OER Evaluation, Selection, and Licensing Guide

What Is an Open Educational Resource (OER)?

Open Educational Resources (OER) are educational materials that are free to use, re-use, and share for faculty and students. OERs can take the form of many different types of learning materials:

  • Learning objects (quizzes, crossword puzzles, flashcards, animations, interactive maps, timelines, etc.)
  • Audio lectures
  • Video micro-lectures
  • Images
  • Sounds and music
  • Entire course content
  • Collections of journal articles and institutional repositories
  • Textbooks

This is made possible by using open licenses that allow you to use a resource without paying for a license. A few examples of open licenses are the Creative Commons Licenses, Open Publication License, and GNU Free Documentation License. That said, not all open licenses are created equal. While OERs are intended for personal use or use in a small setting such as a classroom, many are restricted when it comes to large-scale distribution, or modification in any way, including translation. Note that where sites carry default licenses, there may be exceptions that are clearly identified.

OERs are beneficial to students because knowledge is freely shared, lowering education costs for students. They are also beneficial to faculty as the content can typically be linked to within a course. It doesn’t require downloads, installation, or embeds.

Evaluating an OER

There are a wide variety of OER search tools, OER repositories, OER providers, and OER libraries. In fact, Google provides the ability for users to narrow their searches to Creative Commons content only, so Google can actually help you identify OER materials. To evaluate OER content from any source, consider the variables of content, learning activity, engagement, feedback, usability, and functionality.

For additional resources on evaluating OERs, check out these great OER evaluation rubrics:

Selecting an OER

Now that you’ve evaluated a variety of OER materials, it’s time to select the best option for you and your students. Using the selection criteria below can help you rate and evaluate a selection of resources. Not all criteria will apply in every case, but the criteria can serve as a general framework for the evaluation and selection process. Depending on the subject or course material you already have or what you are seeking, one or more of these criteria may be more important or have greater priority.

Coverage, Context, Comprehensiveness

  • Does the content cover the topic(s) being considered?
  • Is the context appropriate for the approach to the subject matter?
  • Is the content adequate to address the topic/s or issue/s, time-period, perspectives?
  • Does it stand on its own or need additional content in the form of other materials or instructor commentary, etc.?

Quality, Reliability, Currency

  • Is the content clear, well-written, and readable? Is the content accurate, free of biases, errors, and mistakes (grammatical, technical, or informational)?
  • Is the source reputable or peer-reviewed? Are the authors recognized in their fields?
  • Is the content current? If not current, is the content still meaningful, relevant, or significant for your course/unit/topic?

Appropriateness for Course Level, Student Audience, Learning Outcome(s)

  • Are the language and the approach appropriate and inclusive of the target audience (undergraduate or graduate, lower or upper level, subject major or general audience, etc.)?
  • Does the content align well with one or more learning outcomes?
  • Is the content free of cultural biases and stereotypes? If not, can instructor commentary or other content serve to offset or provide more inclusive perspectives?

Access, Accessibility, Format

  • Is the content easy to access? Is it in a usable format as-is? Is the content easy to navigate, save, or print?
  • Can it be made available for use offline? Can it be downloaded/uploaded independently of the original location?
  • Does the content meet accessibility requirements? If not, can one easily make appropriate changes or transform it into another medium, if desired? Consult your institutional standards or the OER Accessibility Toolkit (https://open.ubc.ca/teach/oer-accessibility-toolkit/).

Adaptable, Customizable, Open vs. Free-To-Use

  • Is it easy to adopt just a portion of the content? Can it meaningfully be combined or assembled with other materials? Does it complement other materials for the course/unit?
  • Does the content fit well into the structure of a course’s assignments, activities, etc.? Does the instructor need to make course modifications to accommodate the new content?
  • Do the licensing conditions allow for needed modifications? Does the content bear an open (Creative Commons) license or a statement indicating the terms of use as free or free with conditions? Does it allow for download and reuse (making a copy), or can you only link to it?

Supplementary or Time-Saving Resources (If Preferred or Needed)

  • Are there student resources like online labs, simulations, images and videos, self-paced practice, or assessment activities to support learning?
  • Are there accompanying materials such as test banks, homework problems, instructor guides, slides and handouts, case studies, or multimedia content to support instruction?
Recognition of OER-based Learning, by UNU-ViE, used under a CC-BY SA license.

Types of Creative Commons Licenses

Creative Commons is a global nonprofit organization that gives content users the ability to share and reuse content legally and for free. The Creative Commons website contains excellent in-depth information on all types of licenses they offer. Here is a short list of licenses you may see as you search for OER content. These licenses tell you and other content users what you can do with the work.