A Closer Look: Open Educational Resources (OER)

You may have heard the term – OER, or Open Educational Resources – and wondered what it means. Let’s take a closer look.

Open Educational Resources (OER) are defined as “free and openly licensed educational materials that can be used for teaching, learning, research, and other purposes.”

Buzzwords like “free” and “open” come up frequently in discussions of OER. In this context,­ “free” means simply that – materials that are free of charge for use. Free materials are  appealing to many different groups – faculty, administrators, students – and represent a move away from the traditional educational publishers.

The second part of OER, “open,” has a specific legal definition: “openly licensed.” This concept is key to understanding OER, because while traditional copyright gives a creator many rights, it does not allow for the work to be shared with others. Creative Commons Licenses are a way for the creator of a work to extend these rights to others, with a set of choices of how a new user may “Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix and Redistribute” their work.

By choosing a Creative Commons license, you may allow others to build upon your work, or simply re-use the content. Each license includes the word “BY,” indicating that you must give credit to its original creator.

Why OER?

There has been a lot of buzz and excitement generated about OER, which are seen as both a creative pedagogical tool and an alternative to the rising costs of commercial textbooks. A recent surge of interest lead to direct funding from the state, leading to the development of OER Faculty Fellows programs across CUNY. At the Graduate Center, eleven Faculty Fellows were selected for the current semester, who are currently working on their projects in conjunction with the Graduate Center Library, and Teaching and Learning Center.

Z-Courses, ZTC, and the Z-Degree

Another component of the OER initiative at CUNY are “Z-Courses” – classes in which the students will not be required to pay for course texts. You may also hear these referred to as “Zero Textbook Cost” courses, or “ZTC.” A four-year “Z-degree” is on the horizon at some campuses, and would make it possible to complete a degree program without textbook costs.

To achieve their goal of being cost-free, Z-Courses draw upon both OER and existing library resources. An instructor might assign materials that are openly-licensed (OER), and also copyrighted materials which are available through the library’s holdings or subscription databases. 

Where can I find OER?

Great question! Because OER refers to any material (audio, video, course text) that is free and openly licensed, these resources come in many different forms.

If you’re looking for course content, try the George Mason Metadata Finder. This new tool searches across multiple OER repositories at once (OpenStax, Open Textbook Library, MIT Open Courseware, and more), by keyword, title, author, or date range.

If you’re looking for freely licensed images, here are a few great sites to check out. Creative Commons, Flickr (images filtered by license), and Wikimedia Commons all provide content that is available for immediate use.


About the Author

Elvis Bakaitis is the Interim Head of Reference at the Mina Rees Library.