Open Education Resources

Free Is Good

Open educational resources are free digital materials you can use with your students. Here are some ways to find them.
May 17, 2017
Illustration of an open book connected to a computer keyboard and mouse and surrounded by icons
© Shutterstock.com/Macrovector

Open educational resources (OER) are found in the public domain and can be used for free for teaching, learning, research, and other educational purposes. These materials can be retained, reused, revised, remixed, and redistributed. These “5R permissions” of OER allow you to not only access the materials and resources free of charge, but also to make them even better. Sounds good, right? But what’s really out there, and why should you use these resources?

There are several examples of OER available, including image and audio resources, books in the public domain, video and audio lectures, interactive simulations, game-based learning programs, lesson plans, textbooks, online course curricula, professional learning programs, and online learning platforms.

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Why You Should Use OER

OER allow educators to adapt instructional materials to the individual needs of their students. This helps ensure that content and resources are up to date and relevant and fit the unique needs of diverse student populations. Because of publishing timelines, traditional classroom materials like textbooks can often be out of date by the time they’re implemented in the classroom. And that doesn’t even take into account the curriculum adoption cycles that exist in most districts, which result in content areas updating resources on a two-, three-, or four-year rotation due to budgetary constraints.

OER also guarantee that cost is not a barrier to accessing high-quality, standards-aligned resources. Teachers can save significant time and effort related to resource development through the implementation of OER. Additionally, the open sharing of resources allows educators to collaborate across geographic, time, and space boundaries.

Where to Look

So how do you find free, high-quality resources? When looking for OER, a good place to start is one of the repositories that house a variety of tools for educators. OER Commons was created by the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education, and you can search a dynamic digital library of over 50,000 high-quality OER. Curriki hosts thousands of educator-vetted, openly licensed, online educational resources and allows for the creation of groups through which students and teachers can collaborate. As a joint effort of the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Defense, the Learning Registry houses over 400,000 open resources for educational use. OpenEd describes itself as the “world’s largest educational resource catalog” and has more than 250,000 OER aligned to standards for K–12 educators.

What if you’re looking for a resource and are unable to find it in one of the repositories? There are a number of ways you can search the internet to find what you’re looking for without having to weed through everything that comes up with a traditional search. One way is to do a Google Advanced Search. In the options, you’ll find a field labeled “usage rights.” Choosing the option “free to use, share, or modify” will allow you to locate OER. A Creative Commons Search allows you to access services provided by organizations that support OER. As a reminder, you should always verify that the work you find is under a Creative Commons license before you reuse, revise, or redistribute it.

There are also several general sites that house a variety of OER, including MERLOT II, PBS LearningMedia, NCLOR (the North Carolina Learning Object Repository), OpenDOAR (the Directory of Open Access Repositories), and COOL 4 Ed (the California Open Online Library for Education). These sites provide access to tens of thousands of innovative, standards-aligned digital resources, student experiences, simulations, learning modules, assessments, and professional learning resources contributed by community members across the globe.

Consider Sharing Your Creations

As you can see, there are numerous sites that provide high quality OER. Additional sites can be found in this shared Google Sheet of resources. Here you’ll find over a hundred sites that share examples of the all of the types of OER discussed above.

Remember, you can remix or repurpose OER. Using previously created resources is generally more efficient than creating your own. Take advantage of the OER that are available and revise them to meet your needs instead of developing them yourself. Imagine how much time you can save by adapting these high-quality materials to your use and then focusing on adding the resources that are missing.

If you can’t find OER to adapt to your use, create your own and share them freely with others. When educators continually improve existing OER, share those improvements, and create new OER, everyone benefits.