Open Educational Resources

What are open educational resources?

Open educational resources (OER) are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under a copyright license that permits anyone to freely use and repurpose them. OER may include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, lesson plans, streaming videos, tests, journal articles, and any other tools or materials used to support learning.

The power of OER comes in the “5R permissions” that entitle you to not only access these materials free of charge, but also to adapt, improve, and tailor them to meet the needs of your students and your curriculum:

Retain: Make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, copy, store, and manage content)

Reuse: Use the content in a variety of ways (e.g., in the classroom, in a study group, on a website, or in a learning management platform)

Revise: Adapt, adjust, modify, improve, or alter the content (e.g., translate the content into another language or otherwise transform materials to meet your needs)

Reorder: Combine the original or revised content with other OER to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)

Redistribute: Share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., post a copy of the content online for others to download and reuse)

[Adapted from Lumen Learning and SPARC Open]

Background information about OER

The Open Educational Resources movement was conceived as a way to transform and democratize access to education. The movement is only a decade old, but it has already matured to a point at which governments, companies, and, most importantly, teachers and learners around the world are creating and using OER in innovative ways. The number of openly licensed resources and projects available to copy, remix, and share without restriction is growing by the day, and several major OER repositories have been established online that offer convenient access to high-quality, professionally vetted OER that are ready to be adapted and used in the classroom.

[Adapted and updated from the Creative Commons report “Open Educational Resources Mythbusting”)

Distinguishing OER from other educational materials online

OER are not the only educational materials to be found online, however most resources on the Internet are under copyright and cannot be repurposed, even if they are available for free. Materials that are not accompanied by a specific license, typically a legally binding Creative Commons license that describes how someone may copy, adapt and share a resource, are not Open Educational Resources. Most OER materials are published under free Creative Commons licenses or as Public Domain. As such, everybody is given the right to use and adapt Open Education Resources without needing to request permission from copyright holders (as long as they adhere to license conditions, such as attribution). Materials that do not carry such a license may only be used within fair use provisions or U.S. copyright exceptions.

Evaluating OER

Open Educational Resources vary in quality, and it is important that instructors take time to carefully evaluate them before introducing them to their classroom. The following criteria should be considered when considering and vetting OER:

  • Authority: Is the creator of the resource acknowledged? What are her or his qualifications?
  • Accuracy: At a glance, are there visible errors or egregious formatting issues? Does it have a professional appearance?
  • Objectivity: Can you detect any improper bias in the author’s approach to presenting the content?
  • Currency: When was the resource created or last updated? Is a date visible?
  • Coverage: Does the resource add value to your class? Are only portions applicable? Could it be supplemented or combined with other OER? Does the resource align with your course learning objectives?
  • Accessibility: Is it ADA compliant?
  • License: Is a Creative Commons License (or other legally binding license) present? Does the license allow you to reuse, remix, or otherwise repurpose the resource to fit your needs? Will you need to provide attribution if used?
  • Persistence: If you adopt an OER, check to ensure the URL is still valid and make sure you are using or adapting the most recent version of the resource to ensure currency and accuracy.

Several quality rubrics and tools exist for evaluating OER: