🎧 Listen to an audio version of this post:
What are open educational resources (OER)?
Open educational resources (OER) are instructional and learning materials that can be found in the public domain. Public domain materials aren’t protected by copyright, patent or trademark laws. The public owns them rather than a single person, so anyone can use public domain content without needing permission.
Educators or organizations create OER to be shared with any teacher or learner. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed into law in 2015, defines “openly licensed educational resources” as “teaching, learning and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under a license that permits their free use, reuse, modification and sharing with others.”
Some resources have a Creative Commons license or General Public License (GNU) that states how the content can be used, adapted or shared. Although most OER can be reused and modified, anyone who wants to use online materials should check the licensing first before making edits and sharing.
When was the term OER first used?
The term “open educational resources” was first used by UNESCO at the 2002 forum Open Courseware in Higher Education. In 2019 they also created the UNESCO OER Recommendation, which is an international framework that sets standards for open resources. The recommendations include creating equitable and inclusive materials and strengthening international cooperation for building them.
What are the advantages of open educational resources?
1. They start as digital resources
Many learning materials are now online, including open educational resources. Even though the open resources start as digital content, they don’t have to stay that way to still be considered OER. Teachers can then give them to students or pass them along to colleagues as digital or printed content. Generally though, most educators and learners use the materials digitally on school devices. This makes them easy to access and cuts down on printing costs.
2. They are shared around the world
The goal of open educational resources is to give educators and students around the world access to high-quality learning materials. Creators post their content online, giving anyone the chance to use it. Teachers can take their own modified version and distribute it to colleagues or share it with an OER community online. School districts can share their work on the OER World Map.
3. The materials are free
Educators and learners can use open educational resources for free. Because the content isn’t under copyright, there isn’t a fee for using or adapting it. Schools can save money by incorporating open resources and investing school funds into another area of need instead.
4. They are customizable
Teachers and instructional teams can usually adapt openly licensed educational resources any way they’d like. They can edit materials, change the order of content or add their own instructional resources. Plus, because they’re digital, they’re easy to modify.
What are the benefits of OER?
ESSA encourages educators to “discover, adapt and share high-quality resources,” including OER. Open educational resources are beneficial to teachers because educators can personalize them specifically for their learners’ needs. Also, while traditional textbooks take years to be updated, teachers can quickly make updates to open resources.
The importance of open educational resources is significant because open content can increase equity across schools. It gives students the chance to access standards-based resources for learning anywhere. OER also encourages ideas to be shared across communities, the country and around the globe. UNESCO believes “universal access to information through high quality education contributes to peace, sustainable social and economic development and intercultural dialogue.”
What types of open educational resources are available?
Open educational resources come in many formats. What are open educational resources used for in schools? Teachers and departments can find complete curriculum or individual materials to add to their own lessons. Students can also use open materials to review concepts or learn new concepts on their own. Some open educational resource examples include:
- full online courses
- curated digital collections
- assessment items
- audio and music
- learning simulations
How are open educational resources used in K-12?
Schools and teachers use OER because they don’t need to start from scratch when creating curriculum. K-12 educators have limited time, and with access to thousands of free resources available, they don’t have to spend time writing content.
Teachers and teams can search for materials by subject, grade level, topic or standard. Although many open educational resources are high-quality, educators should evaluate them before deciding to use them. Education departments, schools and teachers should decide if it makes sense for a particular grade, reading or learning level.
When educators find a resource, they have the flexibility to customize the resource for a class, a group of learners or an individual learner. They can also collect resources on the same topic and create a differentiated collection for different learning levels.
Teachers and departments can give back by sharing their own OER or versions they have adapted as well. Then other schools and instructors around the globe can access new instructional materials at no charge.
How do you access open educational resources?
There are many websites, organizations and platforms that offer OER. Check out these sources to find open educational resource websites:
- OER Commons: a digital library of open educational resources across subjects and education levels
- EngageNY: learning modules and assessments for K-12 based on Common Core
- Hāpara Workspace: thousands of K-12 curriculum-aligned lessons and projects from all over the globe (available to districts using the Hāpara Instructional Suite)
- Khan Academy: digital math, science, grammar and history courses for K-12 and early college
- Achieve the Core: lessons, tasks, assessments and textbook adaptations that align with the Common Core State Standards
- Open Up Resources: ELA curriculum for K-12 and math curriculum for grades 6-12
- Share My Lesson: K-12 lessons across subjects and grade levels
- PhET: interactive math and science simulations using game-like environments
- GeoGebra: math tools and activities
- MERLOT: teaching and learning materials for subjects at every educational level
- Project Gutenberg: a library of over 60,000 free eBooks
- Wikibooks: an open-content textbook collection
- Pixabay: public domain images
- Internet Archive Movie Archive: free videos and movies
- Free Music Archive: music to use, reuse and remix
Open educational resources help schools and districts save time and money. With high-quality digital content widely available, teachers can easily find materials to support remote, in-person or hybrid learning.