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Open Educational Resources

Defining Open Educational Resources (OER)

Open educational resources (OER) are any teaching and learning materials that are both free to access and openly licensed to allow for reuse and adaptation.

OER some in many forms, from courseware (lecture videos, lesson plans, and activities) to textbooks and even homework software. The use of OER can improve student engagement and success; provide immediate, equitable, and perpetual access to resources; save money for students; and empower educators to maximize flexible, high-quality learning materials in individualized curricula. The Iowa State University Library supports educators in identifying, using, customizing, creating, and publishing OER.

Learn More about OER

Benefits for Faculty

  • Having free access to course materials increases student engagement and satisfaction
  • Since all students can afford "free," retention and learning outcomes are improved in courses using OER
  • The use of OER promotes academic freedom; you can modify, adapt, and add content to your course as you see fit
  • The creation and adaptation of OER can increase the impact of your work, showcasing innovation and creativity for peers
  • Research into the outcomes of using OER in your courses can support your tenure & promotion portfolio as Scholarship of Teaching & Learning (SoTL) work.

Benefits for Students

  • You can access OER for free before, during, and after your class ends for review
  • OER are free to access online; print copies of open textbooks can be purchased at a low cost
  • Even when OER are not assigned in your class, you can use them as free study materials
  • OER are customizable! Your instructor can align them with only what you need to know

The 5 R's of Open Content

The Open Education movement is built around the 5 R's, a series of rights that instructors have over the open content they use in their classes:

  • Retain: ​The right to make, own, and control copies of the content.
  • Reuse​: The right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
  • Revise: The right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language) 
  • Remix​: The right to combine the original or revised content with other open content to create something new. 
  • Redistribute​: The right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others.

This material is based on original writing by David Wiley, which was published freely under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license at opencontent.org/definition

Not all free resources are OER.

OER are openly-licensedfreely available educational resources that can be modified and redistributed by users. 

  • Openly-licensed: You can read about this in the Open Licenses and Your Rights tab. 
  • Freely Available: The resources must be freely available online with no fee to access. A true OER is free to access at all times, unless the resource is printed and must be bought for the price of materials (usually no more than $50).
  • Modifiable: The resource must be editable. This means that it must be licensed under an open license that allows for repurposing and remixing. 
Examples of Non-OER
Material Type Openly Licensed Freely Available Modifiable
Free Web-Based Resources Under Traditional Copyright No Yes No
Subscription-Based Library Collections No Yes* No
Open Access Articles & Monographs Yes Yes No**

*Library materials are free for students and faculty to access, but they are not free for the University. 

**Some OA articles & monographs are able to be remixed, but authors often hold back these rights since their main concern is the free distribution of their scholarship, not its adaptation. 

OER are openly licensed.

Open licenses like Creative Commons licenses are often used to communicate what a user can do with a resource, and what rights its author would like to retain. These licenses give others a variety of permissions, making their use or reuse of your resource a faster and more transparent process. For example, some creators may wish to share their work, but not to allow users to sell adaptations of their work. 

CC BY License icon

The most common CC license is the Creative Commons Attribution license (CC BY). This license allows users to adapt and reuse content with limited restrictions. The only requirement for reusing a CC BY-licensed work is that any new work created must provide attribution to the original creator and a link to the original work. 

For more information, visit our Creative Commons Library Guide.

Adopt, Adapt, or Create?

When you're looking at options for using OER in your course, you have a few options: you can choose to adopt materials as-is, adapt materials to better meet your needs, or create new materials to share openly with other instructors. Use the following tabs to learn more about each of these options.

A cube  Adopt

Adopting is the easiest way to implement OER in your course. Just like any other instructional material: if you like it, use it! You can locate OER available in your discipline using the resources on this guide, or by setting up a consultation with the library's OER lead.

Building Blocks  Adapt/Remix

If you are unable to find an OER that meets your needs as-is, you have other options! Because OER are openly licensed, you can edit and adapt the materials to meet your needs. This can include small and larger changes.

For example, if you've found an OER that meets most of your needs but is too comprehensive for the level you teach, you can create a condensed version for your students by deleting the content you don't cover in your course.

Alternately, if there are many OER available for your course but none covers the needs of your course, you may want to consider building an "OER course pack," a selection of various OER, free online materials, and websites which make up the resources for use in a course. Like traditional course packs, these sets of materials can be extremely versatile and adaptable for different uses.

An archway over two columns  Create

If there are no high-quality OER available on your topic or if you have course materials that you believe are superior to the OER available to you online, you may want to consider creating or licensing your own course materials. Creating OER can be as simple as openly licensing and sharing your lesson plans online, or they can be as complex as publishing a traditional textbook.

If you're interested in publishing an open textbook, you can work with the ISU Digital Press or pursue a Miller Open Education Mini-Grant to support your work:

OER Starter Kit

The OER Starter Kit cover

The OER Starter Kit

Learn more about OER with The OER Starter Kit! This starter kit has been created to provide instructors with an introduction to the use and creation of open educational resources (OER). Although some chapters contain more advanced content, the starter kit is primarily intended for users who are entirely new to Open Education.

Guide License

by This guide is licensed under CC BY 4.0