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Open Educational Resources

What are Open Educational Resources (OER)?

Open Educational Resources are teaching, learning, and research resources released under an open license that permits their free use and repurposing by others. OER can be full courses, course materials, lesson plans, open textbooks, learning objects, videos, games, tests, software, or any other tool, material, or technique that supports access to knowledge. 

Open Educational Resources are broadly considered to meet the “5Rs Framework,” meaning that users are free to:

  • Retain: Users have the right to make, archive, and "own" copies of the content;
  • Reuse:  Content can be reused in its unaltered form;
  • Revise: Content can be adapted, adjusted, modified or altered;
  • Remix: The original or revised content can be combined with other content to create something new;
  • Redistribute: Copies of the content can be shared with others in its original, revised or remixed form.

Why Open Educational Resources?

The Internet enables us to teach, learn and develop knowledge faster and on a wider scale than ever before. Learners can find information instantly on virtually any topic, and connect with peers across the globe.  Teachers can share their knowledge with students on another continent almost as easily as in their own classroom. And educational resources such as books can be disseminated to a worldwide audience at virtually no marginal cost. Not all OER are free from restrictions. Materials available under an open license, such as Creative Commons, may still place limitations on use (e.g., no commercial use or no modifications of the work allowed).

Our systems for communicating knowledge are still adapting to this digital environment, and educational resources often have legal or technical barriers that curtail many of their potential benefits. Many digital materials, especially textbooks, employ Digital Rights Management (DRM) controls that actively prevent sharing and contribute to high prices. Even if a resource is available online, it isn’t necessarily fully usable because the default terms of Copyright require users to obtain permission from the author.

Open Educational Resources (OER) provide a new model for disseminating knowledge that is designed to take full advantage of the digital environment. OER are distributed freely online under an open license that grants blanket permission for reuse rights to the public. In general, users are free to share, copy, paste, edit, adapt and interact with the content — in short, everything the Internet enables -- though users must still observe any limitations set forth in the open license terms. Students can access OER online for zero cost, download and keep a copy, and print as many pages as they wish. Teachers can collect and tailor OER to perfectly suit their curriculum, and share their innovations with other educators.  Entrepreneurs can build businesses around OER by offering products that add value, such as assessments, software or enhanced formats. Authors can disseminate their work to a worldwide audience while still receiving attribution. OER can maximize the full benefit of the Internet to improve teaching, learning and access to education.

How Do Open Educational Resources Work?

The OER movement is comprised of four main categories:

OpenCouseWare (OCW): OpenCourseWare is the digital publication of high quality educational materials that are freely and openly licensed, and are available online to anyone, anytime. They frequently include course planning and evaluation tools along with thematic content. OpenCourseWare initiatives range in scope from mirroring traditional classroom sized endeavors, to the emerging MOOC (massive open online courses) model, which enables large-scale participation by anyone with Internet access. 

OER Publishers: The rapid rise in the cost of textbooks, combined with the high demand for affordable alternatives, has led to the emergence of new open publishing efforts for textbooks and other OER. This category also includes initiatives geared toward developing specific collections of OER, such as Khan Academy and the Saylor Foundation.

OER Repositories:  Digital repositories have evolved into a convenient place to find, share and remix OER from a variety of sources.  They range in scope from portals and gateways that provide access to information on OER and aggregated content resources to institutional repositories with source content and tools to develop OER. 

Publicly-Funded Initiatives: Increasingly, policymakers on the local, state and national levels are developing policies that encourage the creation and adoption of OER. Approaches vary from directly funding the creation of OER to conditioning federal or state research dollars to require that any Education Resources produced as a result of that funding be made openly accessible.

The text above is taken from "Open Education" (c) by SPARC licensed under CC-BY 3.0.