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Faculty & Staff: OER Toolbox

Introduction to OER

Introduction to OER

oer commons logoOpen Educational Resources (OER) are teaching and learning materials that you may freely use and reuse, without charge. That means they have been authored or created by an individual or organization that chooses to retain few, if any, ownership rights. For some of these resources, that means you can download the resource and share it with colleagues and students. For others, it may be that you can download a resource, edit it in some way, and then re-post it as a remixed work. OER often have a Creative Commons or GNU license that state specifically how the material may be used, reused, adapted, and shared. -- from OER Commons

Did you know?

  • The cost barrier kept 2.4 million low and moderate-income college-qualified high school graduates from completing college in the first decade of this century.*
  • 50% of community college students were food insecure.**
  • 46% were housing insecure.**
  • 12% were homeless.**
  • About 2/3 of students borrow to get through school.***
  • The average student borrower in North Carolina owes more than $25,562 in student loans (Class of 2015).***


  1. *The Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance,
  2. **2018 Still Hungry and Homeless in College, study available at:
  3. ***The Institute for College Access & Success Project on Student Debt, available at:

Introduction to OER

Universities should consider using Open Education Resources (OERs) for many reasons:

  1. Cost savings: OERs are freely available for use, modification, and redistribution, which can significantly reduce the cost of educational materials for both students and institutions. This accessibility helps remove financial barriers to education and allows universities to allocate resources to other important areas.
  2. Increased access and equity: OERs have the potential to bridge the gap in access to quality education by providing free and open learning resources. Students from diverse backgrounds, including those with limited financial means, can benefit from the availability of high-quality educational materials.
  3. Customization and adaptability: OERs are typically licensed under open licenses, such as Creative Commons, which allows educators to customize and adapt the resources to suit their specific teaching objectives and student needs. This flexibility empowers instructors to create tailored learning experiences and incorporate diverse perspectives into the curriculum.
  4. Collaboration and knowledge sharing: OERs foster collaboration among educators, enabling them to share their expertise and resources across institutions and disciplines. Through open licenses, educators can collaborate on improving existing resources, developing new ones, and building a global community of educators committed to enhancing educational materials.
  5. Pedagogical innovation: OERs often embrace innovative teaching approaches, such as interactive multimedia, simulations, and online learning tools. By leveraging these resources, universities can enhance their teaching methods, engage students in more active and immersive learning experiences, and keep pace with the evolving educational landscape.
  6. Sustainability and longevity: Traditional educational materials can become outdated quickly, requiring regular updates or replacements. OERs, on the other hand, have the potential for long-term sustainability since they are built on the ethos of openness, collaboration, and continuous improvement. This can save universities both time and resources in the long run.
  7. Compliance with open access initiatives: Many universities are embracing open access initiatives to promote the sharing of knowledge and research outputs. By utilizing OERs, universities can align with these initiatives, contribute to the broader open education movement, and foster a culture of open scholarship within their institutions.

DMC (Digital Media Commons at University of North Carolina Greensboro). "Costs of Textbooks." Youtube, 3 Nov. 2014,

oer infographic displaying the 5rs, retain, redistribute, reuse, revise, remixThe 5 Rs of Open

A material licensed in a way that makes it an OER will allow five types of use. They are:

1. Retain:  You can keep the work forever.

2. Reuse:  You can use the work for your own purpose.

3. Revise:  You can adapt, modify, or translate the work.

4. Remix:  You can combine it with another resource to make a new work.

5. Redistribute:  You can share the work with others.

For more information on OER and Creative Commons licenses, visit the NC LIVE OER Guide


  • Graphical Representation of the 5 R’s of OER designed by artist Kiersten Merkel for Auraria Library for inclusion in the OER Bazaar exhibit at COLTT17 (Colorado Online Learning and Teaching with Technology). Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

What is copyright?

Copyright is the exclusive legal right given to the creator of a work (intellectual property) to distribute and reproduce that work.

How are OER affected by copyright?

Open Educational Resources (OER) are not just free. They are also free of legal restrictions. Remember the 5 Rs of Open? OER are resources that allow you to reuse, revise, remix, redistribute, and retain them. If you are unable to practice any of the 5 R’s of open content with a resource, that resource is not OER, even if it's free.

What is Fair Use?

Fair use is a legal doctrine that allows limited use of copyrighted material without seeking permission from the copyright owner. It is based on the belief that certain uses of copyrighted works, under certain circumstances, promote the public interest and do not infringe upon the rights of the copyright holder. Fair use is determined by considering four factors:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether it is transformative or for commercial purposes.
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work, such as whether it is factual or creative.
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the whole work.
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market or value of the copyrighted work.

The T.E.A.C.H. Act

The T.E.A.C.H. Act is a set of regulations that covers the use of copyrighted materials in digital learning environments. The criteria for using these materials in your online class are as follows:

  • The institution must be an accredited, non-profit educational institution.
  • The use must be part of mediated instructional activities.
  • The use must be limited to a specific number of students enrolled in a specific class.
  • The use must either be for ‘live’ or asynchronous class sessions.
  • The use must not include the transmission of textbook materials, materials “typically purchased or acquired by students,” or works developed specifically for online uses.
  • The institution must have developed and publicized its copyright policies, specifically informing students that course content may be covered by copyright, and include a notice of copyright on the online materials.
  • The institution must implement some technological measures to ensure compliance with these policies, beyond merely assigning a password. Ensuring compliance through technological means may include user and location authentication through Internet Protocol (IP) checking, content timeouts, print-disabling, cut and paste disabling, etc

Copyright and Creative Commons Licensing

Public Domain

Works in the Public Domain have no copyright restrictions. These materials are "owned" by the public, not an individual author or artist. Anyone can use a public domain work without obtaining permission, even if they want to adapt or remix it. Works enter the public domain for a variety of reasons.

  • Choice: authors and creators can choose to dedicate their works to the public domain, forfeiting all rights to their works.
  • Age: The most common reason for something to enter the public domain is age. This can be tricky to figure out, but there are two standard rules of thumb. If a work was published before 1924, chances are it's in the public domain. For more recent works, the standard rule of thumb is 70 years after the death of the author.
  • Government: Most work created by the federal government is automatically entered into the public domain.

Visit this article to learn more about public domain.

The following websites contain eBooks & images that are available in the public domain: