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OER: Open Educational Resources


What’s OER?


Open Educational Resources (OER) are learning materials that range from individual lessons to textbooks to whole courses and curricula.  They may include text, images, animation, audio &  video or a combination.


OER materials are either in the PUBLIC DOMAIN or have copyright permissions spelled out up front that enable you to redistribute or remix that content without having to ask permission.  These permissions may also include allowing you to use that content to make your own textbook or learning object.  Most of these materials are free to access and use.

Many OERs are copyrighted but have a Creative Commons license attached that enable you to distribute, reuse or modify the materials, as long as you credit the creator of the original OER.  This means you can often adapt, modify or remix new materials into an OER that you adopt, and that your students can keep the text.


Is OER the same as Open Access (OA)?


Not really, although there are some similarities -- many OA and OER resources have Creative Commons licenses; both lower the barriers to accessing information resources.  Both are most often free to access and read.


Open Access is generally more concerned with creating “unpaywalled” free-to-read access to scholarly, scientific research, most often in the form of journal articles.  Open Educational Resources are most often classroom materials or learning objects.  OERs are designed to be remixed and redistributed. A fuller explanation is available here.



Are slideshows and lecture captures OER?


It depends.  The course materials faculty create are under all-rights-reserved copyright.  And the copyrights on the materials from journals or books are owned by those respective creators & publishers.


To make those materials OER, one would need to license them with a Creative Commons license.  They can then be uploaded to a personal website, add them to an online repository or upload them to an OER-centric space like MERLOT (  


"I’m already using free materials in my courses, like youtube videos.  Are these OER?"


Not most of them.  Like anything else, assume videos and sound recordings are copyrighted by their creators.  While linking to those materials is generally ok, you would need permission to download, alter and redistribute that content.  And it’s always possible that the copyright owner will change or remove that content or place it behind a paywall.  Youtube DOES enable you to limit search results to openly-licensed content.  So do several other media-centric tools like vimeo, flickr, bandcamp and wikimedia commons.


"Is the material I access through the library OER?"


We highly recommend linking to articles, ebooks, videos, artworks and sound recordings that you find in our licensed databases. 


Most of it is under copyright, however: while you may link to it from your course page or website, there are restrictions on who can access those materials and for how long (i.e., your students) and what you can do with it (for example, if you wanted to use large excerpts or redesign that material for future courses.) 


"Can I mix and match OER and copyrighted materials in my course?"


YES!  You’re probably doing something like this already.  You can embed database links and youtube videos into OER content the same as you’re doing with your slideshows.  The only issue:  If you do so, that learning material you created is not OER so you generally can’t redistribute it to others.




“Does OER mean I have to write my own textbook?”


No.  Many instructors adopt an OER text (called “adoption”), or curate discrete OER materials and remix them with lecture notes or other resources (i.e.,“adaptation” of one’s syllabus).  You may author your own text out of OER sources (as long as this is permitted by the CC licenses) or write your own.  Some OER are written by one author while others have been developed by academic departments or through academic partnerships, just like many published commercial textbooks. 




Are OERs Accessible?


It depends.  Many OER courses have accessibility baked in, but many more do not.  Remember that OER is based on the licensing (public domain or CC) and not by accessibility standard.  To check whether an OER is accessibility compliant, try one of these resources.






Public Domain

What are some examples of PUBLIC DOMAIN Resources?.  Public Domain are materials where the copyright has expired (in the US this is most materials from before January 1,1925), materials where the material is placed in the public domain by a decision of its creator (“CC 0”) or placed in the public domain by government statute.


Even US and state government websites contain some copyrighted materials.  Check the “about” or “terms of use” links at those sites for more information. Some public domain materials include‚Äč