Introduction to Open Educational Resources and the Fellowship

Defining Open Educational Resources

Open educational resources (OER) are cost-free and openly licensed educational materials that can be used for teaching, learning, research, and other purposes. This definition comes from the Creative Commons organization.

In other words, OERs:

  1. Are teaching materials that can be shared freely, and
  2. Provide explicit permission to adapt the materials for customization

What’s the difference between learning materials we describe as “OERs” and learning materials we describe as “zero-cost” or “free?”

The critical thing that sets OERs apart from cost-free resources is that they have what is colloquially referred to as “open licenses.” This means the author/creator has chosen an intellectual property license to allow their work to be available for others to use, share, and even update, revise, or build upon.

This is achieved by authors selecting a Creative Commons license for their work. These licenses provide a transparent way for authors to give permission for users to:

  1. Retain permission to own, archive, and make copies of the content
  2. Reusepermission to reuse content in its unaltered form
  3. Revisepermission to adapt, adjust, modify, and alter content
  4. Remixpermission to combine original or revised content with other content to create something new
  5. Redistributepermission to share copies with others in its original, revised or remixed form

Are OERs online materials only?

No. OERs can be any type of educational content: a video, a simulation, an image, a blog, a podcast, a textbook, or any variety of textual material, like lecture notes. OERs are often delivered in digital formats online, but they can be in print as well. The way to determine if a learning material is OER is by looking for the intellectual property license. If you see it has a Creative Commons license that lets you edit and remix the material to suit you, then you can call it OER! We’ll spend more time investigating Creative Commons licenses in our first meeting together.

But for now, to understand why open educational resources came about, it’s important to review intellectual property and copyright law.

What is copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection granted by U.S. law to the creators of “original works of authorship” including scholarly and creative works. Creators do not have to register their work or attach a copyright notice in order for copyright protection to apply to the work; the protection exists automatically from the time the work is created. Even napkin doodles are protected by copyright. Unpublished and published works are covered under copyright as well. Kind of counter-intuitive, right?

What “rights” are protected under U.S. Copyright Law?

Copyright holders have exclusive rights to:

  1. Reproduce their work
  2. Prepare derivative works
  3. Distribute copies of their work
  4. Perform their work publicly
  5. Display their work publicly

Since copyright is automatic, the five exclusive rights that authors are entitled to under copyright impacts how a work can be used and distributed. This can make it challenging to integrate intellectual materials into educational settings. Creative Commons licenses and provide an alternative.

A lot of the above content may be new to you; don’t worry! We’ll continue to review and discuss throughout our meetings and in additional assignments.

What does copyright not protect?

Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed. Check out some scenarios to clarify your understanding of what can be copyright protected and what can’t.

Quiz yourself on the information presented above.

Selecting materials for your O.E.R.

Of course there are many materials relevant to incorporate into your teaching that are not O.E.R. That is why we also recommend Fellows assign other cost-free materials to students in addition to O.E.R. For example, you can continue to assign materials freely available on websites by linking out to them, as well as digital resources from the City Tech Library.

Non-O.E.R. Materials O.K. to include in your overall O.E.R.:

  • Public domain materials
  • Open Access materials (journal articles and books)
  • Library Digital Resources
  • Free online that you can link to

Non-OER Materials NOT O.K. to include in your O.E.R.:

  • Copyright protected materials

How is the end result called an O.E.R.?

Even though not every material you assign in the course will fit the definition of O.E.R., what makes you be able to call your overall end-product an O.E.R.?

  • You will make the overall site available to the public and you will select a Creative Commons license that permits others to adapt your work
  • Course content developed by you (which can include homework assignments, lecture slides, etc.) is original content that you will share under a Creative Commons license
  • Your site will be following best practices outlined in the Fellowship with respect to intellectual property, etc. For example, we will review how to incorporate images that are in the public domain or Creative Commons licensed, to reinforce a culture of sharing and adapting




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