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CTE - Center for Teaching Excellence: Open Educational Resources (OER)

Defintion: What does OER mean?

Open Educational Resources are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and repurposing by others.

--William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

The Five Rs of Open Content

The primary difference between OER content and Open Access content is that OER content should allow the use of all of the 5 Rs*:

  • Reuse - Use the content in a wide range of ways
  • Rework - Adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself
  • Remix - Combine the original or revised content with other open content to create something new
  • Redistribute- Share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others
  • Retain - Make, own, and control copies of the content

A real-world example:

Professor X takes two different open textbooks and uses several chapters from each book.  Dr. X uses the chapters in a different order than in the original books, removes some of the chapters' sections, and re-orders some of the sections.  Dr. X then adds additional content from other OER sources before posting the finished product for students to use in the course.  Students can access the content for free online and/or can print as many pages as desired.

*As described by open content advocate and innovator David Wiley

OER, Textbooks, and Open Access

Open Educational Resources (OER), Open Textbooks, and Open Access are all related terms--where the word Open usually means Freely Available.

The term Open Educational Resources encompasses content in many different formats, including: syllabi, lesson plans, reading lists, books and textbooks, multimedia items (videos, images, etc.), worksheets, activities, PowerPoint presentations, full courses...

Open Textbooks are a subset of OER and are designed to be used in the same ways as a traditional textbook (content includes discussion/review questions, learning objectives, etc.)--but they are usually available for free (at least in digital format).  Some open textbooks even include author-created instructor resources like PowerPoints and test banks.

Open Access is generally used to refer to published research articles that are freely available (without subscription or other payment).

Why OER?

One of the main reasons why faculty, librarians, scholars, philanthropists, and students (and others) advocate for the use of OER:


One of the main reasons why faculty use OER and encourage other faculty members to explore OER:

Freedom over educational content and delivery

OER and Licenses

Unlike commercial textbooks and courseware products, OER are made available with open licenses.  Licenses do not take the place of copyright--the creator(s) still hold the rights to their work--but open licenses allow the creator(s) to easily allow others the right to use their work under certain conditions.  Creative Commons is the most common open license platform, and the most common of its licenses is the Attribution (CC-BY) license.  This license simply requires the users to give credit to the creator(s), indicate how and/or if any changes were made, and provide a link to the license.

Licensing is one of the most confusing aspects of OER.  Visit the Creative Commons website to learn more about the several different types of licenses available.

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