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OER (Open Educational Resource)

Guide for faculty who would like to use OER materials

Open Educational Resources: Some Basics

Open Educational Resources

Open Educational Resources (OERs) are teaching and learning materials that are freely available online to students, educators, and the general public. They include textbooks, quizzes, class exercises, videos, and other learning objects that have been openly licensed so that others can adopt or reuse this material for their own purposes. 

To be more specific, when we say that OERs are openly licensed, we mean that they can be retained, reused, revised, remixed, and redistributed. In practice this means:

  1. Retain - the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)
  2. Reuse - the right to use the content in settings like classes, study groups, on websites, in videos, etc.
  3. Revise - the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
  4. Remix - the right to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
  5. Redistribute - the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)

(See and OER Commons for the above definitions).

For a textbook to be considered open, it must be licensed in a way that grants a baseline set of rights to users that are less restrictive than its standard copyright. A licensor's list of permissions must be clearly stated by the author.

Generally, the minimum baseline rights allow users at least the following:

  • to use the textbook without compensating the author
  • to copy the textbook, with appropriate credit to the author
  • to distribute the textbook non-commercially
  • to shift the textbook into another format (such as digital or print)

Many authors also grant rights such as:

  • to add, remove or alter the content in the textbook
  • often on the condition that derivative works must have the same license
  • to copy and distribute the textbook without giving credit to the author
  • to use the textbook commercially

("Open Textbook").

“Why OER” video by The Council of Chief State School Officers. Video: CC BY 4.0 Music: The Zeppelin by Blue Dot Sessions: CC BY NC 4.0.

So, what is the difference between Open Access and Open Educational Resources?  Both concepts operate under the same idea that "information should be 'free'" or as free as we can make it. While not naive in thinking that research is free to pursue or publish, it is believed that there are scalable barriers in making research and published articles available to the lay reader without exorbitant costs.   Open Access is a creation, publishing, and access model that, according to Peter Suber, is "digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions" (Suber). Furthermore,  it has free “availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of [research] articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution and the only role for copyright in this domain should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited" (Budapest)

How is this possible? It requires a mental shift in academia--one that says that impact factor of journals is not the end-all, be-all of determining a paper's worth nor a professors professional contribution.  If researchers and the schools they work for make a commitment to publish in Open Access Journals or to pay the OA licensing fee to retain some copyright over their work, paywalls come down. 

The following is a quick explanation of the current model of publishing vs what Open Access proposes.

flow chart of the normal schlolarly communications publication and access cycle.

Research Article Cycles, ” by Billymeinke. CC BY 4.0.

For a transcript of this image, please email

Here's the Problem

As summarized by SPARC:

  1. Governments provide most of the funding for research—hundreds of billions of dollars annually—and public institutions employ a large portion of all researchers.
  2. Researchers publish their findings without the expectation of compensation. Unlike other authors, they hand their work over to publishers without payment, in the interest of advancing human knowledge.
  3. Through the process of peer review, researchers review each other’s work for free.
  4. Once published, those that contributed to the research (from taxpayers to the institutions that supported the research itself) have to pay again to access the findings. Though research is produced as a public good, it isn’t available to the public who paid for it.© 2007-2017 SPARC, Open Access, CC BY

A Better Way

Optimized Funding Cycle for Research Articles

Research Article Cycles,” by Billymeinke. CC BY 4.0.

Transcript available upon request from

Why Does It Matter?

We are educators. We should have joined this field out of desire to spread knowledge, not lock it away behind a paywall, simply to secure our own tenure at the cost of benefiting larger society.

It is time we recognize that the old model of publishing is leading us down a constricting pathway.  Yes, as faculty, we have access to much scholarly material, paid for by library budgets.  But most around us lack that access.  And as librarians, we are watching the new pricing models, the new procurement processes that are pricing even the wealthiest private universities out of the market. Right now, by adopting the OA mindset and model, we broaden access to others outside of academia.  What we are also doing, however, is protecting our own access in the very near future.


OER and OA are two branches of the same tree.  Each offers scholarly products (textbooks, ancillary materials, etc. and published research articles, respectively) to readers without the cost barriers of the traditional publishing model.  Those outside of the classroom benefit as well, able to read vetted and frequently peer reviewed materials that they often have funded through their tax money.

What is the end goal here? The proliferation of knowledge throughout the world.  Knowledge that will be built on and grow into new discoveries that benefit the work around us for generations to come. ("5.2").

Works Cited

"5.2 OER, Open Textbooks, and Open Courses." Creative Commons,


"Budapest Open Access Initiative, 2002." Budapest Open Access Initiative,


"Open Access." SPARC,


"Open Textbook." Wikipedia,

Suber, Peter. "Open Access Overview."