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Open Educational Resources (OERs): Intro

What is an Open Education Resource?

Open Educational Resources, more commonly known as OERs, are resources used in education, such as classroom textbooks, whose copyright status for use and reuse is fully open or open with limited requirements.

The OER movement is part of the larger movement of Open Science, Open Data, and and Open Access, with a basic premise being that knowledge and information (especially when funded by taxpayers) should be open and not hidden behind publisher paywalls.

The increasing use of OERs in education has provided significant cost savings to students and, therefore, decreasing one of the barriers to educational achievement.

OERs, Copyright, and Creative Commons Licenses

Copyright is a easily understood but complicated at the same time. Works that are protected by copyright generally cost money to acquire and use, whereas works that are not protected or have limited protections are free or inexpensive to use. Published works were required to have a copyright notice before 1978, but the notice is no longer required as copyright starts from the moment the work is created and fix in tangible form. Don't rely on the lack of a copyright notice. Evaluate if the work clearly states that it is in the public domain or if it has a Creative Commons license.

For educators wishing to use textbooks in the classroom there are three options:

1) Use a textbook that is protected by copyright. Students purchase or rent the textbook, or they go without because they can't afford the textbook.

2) Use a textbook that is in the public domain. As of 2023, published works are in the public domain if published before 1928. (Or the creator of a work that would normally be covered by copyright can designate their work as in the public domain, but this is rare.) Unless the class is on a historical topic, using works published before 1928 is probably not the best route for the educator.

3) Use a textbook that has a license, such as a Creative Commons license, that allows for users to copy, distribute and make use of the work while still acknowledging the creator.

OERs are generally covered by Creative Commons licenses. Learn more about the licenses.