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Open Educational Resources: What is OER?

Free online resources

This subject guide is devoted to providing introductory information about Open Educational Resources (OER) and sites for locating resources and materials.  Further defined below, OER materials are different from Open Access (OA) materials in that OER materials have been developed specifically for use in educational settings by including additional items such as lesson plans, lecture notes, assignments, etc. and OA materials may, or may not, be licensed to allow for alterations to the materials.

If properly licensed, OA materials are just OER materials waiting to become.

Definition of OER and its Importance

What are Open Educational Resources?

Open Educational Resources (OER) are copyrightable work that is licensed in a manner that provides users with free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities:


Make and own copies of the resource indefinitely 


Use the resource in a variety of ways 


Adapt, modify and improve the resource 


Combine the resource with other resources to create a new work 


Share the resource with others 

These can include items from the following sources and formats and more:
Databases, Journals, Articles, Streaming Films, eBooks, Audio, Art, Images

How do I use OERs?

Educators can use OER or Open Access materials freely in their course as long as they Attribute the authors of the material and follow the licensing agreement (such as Share Alike if required). OER materials are an important resource for educators as they allow them to alter educational material that is under Creative Commons licensing. The difference is that OERs can be altered as long as the Creative Commons license allows for this.

Why are OERs Important?

OERs are essential to education as they allow free access to quality educational material. They can replace conventional textbooks at no cost. But more importantly, they allow the instructor to alter the material as needed by their students. 

Open Access Definition and their Importance

What is Open Access?

Open access (OA) refers to free, unrestricted online access to educational material, including but not limited to research outputs such as journal articles and books. OA content is open to all, with no access fees.  Peter Suber, one of the founders of the OA movement, provides a brief description of OA.

How are OAs related to OERs?

OA resources are not necessarily Open Education Resources. Although they are free to use, they cannot necessarily be altered. Without a Creative Commons license, the creator retains Copyright. This means that it is illegal to alter the material.

Why are OAs Important?

These resources are important for users because they allow unrestricted access to view. The TEACH Act gives extra protection and ability for those in closed courses. You can link to these resources if they are freely available online.

How do I use these Resources?

Link to these resources in courses (closed or open), on educational websites, or other places of instruction.
Use these resources if you do not plan to alter the material in any way but instead want to simply link to the online resources.
Please view this Creative Commons article for more information and watch the short video to the right.

Open Education versus Open Access versus Open Source

How are Open Access, Open Educational Resources, and Open Source Related?

Educators can choose which materials they want to incorporate into their courses but keep in mind:
  • OER are "teaching, learning, and research materials, in any medium, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license permitting no-cost access, use, adaptation, and redistribution by others."  This popular definition comes from the The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation website.
  • Open Access materials are "digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions", as defined by Peter Suber an early pioneer of Open Access.  
  • Open Source refers to "software that is made by many people and distributed under an OSD-compliant license which grants all the rights to use, study, change, and share the software in modified and unmodified form."  This popular definition comes from the Open Source Initiative.
Broadly, Open Access materials are primarily distinguished by removing the restrictions to access.  Open Educational Resources are materials that have been developed for use in education and can be altered to suit.  

Types of Free Online Resources

Resource Type Definition Modifiable? Purpose? Examples How can faculty use?
Open Access Any type of resource that is available without barriers and freely distributed online Only with CC license Creators wish to share their work with others in order to increase usage and access to users around the globe

streaming videos



You can link to resource
Open Source Source code that is made freely available for possible modification and redistribution Yes Creators wish to share their work with others in order to increase usage and access to users around the globe.  




You can alter code to fit your own needs
Open Educational Resources (OERs) Text, media, and digital content that is freely available and has a Creative Commons license that allows for potential modification and redistribution Yes, with CC license (may vary) Resources provided by their creator to allow users the ability to alter them.







Following the CC license you can alter the materials with attribution
OER Repository A central location where online resources, such as journals, databases, media, eBooks and other resources are stored Possibly Provides central access to a variety of resources that are Open Educational and able to be altered. 


OER Metafinder


Use this source for finding OERs
Open Pedagogy Teaching practice that engages students as creators of information rather than simply consumers of it, otherwise known as Open Educational Practices (OEPs) Possibly Provides an alternative teaching method that incorporates student work into a larger project such as an eBook or wiki, allowing the student to create a renewable product. These products can be used in the students' ePortfolios, in future courses by the faculty, and as resources for other students.  wikis developed by faculty and students Use this method of instruction as an alternative to conventional practices.


OER Grant Project

From the University of British Columbia's Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology.

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Michael Wetta
Painted Desert Campus Library
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