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Open Educational Resources: FAQ

What is OER?

"Open Education encompasses resources, tools and practices that are free of legal, financial and technical barriers and can be fully used, shared and adapted."1 Open Educational Resources (OERs) take a variety of forms including textbooks, audio and video files, syllabi, assignments, assessments, classroom exercises, and more. 

What can I do with OER?

OER can be used like any other educational materials and often come with additional rights of use. Depending on the licensing terms, they may also be retained, reused, revised, remixed and redistributed -- known as the five R's of OER. The following chart2 explains each in more detail.

Retain Make, own, and control copies of the content
Reuse Use the content in a wide variety of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
Revise Adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
Remix Combine the original or revise content with other open content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
Redistribute Share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)

Why is OER beneficial?


OER offers numerous benefits to educators and students alike. "Educational resources developed in an open environment can be vetted and improved by a broad community of educators, resulting in materials that represent what the educational community sees as most valuable. By providing educators with new access to educational material, open resources have the potential to spur pedagogical innovation, introducing new alternatives for effective teaching. OER have the potential to expose students and instructors to the long tail of content, most of which never finds its way into widespread educational use. ...The resources required to develop high-quality learning materials and activities for a full complement of courses can be prohibitive for many institutions and instructors. By distributing the costs over a larger number of users, OER brings a greater range of tools within reach of more users. OER can also lower the costs for students to obtain educational content."3 


Where do I find OER?

"The scope and availability of OER is ever expanding. Every week, new resources are being added to the global body of resources. A current problem arising out of this growth is that there is no single comprehensive listing of all OER (nor, given the rapid expansion of content online, is there ever likely to be one). This means that, in order to find appropriate OER, the searcher will need to employ a number of search strategies."4 Try search engines that specialize in open content, such as Mason OER Metafinder and Creative Commons Search. Repositories (collections of OERs) and directories (lists of OERs) are readily available online. This guide offers a listing of specialized search engines, repositories, and directories to help you start your search.

Who is creating in OER?

OER is created by educational institutions, government agencies and publishers. "One of the longest-running and highest-profile OER initiatives is the OpenCourseWare project from MIT, which began in 2002 and today features all of the course materials from roughly 2,000 MIT courses. The OpenCourseWare model has been replicated by dozens of colleges and universities around the world, which are putting full course materials online for anyone to use. Having access to an institution’s course resources is not intended to be equivalent to taking a course at that institution, but users can take advantage of that access to supplement or direct their own learning. Other OER efforts include Connexions, which was begun at Rice University, and the Open Learning Initiative from Carnegie Mellon, as well as the University of the People and even iTunes U."5

Who will guarantee the quality of OER?

"This question is possibly reflective of a deeply entrenched notion of educational materials as being ‘publications’, the quality of which is controlled by educational publishers. This notion has been – and remains – valid but reflects a partial understanding of the scope and diversity of educational materials used in many teaching and learning contexts. It also reflects a false delegation of responsibility for quality to a third party. This mindset shifts into the OER space in the form of an unstated assumption that one or more dedicated agencies should take full responsibility for assuring that OER shared in repositories online are of a high quality. In addition to this being practically impossible, it masks the reality that the definition of quality is subjective and contextually dependent. In the final analysis, responsibility for assuring the quality of OER used in teaching and learning environments will reside with the institution and individual educators responsible for delivery of education. As they have always done when prescribing textbooks, choosing a video to screen, or using someone else’s lesson plan, these agents are the ones who retain final responsibility for choosing which materials – open and/or proprietary – to use. Thus, the ‘quality of OER’ will depend on which resources they choose to use, how they choose to adapt them to make them contextually relevant, and how they integrate them into teaching and learning activities of different kinds."6


1. SPARC. (2018). Open Education. Retrieved from
2. Rajiv Jhangiani, Caroline Daniels, and Brenda Smith. (2015, July 25) Academic Librarians and OER: Access, Advocacy, and Activism. Retrieved from
3. Educause. (2010, May 27). 7 Things You Should Know About Open Educational Resources. Retrieved from
4. Neil Butcher, Asha Kanwar, Stamenka Uvalic Trumbric. (2015). A Basic Guide to Open Educational Resources (OER). Retrieved from
5. Educause. (2010, May 27). 7 Things You Should Know About Open Educational Resources. Retrieved from
6. Neil Butcher, Asha Kanwar, Stamenka Uvalic Trumbric. (2015). A Basic Guide to Open Educational Resources (OER). Retrieved from