Open Education Resources (OER)

Incorporating Open Education Resources (OER) can save instructors time and effort in developing content by adapting freely available counterparts into their courses. In turn, students can save money from having to purchase commercially available education resources. On this page, instructors will learn about…

  • the principles of publishing OER
  • user rights and obligations specified by the different types of Creative Common Licenses
  • where to find and how to incorporate OER images into your course content
  • other formats of OER, where to find them and how to incorporate them
  • important aspects to consider when determining whether or how to adapt OER content into their courses

Instructors can download the Template for Evaluating OER Content and use it to evaluate a piece of OER content, determine whether it is suitable for their course, and how to adapt it based on the subject matter and course structure.

Video #

What is Open Education Resources (OER)? #

Open education resources (OER) refer to educational content that is available online and free of charge. OER is different from open learning (OL): OL refers to both content and educational services, such as learner support and assessment. In contrast, OER refers to the content only. OER covers a wide range of online media, including textbooks, audio and video recordings, websites, graphics, auto-graded online tests and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) (Bates 2019).

According to Hilton et al. (2010), there are five core principles of publishing OER, these principles are:

  1. re-use
    • All or part of the resource can be re-used and adapted by instructors for their purposes.
  2. re-distribute
    • OER can be shared and send to others in digital format.
  3. revise
    • Instructors can translate and modify the OER content as they adapt it into their teaching.
  4. re-mix
    • Instructors can combine OER content with other existing resources to create their teaching content and resources.
  5. retain
    • The content is for the instructors to keep without digital rights management (DRM) restrictions.

Incorporating OER saves the instructor (and students) time and money. Instructors can use existing content to save their effort in creating a new one and/or avoid using paid commercially available content. On the other hand, students can save money on purchasing commercial education resources (e.g. textbooks).

The volume of OER is continuously expanding, which makes it easier for instructors to find OER content suitable for their teaching purposes. According to Bates (2021, p. 576), there are four ways instructors can interact with OER. This page focuses on the first type of interaction – adapting OER content.

  • Adapt OER content from elsewhere and incorporate them into their teaching.
  • Create digital content for their teaching purposes, then make this content openly available
  • Build an entire course around OER, get students to solve problems by finding and using OER content themselves
  • Adapt an entire OER course (e.g. Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)), then design student activities and assessments, and provide learner support

Creative Commons (CC) license and copyright considerations #

Copyright laws protect all original work. By default, the creator has the exclusive right to copy and license the work. Creative Commons (CC) licenses provide creators with the flexibility to allow others to adapt their work while still retaining the copyright. CC-licensed work is often free to use and provides a more economical alternative to both instructors and learners (Curator Module, Ontario Extend, ECampusOntario).

CC-licenses can be customized to grant different access rights to original work. The following table provides a sample CC license and the various elements representing the different access rights. A complete list of licenses and their implications is provided on the Creative Commons website. When choosing a license, think about why you want to share your work and how you hope others will use that work. Only the copyright holder or someone with expressed permission from the copyright holder can apply a CC license or CC0 to a copyrighted work. The UBC Wiki on Creative Commons licenses provides a comprehensive guide on adding a Creative Commons license to a webpage.

by.png This is an example of a CC license included in online visual media such as websites, texts, graphics and MOOCs. Additional elements are included to the right of the default Creative Commons (CC) logo.

This CC BY license allows reusers to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format, so long as attribution is given to the creator. The license allows for commercial use.

by.xlarge.png BY – Reusers must give credit to the creator.
sa.xlarge.png SA – Reusers must share adaptations under the same terms
nc.xlarge.png NC – Only noncommercial uses of the work are permitted
nd.xlarge.png ND – No derivatives or adaptations of the work are permitted
cc-zero.png CC0 – (aka CC Zero) is a public dedication tool, which allows creators to give up their copyright and put their work into the worldwide public domain. It allows reusers to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format, with no conditions.

Once applied to the creator’s work, the CC0 license cannot be revoked. Anyone who receives it may rely on that license for as long as the material is protected by copyright, even if the creator stops distributing it later.

Incorporating OER images into your course content #

Instructors incorporate images in their course materials to help students better understand concepts or illustrate how different concepts/components are organized in a structure. They might also incorporate images for decorative purposes. Not all images on the internet are free to use. The following web resources provide a good starting point in your search for OER images. (Source: Curator Module, Ontario Extend, ECampusOntario)

  1. Creative Commons Search
    • This search engine allows instructors to search through over 500 million reusable images. It is also possible to narrow the search criteria to images for commercial use, adaptable or modifiable.
    • This site allows for keyword searches through tens of billions of photos. Once you type in a keyword and hit the search button, the “Any license” button will appear and allows users to filter results by specifying different user rights, including “All creative commons,” “Commercial use allowed,” “Modifications allowed,” etc.
    • In March 2021, Unsplash was acquired by Getty Images, the owner of the commercial image provider, iStock. Although keyword searches in Unsplash still return some free images, the primary focus is on commercial images for purchase.
  4. Google
    • Most people don’t know that it is possible to search for Creative Commons licensed images on Google. All you have to do is start with a keyword search. Once you have your preliminary results, click on “Images” to narrow down your search criteria. You will find a “Tools” button on the subsequent results page, which opens up additional possible filters. On the far right, you will see “Usage Rights,” which allows you to search for images with all, Creative Commons licenses or Commercial and other licenses.

Other OER media #

In addition to images, instructors might incorporate OER texts, podcasts, videos, learning models, auto-grade exercises and MOOCs as part of their teaching content. Searching for OER in these formats has been made easy due to the advent of web referatories and repositories. According to Ontario Extend, a referatory is “a search that links to content hosted elsewhere, whereas a repository hosts the content. Here are a few examples (Source: Curator Module, Ontario Extend, ECampusOntario):

  1. OASIS (Openly Available Sources Integrated Search)
    • This referatory was developed by the State University of New York Geneseo Library. It returns open content from over 100 different collections of OER, including the eCampusOntario Open Library.
  2. Mason OER Megafinder (MOM)
    • This referatory was developed by the George Mason University Libraries and searches through about 15 collections and indices of OER and other internet sources of free and public domain content.
  3. eCampusOntario Open Library
    • This content library has over 500 OER objects spanning from open license textbooks to syllabi and continues to grow as more Ontario educators contribute and share their course content.
  4. eCampusOntario H5P Studio
    • This website allows Ontario educators to create, share and discover interactive activities using the H5P platform. Educators can create over 45 different types of learning activities with a user-friendly interface, including quizzes with multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank questions, interactive videos, games, flashcards, etc. These activities can be embedded into different Learning Management Systems. Once published, the content becomes part of the eCampusOntario H5P searchable open-source database so that other instructors can incorporate it into their courses.
  5. Multimedia Educational Resources for Learning and Online Teaching (MERLOT)
    • This is one of the first and largest online repositories for OER content with 19 different types of resources.
  6. MIT Open Courseware
    • This repository boasts more than 2,400 MIT courses and accompanying online resources under the CC BY NC SA license. Instructors can browse through and borrow entire courses or specific course components that are relevant to their teaching.

Evaluating an OER item and determining whether it is suitable for your course #

Ontario Extend lists several rubrics for assessing OER content, such as the Achieve Rubric for Evaluating OER, the BC OER Faculty Guide for Evaluating OER, the Open Education Network Open Textbook Review Criteria, and the CRAAP test. These rubrics vary in terms of the level of detail and their focus on different aspects of teaching. Nonetheless, they provide a systematic and theoretically based tool with which instructors can make informed decisions about whether and how to adapt OER content into their courses. To save you time, we have reviewed all the rubrics and consolidated them into the following list of aspects to consider. You can also download the Template for Evaluating OER Content to work on your own or with an instructional designer.

  • Currency
    • Is the OER content up to date concerning current research and development in the academic discipline?
    • Does the OER content need to be revised regularly to ensure its currency?
  • Relevance
    • Is the OER content relevant to the subject matter of the course?
    • Is the OER content culturally relevant and suitable for a diverse and inclusive audience?
  • Technology
    • Is the technology integrated with the OER content appropriate for the course? Justify your answer. If not, what alternative do I have?
  • Accuracy
    • Does the OER content cover all essential elements of the topic in question?
    • Are the explanations clear, easy to understand, and align with the instructor’s understanding of the subject matter?
    • Is the OER content peer-reviewed or verified for publication under accepted academic standards?
  • Organization
    • Are the OER components organized in a logical manner (e.g. modules)?
    • Does the sequence in which the components are presented align with the instructor’s course design?
  • Purpose
    • Does the OER content help students achieve the set learning goals for the course?
  • Accessibility
    • Does the OER content comply with current accessibility standards?
  • Copyright
    • Does the use of the OER content comply with copyright laws and/or designations of its Creative Commons license?

References #

Achieve (2011). Rubrics for Evaluating Open Education Resource (OER) Objects, under Creative Commons license. Retrieved from

Bates, A. W. (2019). Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for designing teaching and learning. Open Education Resource, Contact Nord.

BC Campus (2015). Faculty Guide for Evaluating Open Education Resources. BCOER Librarians, under Creative Commons license. Retrieved from

Center for Open Education (2021). Open Textbooks Review Criteria, Open Textbook Library, under Creative Commons license. Retrieved from

Creative Commons (2021). [Website:]

eCampusOntario (2021). Curator Module. Ontario Extend.

Hilton, J., et al. (2010). The four R’s of openness and ALMS Analysis: Frameworks for open educational resources. Open Learning: The Journal of Open and Distance Learning, 25(1), 37–44

Meriam Library (2020). The CRAAP Test. Meriam Library, California State University, Chico. Retrieved from