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Open Resources

This guide walks users through the definition of "open source" and explains the various options for classroom use.

What Is "Open" Source?

The term "Open Source" refers to any freely available item which you can use and modify as you see fit. The first "open" materials were predominantly software programs, and were published under a GNU General Public License. Software programs were released as "open source" programs, with source code that the user could modify, as early as 1991.

If you're interested in viewing a full timeline of Open Source software development, we recommend the following:

Open Educational Resources (OER)

Open Educational Resources (OERs) expand on the "open source" concept. OER materials include:

  • Textbooks (usually electronic)
  • Media (recordings, video, images)
  • Lectures (text, PowerPoint)
  • Instructional strategies and activities

OERs include all materials used for teaching, learning, assessing, and researching.

Creative Commons Licensing

OER materials are typically free, but the author ultimately dictates what can and cannot be done with an OER material placed online.

It's important to remember that these resources may be free, but still have an accompanying LICENSE which dictates the material's use.

The most common form of license is a Creative Commons license. Many creators choose to go through Creative Commons to create a license for their work because the stipulations are pre-written based on a set of criteria chosen by the creator. 

The following provides a description of the types of Creative Commons licenses available:

Another form of licensing for OER materials is the Public Domain license. Think of the two types of licenses like this:

Creative Commons licensing allows you to retain your own rights to the material, while making it available for others to use under certain conditions.

Public Domain licensing is like a donation for the good of the order. It allows anyone who already holds a copyright on a work to place it on the web for anyone to use or alter, without restrictions, in essence giving up their rights to the material under U.S. Copyright law.

If you'd like an expanded introduction to copyright, we recommend also visiting the library's copyright page.

Common Misconceptions of OER

Some common misconceptions of OER include:

  • OER materials are online, so they must be free.
    • Typically the idea behind "open" is that it is free of charge, but that doesn't mean there aren't other restrictions for the material's use. As an example, and OER material may ask that you name the author in an attribution statement, or that you can link to, but not download, a resource.
  • Everything online is an OER material.
    • OER is a special type of material category. Websites, just as they are without being labeled as OER, are not "open" materials. Their use is governed by the rights holder of the content. 
  • OER materials do not allow creators to retain their rights.
    • OER materials are protected by U.S. Copyright Law just the same as any other material published in a more traditional format. If you choose to publish something as an OER, many platforms provide you with options when the rights to your own work are violated. Similarly, many web platforms provide rights-holders with the ability to report a violation directly to the platform. YouTube is one example, as the site monitors extensively for copyright violations, and provides right-holders with a variety of options in the event that their work has been used without their consent.
  • OER materials are a new concept.
    • OER materials and the platforms which host them have actually been in existence for many years. Submissions on the OER site Merlot, as an example, can go back to the late 1990s when the platform was first launched. 
  • OER materials are difficult or time-consuming to create.
    • Everything built and used in the classroom environment can become an OER. Of course some content is more time-consuming than others, but even outlines of instructional strategies or lecture notes can become OER if they are placed on the web and framed as such for users.