27 Using Open Educational Resources to Enhance Learning and Collaboration

Sarah Stokes


Open educational resources (OER) are any teaching and learning materials that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license, such as a Creative Commons License or GNU General Public License, that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution with no or limited restrictions (UNESCO, n.d. ). Open textbooks, available in .pdf or other digital formats, are typically the first thing that comes to mind when considering OER, but they can encompass a variety of course materials such as videos, lesson plans, software, and assignments (BCOER, n.d.).

Benefits of Teaching with Open Educational Resources

  • Cost savings for students
  • Students can be prepared for class on the first day, without waiting for student loans
  • Instructors can modify, adapt, correct or update content any time
  • Instructors can use the creation of an OER as a class assignment
  • Collaboration possible between experts at different institutions

When an instructor selects learning material for their courses, typically the onus is on the student to locate a new or used version and pay for their own copy. The costs for commercially available textbooks and homework systems can be high and have continued to rise year-over-year (Jhangiani and Jhangiani, 2017). Students can, at times, be faced with a financial dilemma if they must choose between buying a resource or buying food, or are faced with forfeiting marks assigned through a homework system that they were unable to afford. OER allows instructors to use or modify existing OER, located through a variety of repositories, or create their own and share them freely with students. This not only alleviates the additional financial burden of paying for resources but also allows the instructor to modify the material to suit their student population, learning needs, interests, etc. Errors can be corrected, results of current research added, and diverse perspectives and worldviews included without the need for expensive custom editions or time spent waiting for a new edition to be released.

OER also has the potential to allow students to contribute to community knowledge through the use of OER as assignment material. In a graduate-level Education course at Ontario Tech University in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, the professor was unable to locate a suitable OER online to replace the traditional commercial textbook. Acknowledging the students’ desire to make their learning more collaborative and publicly accessible and the need for writing practice as they progress through graduate studies, the instructor designed an assignment that required groups of students to create case studies suitable for next year’s offering of the course. The work was produced via Pressbooks, and students were encouraged to critique and edit each other’s work, locate open-source photos and images, and eventually release a publicly-available OER in
Case Studies for Reflective Practice.


Steps for Implementation

Step 1. Familiarize yourself with OER licenses.

Open educational resources (OER) are covered under licenses that acknowledge the material as the property of the author, but permit readers to use the content (. Intellectual property
is not lost when a work is made available under open licenses.

Figure 1: The OER CC Licenses, from most to least open.
Figure 1: The OER CC Licenses, from most to least open.

CC BY (Attribution) This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation.

CC BY-SA (Attribution-ShareAlike) This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.

CC BY-ND (Attribution-NoDerivs) This license lets others reuse the work for any purpose, including commercially; however, it cannot be shared with others in adapted form, and credit must be provided to you.

CC BY-NC (Attribution-NonCommercial) This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.

CC BY-NC-SA (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike) This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.

CC BY-NC-ND (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs) This license is the most restrictive of the six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

(Adapted from About the Licenses, Creative Commons, under a CC BY 4.0 International License)

The types of changes permitted by open licenses are commonly referred to as ‘the 5 Rs’: retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute.

Figure 2: The 5R Permissions of OER, Adapted from
Figure 2: The 5R Permissions of OER, Adapted from

5R Permissions of OER by Lumen Learning licensed under CC BY 4.0 International License. Icons by icons8.com)

Step 2. Research possible OER in your discipline.

There are a wide variety of OER repositories online which cover a range of post-secondary subjects and content levels. Highly specialized disciplines may find it more difficult to find an OER for their topics without the need for modification.

Step 3. Review the OER for quality of content.

As you would with a traditional, commercially available textbook, review the content for accuracy, quality of pedagogy, relevance to your courses, and suitability for your students. The

BCOER Faculty Evaluation Tool
and the Ontario Tech Library OER Toolkit are excellent resources.

Step 4. Determine if you need to make any changes to the content.

Depending on the license(s) of your chosen OER, you may be able to make changes to content. Collaborate with colleagues at your own or other institutions, or recruit students to work on the content for future offerings of the course.

Step 5. Share OER with the class.

Sharing OER with a class can be as simple as providing a link to the resource, although platforms such as Pressbooks allow for the creation of different filetypes.

Step 6. Model and encourage good attribution practices.

Following best practices when attributing authors of OER is slightly different than traditional formats such as APA, but is essential to preserving the integrity of the open education movement.

Step 7. Move away from ‘disposable assignments’.

Enlisting students in an OER co-creation process adds meaning and value to post-secondary education. Their contribution to future students’ learning as well as their own promotes student engagement and motivation while enhancing real-world skills (Van Allen & Katz, 2019).

Dealing with Challenges

I’m having difficulty locating a quality OER for my class.Enlisting the help of a library or teaching centre staff is a great step. They may be able to help you find colleagues that you can work with for a collaborative creation (eCampus Ontario, n.d.).

I need to redesign my entire course to incorporate OER. – Incorporating OER as a supplementary resource for a semester or two while you investigate options might be worthwhile and more manageable than going to OER immediately. Some institutions offer grants or release time to create OER and OER-based courses (eCampus Ontario, n.d.).

I need to make sure my resources are accessible. – Many OER are designed from the start with accessibility in mind. The wide variety of reading options mean students are not bound to a single platform or device to access the material (eCampus Ontario, n.d.).

Further Reading

BCOER. (n.d.). OER can be. Retrieved from https://open.bccampus.ca/files/2014/10/BCOER_poster_11x17.pdf.Creative Commons. (n.d.). About the licenses. Retrieved from
.eCampus Ontario. (n.d.). Eleven responses to common concerns about OER. Poster.

Jhangiani, R. S., & Jhangiani, S. (2017). Investigating the perceptions, use, and impact of open textbooks: A survey of post-secondary students in British Columbia. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 18(4).

Lumen Learning. (2017). What’s OER. Retrieved from https://lumenlearning.com/about/whats-oer/.

UNESCO. (n.d.) Open educational resources. Retrieved from  https://en.unesco.org/themes/ict-education/oer.

Van Allen, J., & Katz, S. (2019). Developing open practices in teacher education: An example of integrating OER and developing renewable assignments. Open Praxis, 11(3), 311.

Digital Resources

Author Bio

Sarah Stokes (BSc, BEd, MET) is the learning facilitator in the Office of Learning Innovation at Ontario Tech University. A lover of all things open, she supports the university’s OER initiatives and open recognition projects, among others.