The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation provides the following definition of open educational resources (OER):
OER are teaching, learning, and research resources that 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.
Open textbooks, are a particular kind of OER that can help alleviate the burden of textbook costs for students and provide faculty with content that can be customized for their course.
What is NOT an OER? The following may be free, but are not openly licensed, and therefore not OER (non-open):
Course Hero. (2014, December 18). The history of open educational resources.
Creative Commons. (2019). Frequently Asked Questions
Wiley, David. (n.d.) Defining the "open" in open content and open educational resources.
OpenStax Textbooks by Rice University.
Availability of Resources: Most of the OER available today target high cost, high impact general education courses such as Psychology, Biology, and Calculus. There are open textbooks available for specialized subject areas or graduate level courses, just not as many. This is changing though, as open textbooks publishing is increasing. Check out the Open Textbook Library's Textbooks in Development page to see some books on the horizon. Ancillary materials may also be limited for some subject areas. You can find lecture slides, notes, and lesson plans online, but other ancillary content such as homework software and test banks are harder to find.
Time: It takes time and effort to find OER that might work for your course. These constraints are always going to be an issue for instructors who want to try something new in their class. The PALSave Team is here to provide support to mitigate this barrier.
Misconceptions: Myths about OER like low quality or lack of access to print versions might prevent some faculty from considering them. This resource from SPARC attempts to bust those myths: OER Mythbusting.
Funders like government, foundations, and consortia work with publishers and authors in higher education to produce books that are are openly licensed to allow free use and repurposing.
The most commonly used intellectual property license for OER that permits free use and re-purposing is called Creative Commons Licensing. Creative Commons licenses work with legal definitions of copyright to automatically provide usage rights pertaining to that work.
Authors choose a Creative Commons license to signal readers that they are ok with the uses described by the 5 Rs. There are 6 different licenses as seen below. The most open license is CC-BY. When an author assigns this license, any use of their resource is allowed as long as the creator is attributed. The least open is CC-BY NC ND, which prevents commercial uses or derivatives. Many open advocates do not view resources licensed with the ND (no derivative) clause "open," since they cannot be modified.
See figure below for more information on Creative Commons Licensing, what the licenses look like, and what the symbols mean.