What are Open Educational Resources (OER)?
The nonprofit organization Creative Commons provides the following definition of open educational resources (OER):
“Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching, learning, and research materials that are either (a) in the public domain or (b) licensed in a manner that provides everyone with free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities.”
In Texas, Senate Bill 810 (SB 810), which was signed into law in June 2017, further defines OER as follows:
“‘Open educational resource’ means 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.”
The key distinguishing factor of this type of educational resource is the copyright status of the material. If course content is under a traditional, all-rights-reserved copyright, then it’s not an OER. If it resides in the public domain or has been licensed for adaptation and distribution, then it is an OER.
The 5R permissions are what make OER different from material which is copyrighted under traditional, all-rights-reserved copyright. Another way to frame this is that open in open educational resources doesn’t simply equate to being free; in fact, it more accurately can be described as:
open = free + permissions (the 5Rs)
The 5Rs are a useful way to appreciate the value of OER. These permissions help you, the user of openly licensed content, understand what you are allowed to do with the work. These permissions are granted in advance and are legally established through Public Domain or Creative Commons license:
Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)
Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)
As you learned from the definitions above, OER can encompass a variety of teaching and learning materials. Types of OER include (but are not limited to) syllabi, lesson plans, learning modules, lab experiments, simulations, course videos, discussion prompts, assignments, assessments, library guides, and course design templates.
Listed below are a few examples of the ways in which faculty, students, librarians, and instructional designers may use or support the adoption of open educational resources:
Many faculty already use OER in their classes — for example, showing an openly licensed course video or using worksheets created and shared by other faculty. Faculty can create and share syllabi, lesson plans, and even entire textbooks for their courses. They can collaborate with faculty at their own institutions, or other institutions around the world. They can access and remix existing OER and re-publish them to share with others.
Students can play a significant role in creating and improving OER ─ from simple assignments to full textbooks. One example from Plymouth State University includes students working together to find public-domain materials, write topic introductions, craft discussion forum prompts, and create assignments to go along with the materials to create a full OER textbook. The result became The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature.
Librarians play a key role in OER initiatives by advocating, developing, exploring, and managing OER. Along with helping you find relevant OER, librarians can help you better understand copyright and licensing concepts, and guide you through your Creative Commons licensing options if you choose to create materials yourself. You will explore this further in Module 5, Finding OER.
Instructional Designers can work with faculty and students to integrate OER into teaching and learning and also share and publish their course design templates as OER. Many instructional designers and technologists work with librarians and IT services to help integrate OER into learning management systems such as Blackboard, Canvas, and Brightspace.
Going back to our definition, we need to remember that OER reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license permitting their free use and repurposing by others.
The most commonly used intellectual property license for OER that permits free use and re-purposing is called Creative Commons Licensing. Creative Commons licenses work with legal definitions of copyright to automatically provide usage rights pertaining to that work.
As you progress along your learning journey, Module 4 and Module 7 will provide you with the opportunity to fully explore Creative Commons licensing and to learn how to apply the appropriate licenses to the OER you and your learners create and use.