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How to develop K-12 open educational resources

How to develop K-12 open educational resources

Have you ever considered creating your own open educational resources (OER)? When you build your own, you can differentiate instruction and support every student with the specific learning content they need. Because these resources are open to use, when you share an OER, other educators across the globe can access it and use it in their classrooms. It’s a great way to give to the teaching community and share your expertise. Let’s take a look at how to develop K-12 open educational resources.

Types of OER you can develop for K-12

Open educational resources come in all kinds of formats. Any type of resource you can create for instruction or to help students learn a skill can be turned into an OER. 

Here are some examples of OER you can create for K-12:

Why you should develop OER for K-12

You know your learners best, and adopted curriculum and textbooks may not meet every student’s needs. If you decide to develop K-12 OER, you can create resources that specifically target students’ learning needs. Whether you want to address learners’ backgrounds or skill levels, designing your own OER can solve any gaps in your general academic content. 

While you can certainly create resources for your own classroom, you can also work as a school or district team to build OER. In fact, a 2021 report on OER in K-12 found that “The number of districts designing their own curriculum is almost as large as the [number of districts selecting curriculum] from one of the top three publishers.” 

EdWeek Market Brief also noted that many educators feel OER are often better than content from some publishers. “In English/language arts, OER (83 percent) outpaced commercial alternatives (73 percent.) In general, OER was rated ‘considerably better on multiple specific aspects of teaching and learning, such as extending the core knowledge to novel tasks and situations and collaborating with others.’” 

Community is also key since other K-12 educators can benefit from the OER you create. For example, maybe a team of math teachers across the state could enhance their curriculum with your OER graphic organizer. Or a history teacher on the opposite side of the country could use your video to personalize learning for a group of students. Perhaps a music teacher in another part of the world could use your class activity to engage learners in a new and innovative way. 

Teachers often search for resources online, but not all resources are useful. If you develop and share high-quality OER, you’ll enrich the availability of strong teaching and learning content found online. Plus, educators will be able to use your resources to deepen learning — without needing to pay money. As a result, developing and sharing your own OER can help create more equitable opportunities for other teachers and students.  

What to consider before developing your K-12 OER

Similar resources

Before you start creating your OER, it’s a good idea to ensure there aren’t already similar resources available. If you do a quick search online, you’ll be able to find any materials that already exist. If they do, consider adapting that content rather than starting from scratch.

Your student audience

To create OER that best help your students learn, you need to have a strong understanding of who your learners are and their needs. Consider their cultural background, interests, home language, IEP or 504 plan needs, gifted student needs and academic gaps. 

If you’re worried that your OER will be too specific to share, don’t be concerned. A benefit of developing and sharing OER is that other educators can usually modify your resources if needed. If they can download the materials, educators can change information or add to your OER to make them more relevant to their classes.

Backward planning

Before you start creating your own resources, you also need to put together a plan to decide how the resources will help your learners. Using backward design can help you focus your plan and make sure you meet your goals. There are three main steps for backward design:

  • What do you want the outcome to be? What are the desired results from your OER?
  • What will you use as evidence of learning?
  • What will teaching and learning look like using the OER?

Where to build, host and share the K-12 OER you create

Once your plan is in place, there are several tools and platforms to help you develop and share open educational resources. These tools and platforms make it possible for you to:

  • create your resource
  • upload your resource onto a platform
  • add an open license to your resource
  • help other educators search for your resource

OER development tools

First, you’ll want to use tools that make it easier to put together your resources. Here are some tools you can find online to create documents, multimedia and more.

Google Workspace

If you want to keep it simple, you can create content using Google Docs, Google Slides or another type of tool in Google Workspace. If you make the link public for everyone to access, you can share the link on an OER platform. 

To share Google Docs, Slides, Sheets or Drawings, make sure they are set to “View Only” so teachers can make a copy of your file but can’t change the original content. You can also turn your materials into PDFs for greater access and usability. 

OER Commons Open Author

OER Commons Open Author allows you to create and edit an OER with a rich text editor and a drag-and-drop feature. In addition, you can add media such as video and images if you’re building a lesson plan, unit or assessment. You can also directly upload files from Google Drive.

Screencasting tools

There are several screencasting tools available that allow you to record your screen. So if you have a demonstration or a lesson you want to turn into an OER, these tools are great options.

Screencast-O-Matic comes in the form of software that you can download and works across Chromebooks, Mac, Windows, Android and iOS. A plus is that it has an automated speech-to-text feature so you can include audio and text. Its free version caps at fifteen minutes of recording. 

Loom is a screencasting tool that can be added as a Chrome extension or downloaded as a desktop app. The bonus is that it’s free for teachers to use. You can also record your screen, both your screen and your face, or just your face. 

Screencastify is a Chrome tool that records your screen and stores the video files in your Google Drive. It also gives you a handy URL to easily share. Keep in mind, though, that the maximum length for a free recording is five minutes. 

Your phone or computer audio apps

If you want to create an audio file, the simplest way is by recording with your phone. You can also record in a program like GarageBand with an external microphone hooked up to your computer. Other options are Voice Recorder on Microsoft or QuickTime Player on a Mac.

Pressbooks or Wikibooks

If you and a team of educators are interested in writing your own digital book, there are a few options. Two that work well for creating OER books are Pressbooks and Wikibooks.  

Pressbooks is an authoring tool that lets your team write and build a professional-looking e-book. Wikibooks also allows you to compose a book online to share publicly. 

Jupyter Notebook

Are you interested in a more advanced tool? If you’re into coding and want to create an interactive OER, try Jupyter Notebook. It has open standards that allow developers to create interactive content. The open document can also include narrative text and equations, aside from code. 

OER hosting platforms 

After creating a resource, you’ll want to add it to an OER platform so other K-12 educators can find it. Try these platforms for hosting and sharing your materials.

OER Commons

OER Commons is one of the most well-known hosting sites for all types of OER. It’s a public digital library dedicated solely to OER. You can create your own resource with the previously mentioned authoring tool, and other educators can find it through a search. 


The MERLOT platform is another popular way to share OER. It holds thousands of learning materials from educators and researchers. Once your resource is ready for sharing, you can upload it directly to the community site. 

TeacherTube or YouTube

If you want to share an educational video with the teaching community, TeacherTube is a great site to check out. It’s focused on teacher-created videos for K-12 and higher education. Once your video is ready-to-go, you can quickly upload it to the site. 


Of course, YouTube is another option for sharing educational videos. Although videos are not automatically placed in the public domain, you can choose this option when you upload your own content. 

Pixabay or Pexels

If you’re looking to share OER images, Pixabay allows you to upload pictures in the public domain. Another similar site is Pexels, where you can upload photographs or videos that others can use for free, download or edit. 

Understanding OER copyright and attributions

Once you’ve created an open education resource, you need to understand how to make it available for others to use freely. An important part of OER is that it allows for a flow of ideas, knowledge and perspectives. Giving your resources the correct licensing removes boundaries so any educator and learner can benefit from them.

Public domain

Material in the public domain means that all rights to the work have been waived, so anyone can freely use it. Sometimes the copyright has ended, and a work has transitioned into the public domain. Or a content creator can put their work into the public domain by choice. This is an option if you want to share an OER you developed.

The 5Rs of open licensing

An open license is a type of copyright that allows you to give other people the chance to use your content, while still retaining ownership of the work. Depending on the license you choose, these are the ways others can interact with your OER:

  • Retain – download, make a copy of or store the resource
  • Reuse – use the resource during teaching or learning
  • Revise – make a change or add to it
  • Remix – combine materials together
  • Redistribute – share the resource with others

Creative Commons licensing

When you share an OER on a hosting site, you’ll usually be able to select how “open” you want the licensing to be. While the licensing may be different depending on the platform you choose, Creative Commons licensing is widely used. Here are the types of licenses available:

Attribution / CC BY

This type of license lets others share, remix, adapt and add to your resource, commercially or non commercially. Whoever uses it in these ways must give you credit, though. 

Attribution-ShareAlike / CC BY-SA

This one lets others remix, adapt and add to your resource, commercially or non-commercially. They have to credit you and use the same license for any new versions they create. This is also the license Wikipedia uses on its site.

Attribution-NoDerivs / CC BY-ND

This license requires others to credit you, although they can use your resource however they’d like, commercially or non commercially. They can’t share an adapted version, though.

Attribution-NonCommercial / CC BY-NC

This type of license is for non commercial use, remix and adaptation. Any new version must give you credit, but others can share it under the type of license they choose.

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike / CC BY-NC-SA

This one also allows other people to use, remix, adapt your work non-commercially if they give you credit. The difference is that they must use the same license if they share a new version of the resource.

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs / CC BY-NC-ND

This type of license only gives others permission to download and share your OER. They have to give you credit and can’t change the material or use it commercially.

Developing K-12 OER that are accessible online

When you create K-12 OER,  you want to be sure that educators and learners with different skills and needs can use them. Using web design best practices helps ensure anyone can use or read your material. Here are some ways to make your OER accessible:

  • Add captions or transcripts to videos or audio files
  • Use headings and bulleted or numbered lists in documents
  • Add clear descriptions
  • Use easy-to-read fonts such as Arial, Verdana or Open Sans
  • Make sure there is a distinct contrast between your background and font colors
  • Use file formats that most people can use or view on their devices

How to distribute your OER to learners

Now that you’ve developed K-12 open educational resources, how do you distribute them? Without tools in place, it’s not easy to manage, and it takes a lot of time to share them across your school or district. Luckily, the Hāpara Instructional Suite includes tools that streamline the process for you. 

Hāpara Workspace Private Library allows schools and districts to create a library with OER, lessons, units and courses of study. Whether it’s resources K-12 teams have developed, materials they’ve found online or OER they’ve adapted, Workspace Private Library allows a school or district to create a central library that only educators in their domain can access and share with learners. 

An example of how the Hāpara Instructional Suite has empowered educators to use OER is the Alberta Collaboration for Learning. Together they built a comprehensive OER library for schools throughout Alberta, Canada. Educators use Hāpara Workspace to give learners across the province access to high-quality learning resources at any time.  

Now that you know how to develop K-12 open education resources, share these tips with your team. Together you can produce a library full of digital resources that boost learning across classrooms.

Explore why educators are reviving the #GoOpen initiative to increase access to free high-quality learning materials.

The GoOpen initiative ebook

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