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Open Educational Resources (OER)

Information on what OER is, how it can be used, and how to find quality open educational resources.


Frequently Asked Questions



When did the Open Education movement begin?

The term "open content" was coined in 1998 by David Wiley and was inspired by the open software movement.  The prevalence of open educational resources and the community supporting them has been growing since.

What about quality?

Resources made freely available are not necessarily created for free.  Most OER are written by academics and peer-reviewed.  Furthermore, most who adopt OER are experts in their fields and are therefore optimally suited to judge a resource's quality. 

What is the business model that sustains and maintains OER?

There really isn't one.  Many OER initiatives do not profit or receive a return of any kind.  –the thinking being that OER will become the normal educational content delivery method in the future where maintenance costs are built into the responsibilities of universities.  If that seems unsustainable, consider the following,

  1.  Students are subject to a fundamental market flaw:  there is no direct relationship between students and publishers.  That is, they do not have the ability to choose which textbook they use.  It is chosen for them.  This lack of consumer choice diminishes the need for publishers to price products competitively.  Resulting in #2
  2.  For at least the last 10 years, textbook prices have increased at a rate of more than 3x that of inflation.

Some companies have created business models around OER including textbook publishers and educational technologies companies.  Those OER avenues are not promoted here as they are subject to the same market flaw as traditional textbooks.  Where prices might be low now, but there exists no consumer choice mechanism to ensure they stay low.

What about copyright?

OER authors retain full copyright of the resources they create.  In order to be considered OER a resources must have an open license. 

What is a license?

A license explicitly states what a copyright holder allows others to do with their work.  All rights reserved is a form of a license that limits the use of a resource to that which is allowed by fair use and nothing else. The non-profit Creative Commons has written and openly published a spectrum of legal statements explicitly permit various uses of a resource. Other license exist, the GNU Free Documentation License, for example, applies similar permissions to a work.

Why use OER?

Between the years 2006 and 2016 college textbook prices increased at a rate more than three times that of inflation outpacing college tuition and fees.   Seemingly indicating that students are being taken advantage of when it comes to course materials.

Are OER vulnerable to commercial exploitation?

Yes, but . . .  Legal licenses do exist to prevent commercial uses of otherwise free materials. Most notable is CC BY-NC.  However, the most open licenses –the least restrictive licenses– do not prevent commercial uses.  Most often commercial uses of OER are justified by there having been value added to the OER.  In theory, it is that added value that end users should pay for because the original OER is still available for free.  "Added value" can be anything from supplemental chapters, updated illustrations, added quizzes, to wrapping the resource in an LMS where users pay for access to that LMS, etc.


Creative Commons Licenses

What are Creative Commons Licenses?

Creative Commons Licenses are legal terms that supplement copyright –not an alternative to copyright.  They work alongside copyright and enable the modification of its terms to fit specific needs.  Applying a Creative Commons License to a work can be thought of as changing the familiar,

"All rights reserved"


"Some rights reserved."

How do I register my work with a CC license?

You don't.  To apply the terms of a CC license to a work, simply choose a license using this wizard and insert its icon and its declaration into your work where you would typically include "All Rights Reserved" or "©".  You'll find an example declaration at the bottom of this page. 

Where can I find more information about Creative Commons licensing?

The best place is on the Creative Commons website where these licenses are fully explained in plain English.


All original content on this page is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.  All linked content maintains its respective license. This page is based on a similar guide from the University of Oklahoma Libraries with permission.