Open Educational Resources

No doubt you’ve searched the web looking for material to adapt and/or re-use in your teaching. With any luck, the resources you’ve found have clearly stated that you’re free to re-use/adapt the material for your own uses.  But too often, there is no clear indication of copyright or re-use restrictions. OERs are teaching materials which are openly available online. While they are open, they are not “free” of restrictions. They are covered by open licenses that specify how they can be used, reused, adapted, shared and modified according to specific needs.

OERlicenceImageOER resources include:

  • Learning content: full courses, course material, content modules, learning objects, collections, and journals.
  • Tools: software to support the creation, delivery, use and improvement of open learning content including searching and organization of content, content and learning management systems, content development tools, and online learning communities.
  • Implementation resources: Intellectual property licenses to promote open publishing of materials, design-principles, and localization of content.

The OER (Open Educational Resources) movement seeks to help with the problem of creating and finding shareable  educational materials that educators can re-use, edit and adapt for their own classroom, teaching & learning needs. OER material may be in the public domain (ie: no longer has a copyright restriction on it) or explicitly licensed by the authors for re-use via Creative Commons licenses. Ideally, all OER material will be freely available and have no restrictions on what you can do with it, but it’s always good to check the fine print.

Open Educational Resources (OER) are freely accessible, openly licensed documents and media that are useful for teaching, learning, educational, assessment and research purposes. Although some people consider the use of an open format to be an essential characteristic of OER, this is not a universally acknowledged requirement.

The types of materials available can range from single worksheets and lesson plans through unit plans, textbooks and full semester/year long curricula. There are a number of services that serve as clearinghouses for OER material and provide searchable interfaces to help find appropriate material.

The OER movement has been successful in promoting the idea that knowledge is a public good, expanding the aspirations of organisations and individuals to publish OER. The aim of the OER movement is to employ formats that are usable, sharable, revisable, and remixable with free and open source software, with the most minimal hardware requirements possible, and to follow standards developed by the OER movement to enhance discoverability, interoperability, quality, and accessibility.

By providing learning contents openly, OER can foster and manage the creation of a worldwide knowledge society. However the potential to transform practice has not yet been realised. while OER can indeed play a fundamental role in supporting educational development throughout the world, many dilemmas yet exist before with digital access achieves what OER is aiming for. Open Educational materials are part of the larger Open Education movement. This video is a helpful introduction to Open Education ideas.

How can I use OERs?

OERs are built around five principles: Retain (you may control copies of the OER even if the original is removed); reuse & revise (freedom to use the OER unaltered, or to adapt it to your needs); remix (combine the OER with external material to create something new) and redistribute (share copies of your original content and adaptations with others).

Creativity and copyright

Clay Shirky talks about publishing as the new literacy, and the opportunity for all Internet users to put things out in public. Therefore as we embrace new medias and online technologies, and as we develop skills and habits of learning with new publishing modes, it is important to consider how to best represent and share these artefacts across the world.

The primary purpose of copyright is to provide an incentive for people to produce new works for the benefit of society as a whole. The incentive is created by the opportunity to be paid when other people use and disseminate those works. Copyright can also reward people who create works without expecting payment, when their works end up being used by others. (Australian Copyright Council, 2009)

The objective of encouraging the creation of new works needs to be balanced by the objective of making material available for socially desirable purposes such as research and education. Copyright is designed to protect the way ideas or information are described or expressed (for example, in a document or a drawing), not the ideas or information themselves.

Copyright can be infringed (i.e., copyright law can be broken) if material is used outside of the ways permitted under the Act (or amendments to the Act) or without permission of the copyright owner. This is especially important in the digital environment, where it is so easy to copy information and other content. Some authors and content creators feel that the automatic application of copyright law to their work creates unnecessary barriers to the sharing of information, knowledge and other resources such as music, cartoons and art.

Thus, the Creative Commons movement has developed. Under creative commons, creators append a licence to their work that permits other people to use their work. For example, they permit others to use, distribute, remix, and build upon their work in return to credit or attribution. There are a number of different creative commons licenses, some of which permit derivative works, and some of which forbid them, some of which allow commercial use, and some of which don’t.

All learners – educators and students – need to know about copyright laws, fair use guidelines, Creative Commons, intellectual property and citing sources. This is important because of legal requirements and also for ethical use of other people’s creations for our own work. The fact that images, videos, text and other ‘mashed up’ artifacts appear online means they can usually be easily downloaded or shared – but ease of access does not mean ‘free to use how and when you wish’. This is an important concept which relates to certain ethical practices educator should be modeling as well as teaching their students.

Copyright laws protect the authors or creators of an original work by granting them the right to determine if and how their work is copied distributed or adapted. Copyright and intellectual property issues within the digital information environment are of particular concern to all educators, and they impact education and learning across the board and all learners must be responsible.

Creative commons has a strong history already and introduced the version 4.0 licenses, now available for adoption worldwide in late in 2013. The 4.0 licenses—more than two years in the making—are the most global, legally robust licenses produced by CC to date. Dozens of improvements have been incorporated that make sharing and reusing CC-licensed materials easier and more dependable than ever before.

How we manage copyright information for ourselves and others, particularly when it comes to our Apps and mobile devices is the issue for our times.  Creative Commons is an international non-profit organisation that provides free licences and tools that copyright owners can use to allow others to share, reuse and remix their material, legally. Creative Commons Australia is the affiliate that supports Creative Commons in Australia and administers the Australian Creative Commons licences.

Relevant Copyright Organisations

  • The Australian Copyright Council (ACC) ( is an independent, non-profit organisation. Founded in 1968, it represents the peak bodies for professional artists and content creators working in Australia’s creative industries and Australia’s major copyright collecting societies.
  • Smart Copying provides the official guide to copyright issues for Australian schools and TAFE.
  • The APRA-AMCOS is a joint website of the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) and The Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society (AMCOS)
  • Creative Commons
  • Creative Commons Australia
  • The US Copyright Office website includes many links to information concerning copyright issues, legislation, organisations and includes many links to information concerning copyright issues, legislation, organisations and resources.

Privacy Amendment (Enhancing Privacy Protection) Act 2012 (Privacy Amendment Act) Australia. One thing to note is that this introduced many significant changes to the Privacy Act 1988 (Privacy Act). These changes commenced on 12 March 2015. A summary of the changes is available at: You will note that this Act regulates public and only some private sector organisations. Private sector organisation are covered by the Australian Privacy Principles (APP) but regulated by State and Territory Acts. In a nutshell organisations have to demonstrate that they are taking the APP seriously and there are provisions for audit.

While reading about and working with the intellectual and legal issues of copyright, it is also important to become familiar with Creative Commons ( and for a broad outline see as part of the copyright agenda. This applies to ALL formats of media. As part of the shared culture to do with media, and social media it is important that all learners become aware of and in fact use regularly the self-licensing tools provided by Creative Commons. Nothing should be shared online without a copyright license in order to protect the creator and to indicate the intent of the work.

Try this

It is unlikely that you will find OER that perfectly fit your needs. In looking at OER remember that most OER can used in whole or in part and/or modified and customized to fit your specific needs (except for resources with a “No-Derivatives” license). Open Educational Resources are distributed across the Internet. There is no one definitive source for finding them.

Note:  that the last in the list, is not a search engine, but rather offers convenient access to search services provided by other independent organisations. CC has no control over the results that are returned. Do not assume that the results displayed in this search portal are under a CC license. You should always verify that the work is actually under a CC license by following the link.

Explore further

Goldstein, J. (2015). Get off my cloud: when privacy laws meet cloud computing. The Conversation. Retrieved from

Orr, D., M. Rimini and D. van Damme  (2015), Open educational resources: A catalyst for innovation, OECD Publishing, Paris.

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