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Open Educational Resources (OER)

This guide--a work in progress--provides information for learning about open educational resources (OER) and curates a collection of OER repositories for use by Western faculty and staff.

What is OER?

OER is the frequently used acronym for Open Educational Resources.

Open Educational Resources (OER) are defined as instructional materials that are fully accessible and reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others.

Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge

This is the DOERS3 definition of OER, adapted from the Hewlett Foundation definition of OER. It is reused here thanks to a Creative Commons-Attribution license.

What makes something "Open"?

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 users with free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities.

The 5R Activities:

  1. Retain - the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)
  2. 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)
  3. Revise - the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
  4. Remix - the right to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
  5. 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)

Creators often use Creative Commons licenses to clearly define what is and is not allowed. 

This explanation was created by David Wiley and published freely under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license at

Why OER?

A graph from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing the rising costs of various college-related items from 2006 to 2016: all items 122 percent, childcare 139 percent, technical school tuition fees 142 percent, housing 151 percent, K-12 tuition and fees 155 percent, college tuition and fees 163 percent, college textbooks 188 percent

The OER conversation and movement grew in response to the rising costs of college textbooks. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, college textbook costs rose more than any other cost to college students in the same time period (see the chart at left and original data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Further, the National Survey of Student Engagement in 2015 found that 31 percent of first-year college students and 40 percent of seniors chose not to purchase required academic materials due to their cost.

Use of Open Educational Resources has expanded in response to rising cost of traditional textbooks and growing student need for low-cost educational materials.

Additionally, the use of Open Educational Resources affords teachers and instructors unique rights and opportunities for the creation and use of customized content for their students. 


Using OER for Course Texts

Generally, when selecting OER for use as a course text, instructors will:

  1. Adopt an existing OER
  2. Adapt one or more existing OER
  3. Create your own original resource

Each option has its pros and cons. Other pages on this guide describe each option in greater depth. 

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