• Welcome to OER101: How to Find OER For Your Course

    This niche faculty training course is built around a simple goal:

    Faculty interested in incorporating open educational resources (OER) into their class will be able to locate appropriate OER for their subject area of expertise using the Open Textbook Library and the Creative Commons search engine.

Self-paced, asynchronous, and completely online

1 Hour

This is a quick training that should take no longer than 1 hour to complete.


The entire training is on this page! Simply use the links in the left column to navigate.

Course Goals

Cover page of Babson Survey

1) Remove a barrier to adoption

Despite rising faculty awareness of open educational resources, the #1 barrier to greater OER adoption is that 50% of faculty say it is “too hard to find what I need” when searching for content.

Source: Babson Survey Research Group’s “Opening the Textbook: Open Education Resources in U.S. Higher Education, 2017

2) Improve student outcomes

The costs of college is going up every year, and it’s not just tuition that weighs on student’s minds and bank accounts. According to the College Board, undergraduates spend an average of $1,200 on textbooks annually.

Faced with these costs, the academic impact is seen in classrooms across the country–many students choose to not buy a required text, take fewer courses, and some even drop or fail a course completely.

Open educational resources are a solution.

3) Introduce the Open Textbook Library

The Open Textbook Library provides a growing catalog of free, peer-reviewed, and openly-licensed textbooks.

A growing network of higher education institutions and systems are supporting the library and the adoption of open textbooks as members of the Open Textbook Network.

The library currently boasts over 700 open textbooks with reviews from over 1,200 faculty across the country.

4) Introduce Creative Commons

Creative Commons helps copyright holders maintain their intellectual property while simultaneously sharing their work with others to freely reuse, build upon, and adapt for their specific audience.

This course will provide an overview of the various licenses authors can use to openly publish their work, help faculty differentiate between those licenses for the purpose of reuse and adoption, and most importantly: how to find works under Creative Commons licenses.

So let’s get started!

Step 1: What is Creative Commons?


  • Accurately describe what Creative Commons is.
  • Define the various shorthands used in Creative Commons licenses.
  • Identify common areas of a webpage where Creative Commons logos are located.
  • Identify other forms of OER besides Creative Commons

Creative Commons is divided into global chapters; the poster below was created by Creative Commons Poland. It break downs the various shorthands used in Creative Commons licenses.

Study each and familiarize yourself not only with what each set of letters stands for, but what actions the copyright holder is allowing you to do with that license. Specifically, think: how would this affect the way I teach?

Note: Most people consider BY-ND and BY-NC-ND licenses not OER. Why? Because an ND “no derivatives” license does not allow you to participate in 5R activities. For the purposes of this course and the assignments below, however, it is acceptable to include resources with ND licenses.

This distinction also leads to another point of clarification. Creative Commons is not synonymous with OER. Rather, Creative Commons licenses (most of them at least) facilitate the creation and propagation of OER.

Now that we know what Creative Commons is, how it relates to OER, and can define the various license types, let’s explore how to apply that knowledge. The first step: when looking at a webpage or other piece of content, how do you know if it has a Creative Commons license?

The video below details the common areas of a webpage where Creative Commons logos are located.

So, is Creative Commons the only type of openly-licensed content?

We’re glad you asked!

The answer is no. Creative Commons is the open license that popularized open educational resources, which has caused the two terms to be used synonymously by some. But this is misleading because a resource can be OER without carrying a Creative Commons license. And as we learned above, not all Creative Commons licenses are considered “open.” (Do you remember which license most people consider to not be OER?)

Generally speaking, OER can come in 3 other forms:

1. GNU License Suite

GNU is an organization sponsored by the Free Software Academy; GNU has produced a number of licenses relating to software. Some web material you may come across make use of the following:

  • GPL – GNU’s General Public License is used for many software packages, as well as other items. Under this license, materials can be copied and distributed verbatim, but cannot be changed in any way.
  • GFDL – The GNU Free Documentation License is a form of copyleft intended for use on a manual, textbook or other documents. Under this license, materials can be copied and redistributed with or without modifications, either commercially or non-commercially.

2. Public Domain

Content in the public domain means there is no copyright holder, making anyone free to reuse or remix for their purposes. Copyright has expired for all works published in the United States before 1923. In other words, if the work was published in the U.S. before January 1, 1923, you are free to use it in the U.S. without permission. This rule applies regardless of whether the work was created by an individual author, a group of authors, or an employee (a work made for hire). Because of legislation passed in 1998, no new works will fall into the public domain until 2019, when works published in 1923 will expire. In 2020, works published in 1924 will expire, and so on.

But there is another way a work can be in the public domain in addition to the Year-End Expiration of Copyright Terms rule. Original works can be deliberately placed it in the public domain — this is known as “dedication.” If, upon viewing a work, you see words such as, “This work is dedicated to the public domain,” then it is free for you to use. Sometimes an author deliberately chooses not to protect a work and dedicates the work to the public. This type of dedication is rare, and unless there is express authorization placing the work in the public domain, do not assume that the work is free to use.

An additional concern is whether the person making the dedication has the right to do so. Only the copyright owner can dedicate a work to the public domain. Sometimes, the creator of the work is not the copyright owner and does not have authority. If in doubt, contact the copyright owner to verify the dedication.

3. Government-Produced Resources

Generally speaking, anything found on a .gov website is free to use. Technically, the reason government-produced content is free to use is because they are in the public domain, making this more of an extension to the discussion we just had on public domain content, but many people tend to think of government-produced content differently from works produced by everyday citizens. Examples of good government-produced OER are the National Institute of Health’s Toxicology Tutor and NASA’s Historical Studies in the Societal Impact of Spaceflight textbook.

Step 2: Create Your List of Keywords


  • Create a list of keywords derived from any or all of these sources: textbook chapters, course schedule, or learning outcomes. Write down at least one keyword for every week/module/unit (however you divide your course).

Let’s talk about why it’s important to start with a list of keywords.

If you’ll recall the goal for this training, we’re interested in helping faculty interested in incorporating open educational resources (OER) into their class locate appropriate OER for their subject area of expertise.

“For their subject area of expertise” implies some form of evaluation. While we won’t go into a complete resource vetting process, we do need to ensure that materials we find are relevant for us and our students. This starts with identifying what we currently teach.

A list of keywords based on the topics, content, and learning outcomes we currently teach will help guide our search for replacement OER content that is free of restrictive copyright.

Listen to this brief clip explaining the importance of searching for OER by learning outcomes (or you can watch the full video here):

Assignment 1

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Step 3: Search the Open Textbook Library


  • Search the Open Textbook Library for free, open, and peer-reviewed textbooks.
  • Start an OER Resource Guide

With your keywords in hand, and a solid baseline of Creative Commons and open licenses, lets put you to the test to find OER! Up first: The Open Textbook Library.

Free?! How can I trust the quality of free content?

This is common question from faculty. We get it — you get what you pay for, right? Let us explain how the Open Textbook Library, and open educational resources in general, prove that this is not the case.

Create Your Own OER Resource Guide

Using this OER Resource Guide Template/Example, start listing resources you find that match your course goals/outcomes. After the next and final section of this course, you will submit your complete OER Resource Guide!

Step 4: Search Using the Creative Commons Search Engine


  • Using the Creative Commons search engine to locate OER.
  • Quickly and accurately filter content for your needs.
  • Finish and submit your OER Resource Guide

Textbooks are not the only form of educational content. While the Open Textbook Library is a great start, what about videos, journal articles, or quiz questions? That’s where the Creative Commons search engine comes in.

The Creative Commons search engine is found at search.creativecommons.org. The video below explains how to use it, and how to apply the appropriate filters to refine your search even more.

Final Assignment

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A little bit about me
and my previous work

Hi, I’m David!

My name is David Rose, and I created OER101 as part of my Master’s program in Learning Design and Technology from Purdue University.

I am currently the Faculty Innovation Technologist at American University’s Center for Teaching Research & Learning (CTRL), an OER Research Fellow for the Open Education Group, as well as a student in Purdue University’s online Master of Science in Education in Learning Design & Technology program.

Before joining AU, I was freelance writer traveling the world for 2 years. Before that, I worked for the Saylor Academy, an education nonprofit designing free online courses built around open educational resources. While there, I created hundreds of course resources guides to help educators design OER-based courses, and developed a completely open course with NASA engineers and Nobel Laureate physicists.

The bulk of my work at CTRL centers around online learning and how OER facilitates pedagogical freedom and student performance. I also co-manage AU’s free WordPress installation, EdSpace, and help faculty use WordPress for a range of educational purposes from student blogs to whole course sites.

Check out my website to learn more!

Get in touch

Questions about the course? About OER in general? Or better yet, you want instructional design help as you take the next steps of redesigning your course with the OER you found, don’t you? Let me know how I can help!