1 What are open educational resources?

Victoria Volkanova

OER are more than just freely accessible resources (“gratis” access) and different than library-licensed resources (content that is not free and has a number of restrictions around how it can be accessed or shared).

The term OER (Open Educational Resources) was first defined by UNESCO in 2002 as “any type of educational materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license” and can “range from textbooks to curricula, syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, tests, projects, audio, video and animation.” Many are high-quality and peer-reviewed resources that can be modified and repurposed to meet specific course learning objectives and student needs.

Although many people think of OER and Open Education as generally referring to online-only material and courses, this is not the case. Many open textbooks, for example, are also available in hard copy, or can be printed if a user prefers.

Why use OER

Over the last 20 years, textbook costs have increased at three times the rate of inflation, making them 200% more expensive. Furthermore, standard publishing industry practices such as bundling of content, using access codes to control access to ancillary materials, and frequently updating textbook editions, have virtually eliminated the used textbook market (U.S. PIRG, “Fixing the Broken Textbook Market,” 2014). Traditional, commercial textbooks often have restrictions around electronic availability and usage, making them largely inaccessible in an alternative teaching delivery environment.

Using OER instead of commercial textbooks or other traditional materials will:

  • Reduce student costs
  • Ensure students have access to required course materials from the first day of class
  • Allow content to be customized to the unique structure or content of the course
  • Improve accessibility for students with perceptual disabilities
  • Enable equal or improved learning outcomes (Jhangiani et al. 2018, Allen et al. 2015)

Research findings demonstrate “that replacing traditional textbooks with open textbooks may help to offset some of the financial hardships students face while improving students’ engagement and satisfaction with their assigned textbook.” (Cuttler, 2019) C. (2019)

The 5 Rs of Openness

As seen in the table above, OERs differ from traditional educational resources in their licensing and permissions. Namely, the “open” aspect of OER can be defined by David Wiley’s 5R Framework*.

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 (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)

Redistribute: the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)

*This material was created by David Wiley and published freely under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license at: http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/3221  



What is AtlanticOER?

AtlanticOER is an organization that provides access to a free online publishing and hosting platform for regionally developed Open Educational Resources (OERs). It promotes a sense of regional collaboration, where educators can freely and easily create or adapt materials for their course needs, while saving students thousands of dollars and providing real value to both students and educators. OER Atlantic uses Pressbooks as its online content and courseware development platform. Our regional implementation of this platform is the AtlanticOER Pressbooks Network.


The OER table at the top of this page has been copied from Creative Commons and is used under a CC BY 4.0 license.

The 5R Framework on this page was retrieved from SFU’s Open Educational Resources research guide and is used under a CC BY 4.0 license

The Why Use OER section was modified from the University of Guelph OER LibGuide https://www.lib.uoguelph.ca/using-library/faculty-instructors/open-educational-resources

Cuttler, C. (2019). Students’ Use and Perceptions of the Relevance and Quality of Open Textbooks Compared to Traditional Textbooks in Online and Traditional Classroom Environments. Psychology Learning & Teaching, 18(1), 65–83. https://doi.org/10.1177/1475725718811300


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OER Toolkit by Victoria Volkanova is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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