Finding Free and Open Resources: Module 2

Defining “Open” and OER

This module covers the following topics:
What is “Open?”
What are open educational resources (OER)?

What is “Open?”

In the context of open content, David Wiley of Lumen Learning defines “open” as “licensed in a manner that provides users with free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities” as listed below:

  • Retain - the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)
  • Reuse - the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
  • Revise - the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
  • Remix - the right to combine the original or revised content with other open content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
  • Redistribute - the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)

What are open educational resources (OER)?

The Hewlett Foundation defines Open Educational Resources (OER) as:

“…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. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge.”

If you apply the 5 R’s to Open Educational Resources:

  • When students can retain copies of a resource, they can make it more available to themselves via multiple devices, and digital access never expires due to a time limit placed by the publisher or author.
  • When instructors can reuse a resource, there are no restrictions on how they can teach using this content.
  • When students and instructors can revise a resource, they can make versions of the content that are more relevant to their course, make more accessible versions of the content for people with disabilities, or add corrections to the content before using it in a classroom.
  • When students and instructors can remix a resource, they can combine chapters from different open resources to make a newly-arranged textbook, or combine open textbook content to fit the needs of the class,
  • When instructors can freely redistribute a resource, students can have their required course content on the first day of class with no restrictions, at no cost to them, strengthening their chances of performing well in the classroom.

There are various degrees of “open,” due to the various types of open licenses, and those will be discussed in the next module.


1. Do you think that free, unrestricted, day-one access for students to your course materials could affect their retention and student success? Why or why not?

2. Why might a medical professor not want to allow the public to revise or remix their work? Can you find ways to fix or work around these issues?

Video by David Blake, CC-BY license.

Proceed to Module 3