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Open Educational Resources (OER)

Introduction to basic OER concepts, how to find and incorporate them into your course, creating and modifying OER, and getting UofM training on OER

Open Educational Resources


This guide provides information for all faculty, instructors, adjuncts, TAs, and researchers regarding Open Educational Resources (OER), open licensing, and other issues pertinent to free educational materials for all teaching staff, researchers, and students.

The information here is intended to provide all teaching staff on the University of Memphis campus a basic understanding of Open Education Resources. With this information and the available tools and training, faculty and instructors will ideally move from the basics of OER concepts to the discovery and implementation of OER materials into their courses.

Just need the basics to get started? Download our Quick Start guide. 

What are Open Educational Resources?


UNESCO defines Open Educational Resources (OER) as “teaching, learning and research materials in any medium – digital or otherwise – that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions." 

Key to this definition is that OER are educational materials ("teaching, learning, and research materials") that are free ("no-cost') for anyone to use and change ("access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions"), which can be done because they are made open ("reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license").

Overview of OER

OER, OA, & Affordable

OER has a lot of similarities with Open Access (OA) publishing and affordable educational resources. OER separate themselves with their focus on both cost and adaptability for teaching & learning materials.  

OER description. Text equivalent in Text Equivalents tab. Open Access description. Text equivalent in Text Equivalents tab.
Affordable Educational Resources description. Text equivalent in Text Equivalents tab.

Open Educational Resources

  • OER are teaching and learning materials.
  • They are freely available for view, use, and adapt with few limitations and without needing to ask permission from creators/owners.
  • Publication process tends to be non-commercial.
  • OER have an open license (like Creative Commons) to let you know how the material may be used, reused, adapted, & shared.

Open Access

  • OA materials are usually research publications.
  • They are always freely-available to read without barriers.
  • Further permissions range from no modifications or adaptations to unrestrictive permissions to adapt and remix. They may or may not have an open license.
  • Open Access publishing can be commercial or non-commercial.

Affordable Educational Resources

  • Teaching and learning materials that are free or low cost.
  • Focus is cost to read, not to adapt and remix. Open licensing is not required.
  • Includes OER but also library-licensed closed publications (journal articles, ebooks, videos, etc.), course reserves, discounted textbook rentals, & free commercial web materials.

Permissions When Using OER

5Rs of OER infographic. Text from infographic included below. Link is to downloadable PDF.As the UNESCO definition states, when using an OER you should have permission to access, use, adapt and redistribute it.

The 5 Rs of OER define the types of permissions you should have when working with OER and that you should give to others if you create your own OER. These permissions are usually granted through an open license such as those from Creative Commons

5 Rs of OER

  • Retain
    • Find, save, and use OER content.
    • Download what you need. Keep it on your own devices. 
  • Reuse
    • Use OER content as it exists currently.
    • Put it to use as often as you need.
  • Revise
    • Adapt, adjust, and modify existing OER content.
    • Make small- or large-scale changes to suit your needs.
  • Remix
    • Combine multiple pieces to make something new.
    • Blend existing materials and add in your own touches.
  • Redistribute
    • Share your OER with others. 
    • Release your revisions and remixes into the community. 

"5 Rs of OER" by SUNY OER Services is used under a CC BY 4.0 license. Its contents were adapted from "Defining the 'Open' in Open Content and Open Educational Resources," which was originally written by David Wiley and published freely under a CC BY 4.0 license.  

OER as Scholarship, Teaching, and Service

Using and creating OER can greatly benefit your students, but it also requires different work than identifying and using more traditional educational materials. Making sure that work is credited in your evaluation, promotion, and tenure documents is important to help sustain your OER commitment.  

DOERS3 has put together an advisory tenure and promotion matrix to help you think through how to present your OER work as research, teaching, and service. The matrix is designed to be used to help you interpret where different work relating to OER fits into your departmental promotion and tenure guidelines.  

This guide was created by Dr. Meredith Heath Boulden on behalf of the University of Memphis Libraries and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License    unless otherwise noted. This guide is currently maintained by Carl Hess