Open Educational Resources (OER) are any type of educational material freely available for teachers and students to use, adapt, share, and reuse.
Examples of OER include learning content (such as lesson plans, assignments, textbooks, exams, and videos) as well as tools for learning (like software for creating videos and websites, course management systems, word processing programs, and training materials).
Textbooks are prohibitively expensive for some students, especially those who rely on grants and student loans to attend college. Studies show that 60% of students have not bought a textbook because it is too expensive, and 23% of students routinely forego purchasing a required course textbook because of the expense.
OER include not just textbooks, but also lesson plans, assignments, exams, and in-class activities. OER are created by instructors from all around the world and shared with others teaching similar topics. Instead of creating course content all on their own, instructors can take advantage of high-quality course materials already made by others. Instructors can then spend more time on their personalized lectures, feedback, and one-on-one assistance for students.
One of the hallmarks of OER is their reusability.
OER are generally offered with Creative Commons licenses that allow the content to be freely reused and remixed with attribution to the original author. This means that you can take a great resource and tweak it to fit your class's needs.
Students often choose to borrow textbooks from the library or rent them from the bookstore in lieu of purchasing the textbook. For those that do purchase textbooks, many attempt to regain their money by selling the books back to the bookstore or online after the course is over. OER are free and available. Students can take their materials with them after class ends, which means that they will always have access to learning materials for future use.
Textbooks and educational materials are often covered by stringent copyright restrictions, which does not allow reuse in other contexts or modifications or derivations. With OER, students and instructors can re-use and re-purpose the materials not just during the class, but in the future as well.
OER are free and available online, which means that anyone can access and use them. When an instructor makes their teaching material openly available, they can teach far beyond their own classroom. Students can also access these materials, whether they are supplementing a course they are already taking or starting out on an educational journey.
By creating and adopting OER, students and teachers can connect around the world, opening up networks of learning and enhancing collaboration opportunities. Read a story here about a yak herder in Tibet learning poetry from a Stanford professor.
The terms "open content" and "open educational resources" describe any copyrightable work (traditionally excluding software, which is described by other terms like "open source") that is either (1) in the public domain or (2) licensed in a manner that provides everyone with free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities:
Information in this guide is based on "OER: Open Educational Resources" by Urszula Lechtenberg, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. References to the University of Pittsburgh Library System removed from original. References to University of Northwestern - St. Paul information and policies added.