Open Educational Resources (OER)

Site: GPRC Moodle
Course: Open Educational Resources Awareness Course - OER
Book: Open Educational Resources (OER)
Printed by: Guest user
Date: Tuesday, 7 July 2020, 12:43 AM


Overview of OER. 

1. Overview

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We will start the lesson by discussing what open educational resources are. It is important to understand the concept of open educational resources as it will be the basis for the remaining modules.

At the end of the module, please complete the Module 1 quiz.

Module Outcomes

By the end of this module, you should be able to:

  1. Describe Open Educational Resources (OER).

2. Ownership and Sharing

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To understand Open Educational Resources, it is important to first recognize related ownership and sharing rights, including:

  1. Copyright 
  2. Public domain
  3. Open source
  4. Fair dealing

2.1. Copyright

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To understand Open Educational Resources, it is important to first recognize how they relate to copyright and the public domain.

As defined by the Canada Copyright Act, copyright in relation to a work is:

"the sole right to produce or reproduce the work or any substantial part thereof in any material form whatever, to perform the work or any substantial part thereof in public or, if the work is unpublished, to publish the work or any substantial part thereof, and includes the sole right

  • (a) to produce, reproduce, perform or publish any translation of the work,

  • (b) in the case of a dramatic work, to convert it into a novel or other non-dramatic work,

  • (c) in the case of a novel or other non-dramatic work, or of an artistic work, to convert it into a dramatic work, by way of performance in public or otherwise,

  • (d) in the case of a literary, dramatic or musical work, to make any sound recording, cinematograph film or other contrivance by means of which the work may be mechanically reproduced or performed,

  • (e) in the case of any literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work, to reproduce, adapt and publicly present the work as a cinematographic work,

  • (f) in the case of any literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work, to communicate the work to the public by telecommunication,

  • (g) to present at a public exhibition, for a purpose other than sale or hire, an artistic work created after June 7, 1988, other than a map, chart or plan,

  • (h) in the case of a computer program that can be reproduced in the ordinary course of its use, other than by a reproduction during its execution in conjunction with a machine, device or computer, to rent out the computer program,

  • (i) in the case of a musical work, to rent out a sound recording in which the work is embodied, and

  • (j) in the case of a work that is in the form of a tangible object, to sell or otherwise transfer ownership of the tangible object, as long as that ownership has never previously been transferred in or outside Canada with the authorization of the copyright owner,

and to authorize any such acts."

Canada Copyright Act.  Retrieved from

NOTE:  Unless the author indicates otherwise, copyright is vested immediately and automatically in his or her work.  The author does not have to indicate that the work is subject to copyright and does not have to add the copyright symbol.  Copyright applies to the internet.  If an internet page does not indicate otherwise, you must assume that the content on that page is copywritten and follow appropriate measures if you want to reproduce the content from that page.

For more information on copyright, please view the NAIT library copyright page by clicking HERE.

2.2. Public Domain, Open Source, and Fair Dealing

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Public Domain refers to content that is free to the public.  Anyone can retain, reuse, redistribute, revise, and remix the content without permission.  Intellectual property is not owned or controlled by anyone.  The author has freely given away all rights, the rights have expired, or the rights have been forfeited.

Image from Public Domain.

Open Source applies to software where the source code has been made freely available.  Open source allows for a method and a philosophy of licensing that encourages the use and improvement of the software by users.  

Open Source Initiative Logo.  Open Source Initiative.  From Wikimedia.  CC-BY 

Fair Dealing is a limitation and exception to the rights of control to an author as outlined in the Copyright Act. Found in many common law Commonwealth countries including Canada, fair dealing is not an invitation to freely copy at will.

Fair Duty.  Meera Nair. CC-BY-NC  

How do Open Educational Resources relate to the above rulings?

3. The 5 Rs of Openness

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Before describing Open Educational Resources, it is important to recognize what "open" means and how it is described.  What does it mean for a learning resource to be open?
There are two conditions (Green, 2016, April 1) that should guide your determination as to whether or not an item is considered "open":
  1. Do you have "free and unfettered access" to the resource? If you have to pay to retain or use a resource, it isn't open.
  2. Is use of the resource governed by David Wiley's 5Rs of Openness permissions?

Global Open Educational Resources Movement by Cable Green is licensed under CC-BY From the University of Alberta
To openly use a resource, you have to have retention rights. Simply being able to access an item for free does not mean that you can keep a copy for yourself.  If you can't keep a copy, you likely won't be able to perform any of the other actions associated with the 5Rs: reuse, revise, etc. When in doubt about an item's terms of use, ask yourself if it is free and if it meets all of the above criteria; if it doesn't meet these conditions, it's not open. 

4. What are Open Educational Resources?

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The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) provides this definition of OER.

Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching, learning and research materials in any medium – digital or otherwise – that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.

OER are not open source and in the public domain and free to use; they are not all rights reserved copyright; they do not rely on fair dealing.  OER are openly licensed with "some rights reserved." Rights to openness are given to the user based on the wishes of the author.

4.1. OER

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Password OER Password OER by Laura Rachfalski is licensed under CC-BY

Have you ever found something from the internet that could be a perfect learning resource (e.g. an image, video, quiz, etc.) for your course and spent hours trying to figure out the copyright issues associated with that resource?  Perhaps you couldn't find any Terms of Use listed with the resource, or perhaps no author information was listed, so you didn't know who to contact to obtain permission to use the resource in your course.

Wouldn't it be nice if that resource somehow said, "I'm free to use with limited strings attached, and you don't need to ask for my permission because it is already granted"?

Open Educational Resources (OER) are the answer to that need.

Millions of learning resources are available for others to freely use. There are all kinds: full courses; course materials; modules; activities; textbooks; streaming videos; assessments; software; and many other tools, materials, and techniques to support access to knowledge.

Here is how OER is defined in more specific terms:

"Open educational resources (OER) are educational materials that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others" (The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, n.d.).

To put it another way, OER are:

  • Materials in any medium, digital or otherwise (Format),
  • that either reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license (Conditions),
  • which permits their free use and re-purposing by others (Nature).

To see how others define OER, please visit What is OER by Creative Commons.

Now that we've had a chance to discuss the concept of OER, let's dig a bit deeper. We've just learned that, in order to be an OER, the resource should be either in the public domain or released with an open license. On the next page, we will discuss the conditions that determine whether or not material is open.

4.2. Open Textbooks

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Open textbooks are usually the most important OER in the minds of students as these have the potential to reduce or eliminate textbook costs while still providing a quality learning resource.  

Authors can publish a textbook on the web as an open textbook usually by adding a Creative Commons license (we will explore these licenses in a subsequent module) that enables the user to freely download, print, and edit the textbook without expressed consent of the author.  Open textbooks also provide instructors flexibility in how they create learning resources as they can take all or just part of an open textbook and combine these parts to make a new textbook that better fits the need of their course and their students. 

And can print an open textbook if you like to use paper.   And yes... grants and institutional programs are available that compensate authors for writing open textbooks. Textbook authors can and do earn a substantial income for writing and reviewing open textbooks.

Open textbooks are Open Educational Resources (OER) if they adhere to the five Rs of open education.

  1. Retain – The resource comes with no Digital Rights Management (DRM) restrictions attached to the content.  The book is yours to keep, whether you’re the author, instructor, or student.
  2. Reuse – You are free to use the learning resources in a variety of ways without expressly requesting permission of the author or copyright holder.
  3. Revise – You can adapt, edit, adjust, or modify the content to suit specific purposes and make the learning resources more relevant to your students. 
  4. Remix – You or your students can combine a number of different resources to create something new.  Add a chapter from one open textbook with an image from another to create a new textbook that meets the needs of your curriculum and your students.
  5. Redistribute – You are free to share with others so they can reuse, remix, improve upon, correct, review, or otherwise enjoy the work.

BCcampus Open Textbook Project.  BCcampus.  CC-BY

Open Textbook Summit 2014 Day 1, BCcampus, From Flikr.  CC-BY-SA

Like any learning resource from any source, it is the responsibility of the user to determine quality before providing the resource to students.  The writing of many open textbooks is funded by government, institutions, or recognized non-profit and for-profit organizations; are written by accomplished academics; and are peer reviewed. 

A quick internet search will provide links to a host of available open textbooks.  Here are some recognized sites to start with:

  • Merlot - An OER project from the California State University system that started in 1997.  The collection now has over 2,500 open textbooks and a collection of other OERs including entire courses, open textbooks, small instructional modules, and more.
  • Openstax - OpenStax is nonprofit and based at Rice University with the mission to improve student access to education. Its first openly licensed college textbook was published in 2012, and the library has since scaled to more than 25 books for college courses used by hundreds of thousands of students.
  • BCcampus OpenEd - The B.C. Open Textbook Project is funded by the BC Ministry of Advanced Education, and BCcampus is tasked with managing it. A goal of the Project is to provide flexible and affordable access to higher education resources in B.C. by making openly-licensed textbooks available in the highest-enrolled academic subject areas. A second phase in 2014 was to add at least 20 textbooks targeting trades and skills training.

5. References

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BIDtv (2012). Open educational resources. Retrieved from

Copyright Act (1985, c. C-42). Retrieved from Justice Department of Canada website:

Creative Commons (2016). What is OER?. Retrieved from

Fernández, V. (2012). The OERs – Open Educational Resources [video]. Retrieved from

Green, C. (2016, April 1). Global open educational resources movement [Webinar]. In University of Alberta Open Education Week Series. Retrieved from

Nair, M. (2015). North of 49. Retrieved from

Nair, M. (2016). Copyright: Fair Dealing. Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. Retrieved from

Palmer, F. (1930). Look to the East. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company.

Rachfalski, L. (2012). Password: OER [video]. Retrieved from

Tedx Talks (2010). TEDxNYED - David Wiley - 03/06/10 [video]. Youtube. Retrieved from

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)(2013). Open educational resources (OER): Definitions and aims. Retrieved from

UNESCO. (2016). Open educational resources. Retrieved from

Wiley, D. (2014). The Access Compromise and the 5th R. Iterating Toward Openness. Retrieved from

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. (n.d.). Open educational resources. Retrieved from

All photographs and images in this course are courtesy of NAIT unless otherwise indicated.