Open Educational Resources (OER) Toolkit


The term open educational resources or OER was coined in 2002 with the goal of exchanging ideas and knowledge globally regardless of geographic location, economic status, or access to traditional education. OER are defined as, “any type of educational materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license. The nature of these open materials means that anyone can legally and freely copy, use, adapt and re-share them. OERs range from textbooks to curricula, syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, tests, projects, audio, video and animation.” -UNESCO

Open educational resources are often works in the public domain or works produced with Creative Commons licenses. Professors and instructors are choosing to replace course materials with OER for several reasons: OER are free and save students money, OER provide open access to information, OER allow instructors to customize their courses providing flexibility in teaching and learning. More about the history of OER can be found through UNESCO.

What is OER?

See also: Open Educational Practices Toolkit, Center for Instructional Innovation and Assessment, Western Washington University

5Rs of OER

Defining the 5Rs of OER,

  1. Reuse: Content can be reused in its altered form.
  2. Retain: Users have the right to make, archive, and "own" copies of the content.
  3. Revise: Content can be adapted, adjusted, modified, or altered.
  4. Remix: The original content can be combined with other content to create something new.
  5. Redistribute: Copies of the content can be shared with others in its original, revised, or remixed form.

Lumen Learning. Defining OER. Retrieved from:

Getting Started with OER

To get started using OER in courses, Rachel Arteaga and Suzanne Wakim have developed a course called Intro to OER. Some general tips for using OER are as follows:

  • Consider which course(s) you are going to replace course materials with OER. Things to look at might be: class sizes, cost of course materials, additional paywalls students run into with online textbooks. Lower level courses are often easier to find replacement course materials for than upper level courses.
  • Start with your syllabus. Narrow down which assignments or texts might be replaced with OER.
  • Look for easy replacement texts. If you use a textbook, look at OpenStax or the Open Textbook Library. If you use older primary sources check out Project Gutenberg. If you use journal articles start by looking Directory of Open Access Journals.
  • Evaluate your sources. OER, like any course materials must be evaluated for effectiveness and accuracy. Achieve has created a rubric for faculty to use when evaluating sources.
  • If you aren’t finding OER that fit your course, consider creating your own OER. See: OER: Creating.

See also: Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources

Accessibility with OER

Some sources to look at when considering how to find OER that accessible or how to create accessible OER are Floe: flexibility learning for open education or the Accessibility Toolkit by BCcampus.

More Resources About OER

Public Domain

Most generally, the public domain includes older creative works owned by the public that are either not copyrighted or no longer copyrighted. Normally, works are included in the public domain if they were published before 1924 or created by the government employees for government projects. Project Gutenberg is a good place to source older creative works that are in the public domain. Specific information about what is or is not in the public domain can be found by contacting Western’s copyright librarian, Jenny Oleen.

Public Domain Resources

Creative Commons

Many OER are licensed with Creative Commons licenses. These licenses are free, easily accessible and give authors a way to share their creative works with the public. There are six main types of Creative Commons copyright licenses that give different permissions for how the work can be used, shared, or modified. When using OER in a course, it is important to read up on the different licenses to see how specific OER can be used.

Creative Commons Resources

Fair Use

Fair use allows for unlicensed use of copyrighted materials in specific settings such as teaching, scholarship, and research. Section 107 of the Copyright Act determines whether something is fair use or not, including looking at the purpose of the work in use, nature of the copyrighted work, amount of the work being used and how the use of the work may affect its market value.

Fair Use Resources

GNU (General Public License)

A GNU is primarily a software license giving users the ability to run, adapt and modify software. New work created using work with a GNU license must be open source and distributed with the same GNU license.

More Information on Licensing

Top Resources For Finding OER

  • Creative Commons Image Search - searches from other image sources such as Flickr, Open Clip Art Library, and Pixabay for licensed materials that can be reused, remixed, and shared
  • OER Commons - disciplinary collections from various sources
  • OpenStax - high-quality, peer-reviewed, openly licensed college textbooks

Searching Suggestions

To search for open educational resources through the Western library, put in the key search words and click search. Then refine your search by clicking the “open access” filter on the left.

Screenshot of Western Libraries search results, with the "Open Access" checkbox on the left side of the page highlighted.

To search for OER through Google, start by using Google Advanced Search. Look for the section labeled “usage rights” and set the parameters to “free to use, share, or modify”.

Screenshot of the Google Advanced Search page, with the "Usage Rights" filter highlighted by arrows.

When using Google search, be sure to check the sources to make sure they are peer-reviewed and accurate.

To search for images on Google that are open, go to Google Images. Once in the Google images tab, click “tools.”

Screenshot of Google Image search results, with the "Tools" button highlighted.

Under tools, go to “usage rights” and select “labeled with reuse for modification” or “labeled for reuse” depending on what you need.

Screenshot of Google Image search results, with the "Labeled for reuse with modification" filter selected under the Tools menu.

Choosing a License

The first step in creating OER is choose a license to publish work through Creative Commons. If you are pulling from other works with a Creative Commons license or the public domain, use the attribution builder to give correct attribution to the original source.

Resources to Help Choose a License:

Creating eBooks

PDF and ePub formats are commonly used to publish OER texts. There are a number of widely available applications that can produce one or both of the formats (many of which are free or readily available to Western students, faculty and staff).

Guides to Creating eBooks:

Creating Other Media



Images / Art


Modules for Building Courses

More Resources About Authoring OER

More Resources About Modifying OER

Citations and Attribution Resources

In the academic community, it is widespread practice to use citation to give credit to authors. Attribution is similar to citation and used to give credit to the author of the original work. More information on the differences between citation vs. attribution and how to give attribution can be found below:

Recommendations for Publishing Websites

Recommendations for Publishing eBooks

Publishing Other Media



Teaching Materials

More Resources About Publishing OER


After publishing the text, consider adding it to some of the following platforms so it can be accessible for students globally.


Examples from Other Institutions

Access & Inclusivity with OER

Efficacy of OER

Practice of OER

WWU & Beyond

OER at Western

OER National and State Policy

OER Higher Education Institutional Policy

OER Policy Development

Impact of Open Educational Resources