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Open Educational Resources (OER)

This guide provides information about Open Educational Resources, or OER, including how to find and evaluate them.

Where to Start

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.

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

If there are high-quality, vetted Open Educational Resources available on the topic your course covers, and you do not feel the need to edit or otherwise alter them for use in your course, you might consider adopting them for use "as is." Adopting is the simplest way or including OER in your course, and the least time-intensive. 

Building Blocks  Adapt/Build

If there are OER available on the topic your course covers, but they are dated, too broad, or contain information which is beyond the scope of your course, you may want to consider adapting the materials. After checking that the Creative Commons license attached to the materials allows for adaptation, you may choose to edit the materials to tailor them to your course. 

Alternately, if there are OER available on the topic your course covers, but no single resource is broad enough to cover 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 Open Educational Resources can be as simple as openly licensing and sharing a syllabus you currently use or sharing lesson plans on OER repositories like OER Commons.

Other OER creation processes, such as publishing open textbooks, can be more complex. You can work with the Digital Press or pursue a Miller Open Education Mini-Grant to support your work:

Learn More about OER

Click on the tabs below to learn more about Open Educational Resources!

Benefits for Faculty: 

  • Increases student retention and improves student performance by reducing costs
  • Promotes academic freedom to modify or add content to your course
  • Provides more and more engaging resources for your students
  • Can be created to promote your Scholarship of Teaching & Learning portfolio

Benefits for Students:

  • Materials are free to access and can be purchased in print at a low cost
  • Materials are free to access, before AND after your course
  • OER are free self-study and review materials for brushing up on material
  • Resources are customizable and can be aligned with only what you need to know - no more skipping around chapters you don't read!

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

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.

Image credit for all graphics on this page goes to: Open SUNY Textbooks, CC BY 4.0

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Abbey Elder
150 Parks Library
Iowa State University