER webpage. 





The Texas Library Coalition for United Action (TLCUA) was established in 2020 and includes 43 members from academic university and health research libraries across Texas.  The Coalition was formed under a common set of principles to think creatively about access to faculty publications and the sustainability of journal subscriptions. The TLCUA is organized to identify the best way to change current models and the relationships between academic institutions and publishers. Its goals include improved access to scholarship, greater control over faculty content, and pricing models that are sustainable for strained library budgets in higher education.  



Sponsored by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), the Texas OER Landscape Survey was conducted first in May 2019 by the Digital Higher Education Consortium of Texas (DigiTex) and the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME), and again in Spring 2021. The 2019  survey findings revealed insights into specific priorities, practices, and perceptions surrounding OER across the Texas higher education landscape. The 2021 survey is designed to guide future statewide OER initiatives, based on the needs of the public and private institutions and to help meet the goals of 60x30TX, the THECB’s strategic higher education plan. 





Universal design for learning (UDL) is a set of principles for designing learning and other environments that are understood, accessible, and used by all people, regardless of ability, disability, age, gender, or cultural and linguistic background. In education, UDL provides a blueprint for designing goals, methods, materials, and assessments to reach all students including those with diverse needs.  By taking into account the diverse needs and abilities of all learners throughout the design process, UDL provides all individuals with equitable opportunities to learn. Learn more at the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design





Virtual Reality enables computer-generated simulations by which people can interact within artificial, three-dimensional environments using a variety of electronic devices, including special goggles with a screen or gloves fitted with sensors.  VR is increasingly used in higher education settings, including laboratory and clinical settings, as well as in health care environments. 





The WCAG guidelines provide principles and recommendations to make web content more accessible to users with disabilities. They have been developed by the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative, part of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), to develop standards and materials that guide understanding and implementation of web accessibility. The guidelines cover a range of disabilities (e.g., hearing and vision impairments and loss, physical mobility challenges, cognitive and learning disabilities), devices (e.g., desktop and laptop computers, tablets, mobile and wearable devices), and web content (e.g., static and interactive, visual and auditory media, virtual and augmented reality).