Written by Dave Braunschweig, Professor, Computer Information Systems

According to Wikipedia, “Open educational resources (OER) are freely accessible, openly licensed text, media, and other digital assets that are useful for teaching, learning, and assessing as well as for research purposes.” We likely all understand what teaching, learning, and assessing are, but it seems that there may be some confusion regarding freely accessible and openly licensed.

Freely accessible in this context has two meanings: gratis and libre. By definition, OER is freely distributed, it has no cost (gratis). But it goes much further than that. OER provides equity, the freedom to learn without regard to income (libre). To borrow from Richard Stallman, OER “is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of free as in free speech, not as in free beer.”

Openly licensed, for almost all OER, means that it has been shared under a Creative Commons (CC) license. This content is copyrighted, but instead of using “All rights reserved.”, the copyright holder has selected a license that permits free distribution of the content under certain conditions. Those conditions may include attribution (BY), share-alike (SA), non-commercial use only (NC), and/or no derivatives (ND). Most OER is licensed as either CC-BY, or CC-BY-SA. These licenses permit anyone to use the content as long as they credit the source, and for SA, they share their own derivative works with the same license.

Why is free and open important? Currently, the publishing industry sees the writing on the wall (or on free websites) and recognizes there is no future in traditional book publishing. They are trying very hard right now to convince faculty and administrators that the publishers have a unique platform that allows OER integration with course management systems, or usage reports, or outcomes assessment, or anything else they can think of to derive revenue from free and open content. They’re asking you to come to their beach so they can sell you free sand packaged in their very special bucket.

As you consider these opportunities, first remember that OER is free and open. Any OER content publishers are offering is already available at no cost (gratis) with full equity (libre). Only agree to use paid OER platforms if your students will truly derive value from the added platform cost.

If you’d like to add free and open content to your course(s), please contact me for suggestions and assistance.