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Open Educational Resources: What are Open Educational Resources?

The Short Answer

Open Educational Resources (OER) are defined by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation as “teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others.” OER materials include “full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge."

The Licenses

There are multiple licenses that help creators grant additional permissions to potential users of their work; examples include the GNU General Public License (frequently used by open source software projects), and Creative Commons’ set of six intellectual property licenses. In terms of open educational resources, Creative Commons’ licenses are an increasingly popular, standardized way to grant additional user permissions for a copyright holder’s creative work. These licenses do not replace or change rights that are granted to users under pre-existing copyright law but exist in tandem with them.

Through the six licenses, permissions can be granted in wide and flexible combinations. For example, a Creative Commons BY-NC license indicates that users may “distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work” under two conditions: the original author must be given attribution, and their work can only be used in non-commercial pursuits. Non-commercial, in Creative Commons terms, means that profit should not be the primary intention, and public education institutions such as NAIT fall within this usage type. Within the structure of Creative Commons, licensees and users can create and adopt resources under a variety of terms that range from the incredibly accommodating (the CC-BY license that asks only for attribution), to the relatively restrictive (the CC BY-NC-ND, which allows retention, use, and sharing, but not adaptation or commercial use).

Fair Dealing

Fair dealing under the Canadian Copyright Act remains the final consideration when assessing potential uses. In the previous example, a work that specifies share-alike use in its license could still be adopted and changed without being shared again under a CC license, by an instructor exercising their rights under fair dealing. These dual considerations of open licensing and fair dealing apply to both the potential adoption of resources by faculty at NAIT, as well as the potential release of resources by NAIT.

The 5 Rs

OER use can be understood through a five “R” framework, as laid out by OpenContent:

  • Retain: the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (duplicate, store, manage).
  • Reuse: the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (in a class, in a study group, in a video).
  • Revise: the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (translate the content into another language or another medium).
  • Remix: the right to combine the original or revised content with other open content to create something new (incorporate the content into a mashup).
  • Redistribute: the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others. 

These rights are all granted, in varying forms and combinations, by open content licenses such as Creative Commons. It is up to a copyright holder to choose the license, and users to choose the resource with the license that best suits their needs. As with any type of resource, quality varies. Just as instructors already invest the time to evaluate the textbooks sold by traditional publishers, so too must they invest time to evaluate content that has been published under an open license. 


Amanda Derksen's picture
Amanda Derksen