Open Educational Resources (OERs)

Open Educational Resources (OERs) are teaching and learning materials that are made freely available under open licenses. These licenses explicitly allow legal reuse and distribution. OERs are available in many disciplines and include textbooks, articles, videos, simulations, and more. They may be used in place of published textbooks or to supplement other course materials.

1. Open Licenses allow authors and other creators to waive certain copyright provisions.

Open licenses, such as those made available by Creative Commons, allow authors and other creators to waive certain provisions automatically protected by copyright. For example, blog authors might license their blog posts under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License, which would allow anyone to copy, reuse, revise, or otherwise make use of their original blog posts so long as the new use is noncommercial in nature and the new use includes an attribution of the original blog work. Open licenses allow creators to legally make use of many of the sharing behaviors technologically enabled by Internet connectivity.

2. OERs can be found in many places, including OER Commons, MERLOT, and the database CTRL maintains.

There are a number of ways to seek out and find OERs. You might start with a repository such as OER Commons or MERLOT. You might peruse the CTRL-maintained collection of OERs. You might use the Creative Commons filtering options to filter Google or YouTube results. Most importantly, you’ll want to take a look at the license and terms of use of any particular resource to determine how you may use the material.

3. Many existing OERs can be personalized for your course.

Many OERs are licensed to allow subsequent users to make modifications to the original works. This practice enables high levels of customizability and localization to a specific context. For example, BC Campus, an educational group in British Columbia, made a derivative adaptation of OpenStax College’s Introduction to Sociology. This textbook was originally published under a CC BY license, which is the most open of the Creative Commons licenses. Since OpenStax’s original text was developed for an American student audience, the BC Campus adaptation localized the original text by replacing U.S.-centered examples with Canadian ones. The CC BY license permitted BC Campus to legally make these changes without needing to seek out specific permission or collaboration from OpenStax College.

4. Anyone can create and share OERs.

Anyone with an Internet connection can create and share OERs. They are often used as a means to formalize content-sharing between teachers as well as to extend such sharing internationally. There are a number of OER repositories to which individual users can contribute. OER Commons and MERLOT are two such repositories.

5. Open pedagogy is the hallmark of OERs.

Collaboration, transparency, and sharing are all incorporated into the teaching practice of open pedagogy. This practice can take many forms and may even include students in the development of OERs. For example, Robin DeRossa, a professor of interdisciplinary studies at Plymouth State University, describes a collaboration between herself and her students in her blog post documenting the process of developing The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature: An OER Anthology of Earlier American Literature, to 1899.

6. Using OERs can significantly lower the cost of textbooks for students.

As OERs are free by definition, they are one way to reduce the climbing cost of textbooks for today’s students. According to a 2013 GAO Report, textbook prices increased 3 times more than the rate of inflation between 2002 and 2012. Undergraduates at American University are anticipated to spend an average of $800 per year on textbooks and supplies, on top of tuition and fees. Not surprisingly, students sometimes forgo acquiring texts that they cannot afford. Because of their free nature, OERs are one way to help students mitigate growing costs.

7. CTRL supports AU faculty who redesign a course to include an OER.

Support includes technical and instructional design help as well as a stipend of $500-$1,000. The application period for stipends opens in early Spring. Since the launch of the pilot program in 2015, 11 courses have been redesigned to use OERs and save students approximately $130,000 in new textbook costs. To get involved with this project, please contact Lindsay Murphy ( or x 3693).

8. Examples of OER materials are available online.

There are many types of OER materials available. The following list is but a small sample of the wide range of OERs out there. See the CTRL-maintained collection of OERs for additional examples.

  • OpenStax College: Publishes comprehensive open textbooks that are available for free online with low cost print options.
  • MIT OpenCourseWare: Catalogues and openly shares syllabi, course assignments, video lectures, lecture notes, and other course materials from over 2,000 MIT courses.
  • Khan Academy: Produces short video tutorials on a number of subjects including Calculus, Chemistry, Economics, Art History, and Computer Science.
  • TED Talks: Produces lectures featuring innovative thinkers in a variety of topics, including design, business, advocacy, and technology.
  • Carnegie Mellon University’s Open Learning Initiative: Offers a suite of open online courses developed by content experts and learning science researchers.

9. Consider publishing your research as an Open Access document.

According to SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition), “open access is the free, immediate, online availability of research articles coupled with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment.” Open access publications increase access to materials by removing copyright and cost barriers through open licensing much the same way that OERs increase access to educational materials. There are a growing number of Open Access journals and publishers including, for example, PLOS, and Luminos.

10. Open source software can be used to develop a digital platform or tool.

Open source software is software released under a license that permits developers to make modifications to the code and distribute the changed code. Bitcoin, Linux, Moodle, Mozilla Firefox, and WordPress are all examples of open source software. Because developers are encouraged to rework and adapt the original source code, open source projects can generate broad collaborations and novel results.

Creative Commons License
Ten Take-Aways: Open Educational Resources (OERs) by American University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Please note that this license applies to this blog post only, and not any other site at American University, the Center for Teaching, Research & Learning, or EdSpace.