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
- Sounds and music
- Entire course content
- Collections of journal articles and institutional repositories
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 to be 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 has 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.
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 or mistakes (grammatical, technical, or informational)?
- Is the source reputable or peer-reviewed? Are the authors recognized in their field?
- 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 level 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? In 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 assignment(s), activity(ies), etc.? Does the instructor need to make course modifications to accommodate the new content?
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?
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 great, 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.