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Open Educational Resources (OER): Overview

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Videos: Why Open Access Matters

What Are They?

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Open Educational Resources (OERs) are teaching, learning, and research resources released under a license that permits their free use and repurposing by others. OERs can be full courses, software, or any other tool, material, or technique that supports access to knowledge.

Open Educational Resources are broadly considered to meet the "5Rs Framework," meaning that users are free to:

  • Retain: Content can be saved & copied;
  • Reuse: Content can be reused in its unaltered form;
  • Revise: Content can be adapted, adjusted, modified or altered; 
  • Remix: The original or revised content can be combined with other content to create something new;
  • Redistribute: Copies of the content can be shared with others in its original, revised, or remixed form.

OERs are any type of educational material that’s freely available for teachers and students to use, adapt, share, and reuse. They are not the same as public domain materials. Most of the time, someone still owns the copyright.

Broad Categories

Jonathasmello, CC, Wikimedia Commons

The OER movement is comprised of four main categories:

OpenCouseWare (OCW): OpenCourseWare is the digital publication of high quality educational materials that are freely and openly licensed, and are available online to anyone, anytime.  They frequently include course planning and evaluation tools along with thematic content. OpenCourseWare initiatives range in scope from mirroring traditional classroom sized endeavors, to the emerging MOOC (massive open online courses) model, which enables large-scale participation by anyone with Internet access. 

OER Publishers:  The rapid rise in the cost of textbooks, combined with the high demand for affordable alternatives, has led to the emergence of new open publishing efforts for textbooks and other OERs.  This category also includes initiatives geared toward developing specific collections of OER, such as Khan Academy and the Saylor Foundation.

OER Repositories:  Digital repositories have evolved into a convenient place to find, share and remix OER from a variety of sources.  They range in scope from portals and gateways that provide access to information on OER and aggregated content resources to institutional repositories with source content and tools to develop OER. 

Publicly-Funded Initiatives: Increasingly, policymakers on the local, state and national levels are developing policies that encourage the creation and adoption of OERs. Approaches vary from directly funding the creation of OERs to conditioning federal or state research dollars to require that any Education Resources produced as a result of that funding be made openly accessible.

Subject Guide

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Contact your department's liaison librarian for assistance identifying and incorporating open educational resources into your courses.

Related Rod Library Guides


This guide has been created by University of Northern Iowa Rod Library and is licensed for use under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 Unported License.