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Open Educational Resources

Open educational resources (OER) are teaching and learning resources in the public domain or that have been licensed in such a way that allows anyone to freely use and re-purpose them.

OER are any tools or materials used to support learning, including full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, lesson plans, streaming videos, tests, etc.

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Evaluating and integrating OER into a course is usually the responsibility of the faculty member, but librarians and other campus stakeholders may be involved.

Adoption and modification generally follows a five-step process.

Step 1. Review the materials

Many open textbooks have been peer reviewed by faculty or subject matter experts. Use these reviews to narrow down choices before examining them yourself.

If you want to evaluate the materials yourself, there are some existing rubrics.

The Achieve non-profit provides both Rubrics for Evaluating OER Objects (PDF) as well as an OER Rubrics Training Materials.

Other resources include BCcampus Open Textbook Review criteria (PDF) by BCcampus and the Evaluating OER rubric by iRubric.

Step 2. Modify the OER if necessary

Determine whether any modification is needed first. If you decide to modify materials, you must consider the format of the material, the creative common license type, and potential hosting for a new digital version.

Helpful guides on adapting and modifying open textbooks include:


  • If the OER is available in an editable format, an easy approach is to use the same tool as the original author to modify it
  • We recommend consulting with your colleges' instructional designers, particularly if you have never done this work before
  • If you are remixing multiple OER in different formats, decide on the format for the final product, and convert the remaining resources to this format for remixing

License considerations

Understanding how different OER licenses can be combined is important.

  • If the resources have licenses with the ShareAlike (SA) and NonCommercial (NC) clauses, you should consult the Creative Commons License Compatibility Chart
  • If you remix OER with different licenses, you need to make clear in your final product which sections have license restrictions that are different from the one you select for your remix. A librarian may also be able to assist you


After creating a revised version of the OER, consider where to post the digital copy for student access.

  • If you are only planning to share on campus, then you might post it to a college file server or a Learning Management System (such as Blackboard)
  • If you would like to share more widely, you might consider posting the OER in the UH Open Access Institutional Repository

Step 3. Attributing OER

Attributing the creator or copyright holder is required by Creative Common licenses, U.S. copyright law, and is good practice in general.

For CC-licensed works, you must include the required attribution. Information and tools for automating this process is available in the article How to attribute a Creative Commons licensed work.

Step 4. Curriculum approval (if needed)

You may need from others at your college for instructional material choices such as the division or department chair, curriculum committee, articulation officer, disability services office, etc.

Step 5. Delivering OER to Students

Engage with all necessary campus stakeholders involved in delivering instructional material to students. These include:

The simplest delivery method is to provide a link to view or download the OER. Downloadable formats include PDF, ePub or mobi — certain formats are preferable for students with visual impairments and to those without reliable internet access.

You may also download the OER and upload to a Learning Management System (such as Blackboard) or the UH Open Access Institutional Repository.

Encourage feedback from students on usability and access to OER.

[Adapted from the Open Education Consortium.]

It's true: Adopting open resources involves a change in how you think about your course textbooks. The feelings of ownership are different with OER than with traditional textbooks.

Open licensing allows you to update the material how you like, as long as it has the appropriate Creative Commons licensing. It is common to collaborate with other instructors (inside or outside UH) or with students to improve open resources, which means responsibility for updates is not just yours.

There are a growing number of open textbooks that have usual publisher services, including regular updates, printed and bound copies available for purchase, test banks, and other instructor supplements. Good example include OpenStax and BCCampus.

OER have intellectual property licenses that allow you freedoms to share and adapt them.

If an educational resource is not clearly tagged or marked as being in the public domain or having an open license, it is not OER.

The most common way to release materials as OER is through Creative Commons copyright licenses, which are standardized, free-to-use open licenses that have already been used on more than 1 billion copyrighted works.

Studies at both the K-12 and higher education levels show that students who use OER do as well, and often better, than their peers using traditional resources. Many OER are developed through rigorous peer review and production processes that mirror traditional materials.

Being open or closed does not inherently affect the quality of a resource. However, being open does enable educators to use the resource more effectively, which can lead to better outcomes. For example, OER can be updated locally to fit specific student needs, and eliminates cost barriers for students.

OER users have the right to turn them into any format they wish (which is almost always forbidden with traditional resources).

OER aren’t tied to a particular type of device or software, giving students and schools more freedom in what technology they purchase. In cases where technology isn’t available, there is always the option to print.

[Adapted from SPARC Open’s FAQ: Open Educational Resources.]