Open educational resources (OER) are learning materials which are free to use, revise, remix and redistribute. OER can benefit local educational agencies by saving teacher’s time and enabling them to tailor materials directly to student needs. OER may include the full content of a specific course, or it may only include partial materials such as the course textbook. OER are usually digital materials however printed forms can sometimes be obtained or made available.

Frequently Asked Questions

Open educational resources (OER) are 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.

Open educational resources give educators the ability to adapt instructional resources to the individual needs of their students, to ensure that resources are up-to-date, and to ensure that cost is not a barrier to accessing high-quality standards aligned resources.

Open educational resources are and always will be free in digital form, but not all free resources are OER. Free resources may be temporarily free or may be restricted from use at some time in the future (including by the addition of fees to access those resources). Moreover, free resources which may not be modified, adapted or redistributed without express permissions from the copyright holder are not OER.

Like most educational resources these days, most OER are “born” digital. But like traditional resources, they can be made available to students in both digital and printed formats (including in the form of a traditional ‘textbook’). Of course, digital OER are easier to share, modify, and redistribute, but being digital is not what makessomething an OER or not.

The key distinguishing characteristic of OER is its intellectual property license and the freedoms the license grants to others to share and adapt it. If a lesson plan or activity is not clearly tagged or marked as being in the public domain or having an open license, it is not OER. It’s that simple.

While custom copyright licenses can be developed to facilitate the development anduse of OER, often it can be easier to apply free-to-use standardized licenses developed specifically for that purpose, such as those developed by Creative Commons or – for software – those approved by the Open Source Initiative.1

1 Note that Creative Commons (CC) licenses that include an ND clause (i.e., no derivatives) are not considered OER. For more information about CC licenses see: For information about Open Source Initiativeapproved
licenses for software, see:

Some schools and educators rely on third-party online lesson plan sharing services and sites to manage instructional resources for their classrooms. These tools offer an easy way to find and vet educational resources aligned to standards. Online platforms used to help create and share OER should make it easy for educators to:

  • Easily and clearly attach an open license to their lesson plan or instructional resource;
  • Be able to search for lesson plans and other resources and filter results by license type; and,
  • Be able to download the OER hosted on the platform (in editable versions when available).
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) 4.0 International
License. It was adapted from “#GoOpen: OER for K-12 Educators”
( by Doug Levin, also available under a CC BY license.

OER Best Practices

OER Quality

The best OER collections have a feedback mechanism built-in where users can help raise the quality of the material by fixing errors and updating the content. When accessing OER collections or repositories look for such a feedback mechanism and also check when the material was last updated. These quick checks can help you avoid using outdated or inaccurate materials.

OER Accessibility

Making sure that the OER you use or develop meets accessibility standards will ensure that all students can benefit from the content. When searching for OER check on the repository or website where you are obtaining the material to see if it lists accessibility information for the materials. Follow accessibility best practices - such as those found on this website - when developing or revising OER content.

Musing On quality and OER

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OER Activities in Idaho

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Fun Fact

The University of Idaho recently announced it was signing on with open source textbook system OpenStax to allow faculty to select chapters and topics of peer-reviewed curriculum to create a unique textbook that addresses specific needs and class goals. The book is then available online, at no cost, to students who can use it and who also have the option of buying the printed and bound textbook at a price much less than a traditional textbook.

Finding OER

OER repositories exist where a user can search for a variety of educational materials through a single website interface.

Selection of OER repositories

  • OER Commons is where teachers and professors (K12-College) can access their colleagues’ course materials, share their own, and collaborate.
  • Open Textbook Library - University of Minnesota's open textbook library is a helpful tool to find affordable, quality textbook solutions with a built in peer-review system.
  • MERLOT is a curated collection of free and open online teaching, learning, and faculty development services
  • Project Gutenberg - an extensive digital library of public domain books (e.g. Jane Austen's novels).
  • OER Commons - a tool to create, share, and discover open educational resources.
  • Orange Grove – Open Educational Resource Repository

Other Ways to Find OER

  1. A different way to find OER is to search for material online which is free to use or share. Such material will be in either the public domain, or available under a Creative Commons license. For example, a user can search a term on Google and then narrow the results to only material which is free to use or share. This is done by opening Google’s advanced search menu and selecting the applicable “usage rights” filter.
  2. Sites like Flickr can be used in a similar way to the example listed above for Google. For example, try searching Flickr for images available under a creative commons license.
  3. Sites like Wikimedia Commons simplify this process by offering all of their content in the public domain.

Selection of free media websites

  • NY Public Library Digital Gallery
    Open access to over 700,000 digital images from the New York Public Library's collections.
  • Shared Shelf Commons
    An open-access database of image collections shared by institutional users of Shared Shelf.
  • Wellcome Images
    Providing access to the visual collections of the Wellcome Library, which documents "2000 years of human culture" with a focus on biomedical imagery. Most images are open access, with others available for paid licensing.
  • Artstor Images for Academic Publishing (IAP)
    Free images for use in academic publishing, provided by museum collections.
  • Getty Open Content Images
    Search over 10,000 images from Getty Museum and Research Institute collections made available for download.
  • Moving Image Archive
    A large collection of movies, films and videos that are all free to use.
  • The Open Video Project
    A repository of open access digitized videos for education and learning purposes.
  • Internet Archive - Moving Image Archive
    Over 1.5 million digitized videos and clips, including cartoons, commercials and classic films, many public domain or available via Creative Commons license.
  • Art History Teaching Resources
    A peer-populated platform for art history teachers. Has a few museum videos in connection with specific classes, mostly teaching materials. Very well curated.
  • Khan Academy Online collection of thousands of video tutorials on subjects such as mathematics, history, finance, physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, and economics.
  • WikiBooks
    An online wiki-based collection of over two thousand open-content textbooks. Fully editable, published under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.
  • Wolfram Alpha
  • A free online computational knowledge engine. Highly useful for complex queries, high level mathematical computation, and statistical comparisons.
  • World Digital Library
    Primary materials from countries and cultures around the world, made available online free of charge.

Authoring or Remixing OER

Listed below is a sampling of resources and tools for OER creation:

Ensure the Accessibility of OER

It is important the OER you use, develop, or modify is accessible.  If the material is not accessible for students with disabilities then the benefits of the OER are negated for these pupils.  If you are creating your own OER you can build the material with accessibility in mind.  If you are using or revising existing OER, tools are available to check to see if the content is accessible for students with disabilities. 

Some of the most important questions to ask include:

  1. Do documents include the use of styles such as the use of headings in MS Word?
  2. Do videos include captions and do images include alt-text descriptions?
  3. Do complex items such as tables include descriptive labels


Listed below is a sampling of resources for building accessible materials and for checking existing materials for accessibility.  If you need more assistance please contact the Idaho Assistive Technology Project.

Accessibility Resources

OER Resources

Listed below is a selection of External OER related Resources:

Contact Us

Janice Carson

Director and AEM State Lead
Idaho Assistive Technology Project
University of Idaho Center on Disabilities and Human Development
1187 Alturas Drive, Moscow, ID 83843


Dan Dyer

Education Coordinator
Idaho Assistive Technology
Resource Center - Coeur d'Alene
1031 N. Academic Way, Room 130D, Coeur d'Alene, ID 83814


sde Idaho Assistive Technology Project
Center on Disabilities and Human Development
1187 Alturas Dr.
Moscow, ID 83843