What are Open Educational Resources?
Open Educational Resources (OER) are educational materials that are provided to educators and students at no cost. More importantly, these resources generally come with the author's express legal permission for you to use, share, and build upon the content.
The Hewlett Foundation describes OER as any "teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. OER include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge."
What is the Difference Between a 'Free' and an 'Open' Resource?
Open Educational Resources will always be free, while free resources may not always be truly 'open.' What makes OER special are the licenses that guarantee you the ability to reuse, adapt, modify, and distribute the content contained within, and these licenses can never expire or be withdrawn. In other words, an open resource guarantees you and your students perpetual access to its content, so long as you abide by the terms set out by the author.
How can I Tell if I Have Found an OER?
The key defining feature of an open educational resource is its license, which gives you as the user express permission to use the work. These licenses will be clearly displayed and marked on the item, either in pictoral form or in written language. If the item does not expressly grant you permission to use it, it is likely not an OER.
Additionally, OER are likely (but not always) digital in format, and will most often come from teaching faculty at universities or from established publishers who are making their works available for free online. They are frequently housed in large repositories of open content, who will have their own criteria for inclusion.