Using Open Educational Resources (OERs)

Creative Commons logo
Creative Commons logo

Open Educational Resources (OERs) are freely available, normally digital assets for research, education and assessment. They could include anything from whole lectures to images, pictures, software, techniques, sound or films.

OERs are part of a broader movement known as ‘Openness’ which seeks to increase access to educational materials and create a set of licences that is more flexible than existing copyright law allows. Despite the advantages that many institutions see in OERs being used for marketing purposes, OERs are fundamentally driven by an altruistic notion that education should be available to all.

Creative Commons is one of the organisations that provides a range of licences for rights holders to make their work available as an OER; open software (normally referred to as ‘Open Source’) licences are normally licensed via the FOSS (Free Open-Source Software) Community under the GNU Public Licence.

Creative Commons logo with BY and NC license
Indicates a resource must be accredited and not be used for commercial purposes

OERs are not a free-for-all; the authors of each piece of work still retain the copyright but allow varying degrees of usage; this may be to distribute only, there may be restrictions on commercial use, whilst other licences will allow you to change, re-purpose and re-distribute. For information on the levels of licensing from Creative Commons please refer to the Creative Commons licences webpage.

OERs take time, expertise and infrastructure to create. It is therefore unsurprising that many institutions are considering whether the perceived benefits of enhancing reputation, content marketing and efficiency are outweighed by giving their main business assets away for free.

Finding Open Educational Resources

There are many sources for locating OERs: Table 1 below contains some of the best known repositories. Once you have found content and sources you feel are relevant, you will need to apply some basic evaluation before you use them in teaching and learning.

Proponents of OERs argue that the key aspect that drives quality is the significant exposure that developers and institutions have to their peers. Reputation is an important criterion you should use when selecting OERs but it need not always be that you search through MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) or The Open University; discuss OERs with your colleagues and see where they are sourcing materials from.

When selecting an OER consider some of the following attributes. For more detailed criteria, please refer to the JISC Toolkit on OER Quality Considerations.

  • Accuracy
  • Reputation of author or institution
  • Standard of technical production
  • Accessibility
  • Fitness for purpose
  • Clear rights declaration

Learning object repositories

If you are looking for images, see our article Copyright-free images for use in teaching activities for a list of sources.

Using Open Educational Resources

Most of the current research on OERs has tended to focus on their production and the way they are distributed; a large body of knowledge has developed therefore on who has produced them and what they have distributed, with some analytics showing where the usage is most concentrated.

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are a clear development where instructors are bringing a large tapestry of open resources together and creating courses.

There is very little research into how educators are using OERs with students although they enable educators to draw on a large range of knowledge. Some notable benefits are:

  • It can be inspirational for educators to share and review the work of others in their field.
  • They enable the sourcing of learning objects that may be costly or take time to produce, such as audio or video.
  • Students already source and synthesise information from a variety of sources, but without structure and scaffolding that an expert can provide them with; this is value that OERs provide to education.

Further information

The UK OER Synthesis and Evaluation Project was a large scale research project to look at the impact of OERs on teaching and learning. These pages will direct you to the research on teaching, learning and pedagogy, including a ‘Pedagogical Framework for OERs’.

The Open University has developed a 15-hour online course, Creating Open Educational Resources, which covers using, creating, pedagogy and the legal aspects of OERs.

To find out more about the Openness Movement, this interesting and ‘free to download’ book (The Open Book) from 25 crowd sourced experts explores the impact of the Open Knowledge movement on work, educational, society and culture.

4 thoughts on “Using Open Educational Resources (OERs)”

  1. Hi Oli
    Thanks for this excellent post – I wish I’d stumbled upon it before. I think we absolutely should be promoting open education at UWE – there is a wealth of good quality openly licensed content out there. Thank you for pointing us in the right direction. I’m also speaking with the library about making open textbook recommendations – I fully believe that no first year student should have to buy a book with the excellent texts available in the US and Canada. Do let me know if you ever want to catch up about this.

    By the way – the entire of this blog is superb. I’ve been using the ‘Clicker’ and ‘Polling’ articles to try and use some of these techniques in my lectures. The openness of a blog works for me because I keep finding this via a Google search.

    Well done and thank you for providing us all with these excellent resources.

  2. Thanks, Viv.
    Great to hear you’ve found some articles on this site of use in your work. And do let us know how you get on with open textbooks recommendations – I’d be happy to meet and have a chat with you about this some time.

  3. YEY – the UWE library are doing fantastic work to widen opportunities to access resources, and to share openly. ‘Open’ is increasingly becoming part of agendas for resources and research – teaching just needs to catch up.

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