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Open Educational Resources & Open Access: OER Overview

This guide is designed to introduce OER initiatives, explain creative commons licensing and OER, and to help you get started searching for Open Educational Resources for teaching and learning.

Open Educational Resources

The term open educational resources (OER) was first adopted by UNESCO in 2002 to describe materials used to support education that can be freely accessed, reused, modified, and shared in order to improve the quality of curricula and teaching and reduce costs. In this guide, you will learn where to find high quality, openly licensed materials and how to reuse them. Creative Commons licensing, attribution of open educational resources, and accessibility considerations will also be introduced. 

OER: Definitions

Some definitions:

  • "technology-enabled, open provision of educational resources for consultation, use and adaptation by a community of users  for non-commercial purposes" (UNESCO, 2002)
  • "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 of re-purposing by others" (Atkins, Brown, & Hammond, 2007)

In other words, OER are educational resources that have been released under less-restrictive licenses than traditionally published material.

OER can take many forms, such as:

  • textbooks
  • images
  • articles
  • PowerPoint decks
  • Full curricula
  • Anything else you might want to use in the classroom 

Atkins, D.E., Brown, J.S., & Hammond, A.L. (2007). A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement: Achievements, Challenges, and New Opportunities.

UNESCO. (2002). UNESCO promotes new initiative for free educational resources on the Internet. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Education News.

Open Educational Resources

UNESCO Global Open Educational Resources Logo

Open educational resources (OER) are freely accessible, openly licensed text, media, and other digital assets that are useful for teaching, learning, and assessing as well as for research purposes. There is no universal usage of open file formats in OER.

The term OER describes publicly accessible materials and resources for any user to use, re-mix, improve and redistribute under some licenses.

The development and promotion of OER is often motivated by a desire to provide an alternate or enhanced educational paradigm.

Open Educational Resources vs Open Access

Open Educational Resources (OER) are freely available online materials that anyone can use for learning and/or teaching. Examples are courses- including MOOCs (Massive Online Open Course), lectures, teaching materials, assignments and various other resources. OERs are available in many different formats compatible with online usage most obviously text, images, audio and video.

Anyone with internet access can access and use OERs; access is not dependent on location or membership of a particular institution. OERs are particularly useful for researchers, teachers and learners. Educational institutions and providers enhance their websites by creating and maintaining access to OERs and service providers such as iTunes USlideShare, and YouTube also have many OERs to offer. 

OERs use Creative Commons (CC) licenses to ensure that materials can be used in a wide variety of ways e.g. edited, remixed, enhanced and copied.

Open Access (OA) refers to freely available content permanently online such as scholarly articles and journals. These resources can be reused and there is some scope for alteration. OER, on the other hand, encourages remixing and redistibution of the resource and covers a much wider range of materials.

Why Use OER?

  • The adoption, adaptation, and creation of alternatives to traditional textbooks are equitable means of increasing our students' access to high-quality learning materials. 
  • OER have the power to enhance flexibility for faculty and students, increase innovative pedagogy, and lower the cost of education.

Open Access Directory

The Open Access Directory (OAD) is a compendium of simple factual lists about open access (OA) to science and scholarship, maintained by the OA community at large. By bringing many OA-related lists together in one place, OAD makes it easier for everyone to discover them, use them for reference, and update them. The easier they are to maintain and discover, the more effectively they can spread useful, accurate information about OA.