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What are OER?

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation defines OER as “teaching, learning, and research materials that are either (a) in the public domain or (b) licensed in a manner that provides everyone with free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities– retaining, remixing, revising, reusing and redistributing the resources.”

OER consist of educational materials such as open access textbooks, websites, documents, modules, and courses that can be legally and freely used. All OER are openly licensed, which means you can download and adapt these materials. Open licensing also allows you to create your own OER and then share these materials with others for them to reuse, revise, and redistribute.

Watch this helpful video from Iowa State University for more information about OER and why they are important.

Attribution: “An Introduction to Open Educational Resources” by Abbey Elder, CC BY 4.0.

What are AER?

You can think about resources like library ebooks and articles as AER, or affordable educational resources. While they are not openly licensed and are not considered OER, they function in the same way for your students and present no additional cost to your students. They are easily accessed and are high-quality.

Why should I use OER and AER?


OER and AER are almost always available for free or low-cost (<$25), which means that students don’t need to worry about taking out extra loans or paying for textbooks on top of tuition and other bills. When students don’t have to worry about textbook costs, they can more easily focus on learning.


OER are available to students on day one of class and open licensing makes it possible to download ahead of time and save for easy access. Because AER include resources like library ebooks and articles, students already have access to them through the library.

Innovation and Flexibility

Open licensing gives instructors the ability to incorporate open pedagogy into their classroom. Here are just a few examples of how you can use OER to engage in open pedagogy from Robin DeRosa and Rajiv Jhangiani. Instructors also have the freedom to edit and combine OER to craft a resource that meets their class’s specific needs.

Integration in Canvas

OER and AER are easily integrated into Canvas courses. Students can access these course materials quickly and in one place, whenever and wherever they need them.


What if I don’t have time to find OER or I don’t know where to start searching?

Ask a librarian for help finding relevant, high-quality OER for your classes. We’re happy to help you find resources that fit your needs.

Aren’t OER less reliable and of lower quality than traditional textbooks?

Many OER go through the process of peer review–you just need to know where to find them. Use the resources listed on this guide to find high-quality OER that have been peer-reviewed.

What if my students prefer print textbooks?

Many OER offer the option to print pages as PDFs, so students can print the pages they need if they so choose. Some OER are also offered in physical format, such as OpenStax textbooks.

What am I allowed to do with openly licensed resources?

You can learn more about different types of open licenses and their permissions with them here and in the “What can I do with OER?” section of this guide below. Additionally, this page explains which license you should choose if you create your own OER.

Adapted from Penn State’s “Challenges of Using OER and How to Overcome Them” guide.

Where can I find OER?

There are many resources available for finding and evaluating OER. Below are resources for finding specific types of OER and AER. Don’t hesitate to contact a librarian to help you find relevant resources for your courses!

Textbook and AER collections

  • BC Campus OpenEd: Open textbooks for the 40 highest enrolled first- and second-year subject areas in the British Columbia’s public, post-secondary system.
  • EBSCO eBook Collection: There are nearly 120,000 eBooks in this collection representing a broad range of academic subject matter, including titles from leading university presses. These work well for upper level classes.
  • Humanities eBook Project: A fully searchable collection of over 3,000 e-books in the humanities.
  • Mason OER Metafinder (MOM): Searches across 21 different sources of open educational materials (including many of the collections listed here); searches are done in real-time so you’ll always get the most updated results.
  • MERLOT: A collection of tens of thousands of discipline-specific educational resources.
  • MIT OpenCourseWare: Access the materials, lectures, syllabi, and more from 2400 of MIT’s courses.
  • OASIS: Use this tool from SUNY Geneseo to search open content from over 100 different sources; contains over 385,000 records.
  • OER Commons: A digital library of educational resources, including over 1800 textbooks. Browse by subject, collection, or search for specific resources, and read reviews from others who have used these resources.
  • OpenStax: OpenStax textbooks are available free online and can be purchased in print as well. The textbooks are peer-reviewed and are updated periodically.
  • Open Textbook Library: A library of high-quality, peer-reviewed textbooks that can be freely used and downloaded. Browse by subject or search for specific resources and read reviews from others who have used these textbooks.
  • Pressbooks Directory: An index of 2800+books published with Pressbooks. Works well with the PressbooksEDU Authoring & Editing Platform to allow for easy sharing and modification all of the openly licensed content found through this Directory.
  • Project Gutenberg: Project Gutenberg offers over 42,000 free ebooks: choose among free epub books, free kindle books, download them or read them online.
  • SUNY Open Textbooks: Open textbooks from the State University of New York system. Textbooks offered in a wide variety of disciplines.

Audio, images, and video

  • Creative Commons Search: Search for openly licensed and public domain images using CC Search.
  • Digital Public Library of America: Millions of texts, images, audio and video files, and other primary source materials digitized by libraries, archives, museums, and other organizations.
  • dig.CCMixter: Openly licensed music.
  • Free Music Archive: Freely accessible and royalty-free music.
  • Getty: Browse through Getty’s 100,000+ open content images.
  • Internet Archive: A/V Geeks: A collection of over 25,000 films including civil defense & public service films shot by the government.
  • Internet Archive: VJ Loops: Short, stylized, loopable video loops, typically used by VJs.
  • Pexels: Free stock photos; all openly licensed and downloadable.
  • Pixabay: High quality stock photos and videos.
  • Smithsonian Open Access: access over 3 million digital items from the Smithsonian’s collections.
  • SoundCloud: Find tracks you can download and use in projects via this CC search in SoundCloud.
  • Unsplash: A growing collection of high-quality, freely usable images with CC licenses. Several institutions, such as the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library, have added historical photos to Unsplash’s collections.
  • Vimeo: A collection of Creative Commons licensed videos on Vimeo.
  • Wikimedia Commons: Access the 65+ million freely available media sources from Wikimedia Commons, which include images, audio, and videos.

What can I do with OER?

OER are openly licensed, most often with Creative Commons licensing or through the public domain. Creative Commons licenses allow you to engage with the 5Rs of open.

The 5Rs of open

  1. Retain: make, own, and control a copy of the resource
  2. Revise: edit, adapt, and modify your copy of the resource
  3. Remix: combine your original or revised copy of the resource with other existing material to create something new
  4. Reuse: use your original, revised, or remixed copy of the resource publicly
  5. Redistribute: share copies of your original, revised, or remixed copy of the resource with others

Source: David Wiley, Open Content blog

Creative Commons Licenses

Here is brief explanation of what Creative Commons Licenses are and how they work:

“The Creative Commons copyright licenses and tools forge a balance inside the traditional ‘all rights reserved’ setting that copyright law creates. Our tools give everyone from individual creators to large companies and institutions a simple, standardized way to grant copyright permissions to their creative work. The combination of our tools and our users is a vast and growing digital commons, a pool of content that can be copied, distributed, edited, remixed, and built upon, all within the boundaries of copyright law.”

Source: Creative Commons

Creative Commons license components

  • Attribution (BY): Proper attribution must be given to the original creator of the work. This includes a link to the original work, information about the author, and information about the original work’s license.
  • Share-Alike (SA): Iterations of the original work must be made available under the same license terms.
  • Non-Commercial (NC): The work cannot be sold at a profit or used for commercial means such as for-profit advertising. Copies of the work can be purchased in print and given away or sold at cost.
  • No Derivatives (ND): The work cannot be altered or “remixed.” Only identical copies of the work can be redistributed without additional permission from the creator.

Attribution: “The Four Components of Creative Commons Licenses” from The OER Starter Kit by Abbey K. Elder, CC-BY 4.0. View the full work here.

These four components can be combined to create a total of six different Creative Commons licenses, varying in openness and what they allow users to do.

Creating and editing OER

Below are helpful resources for those interested in creating their own OER or modifying existing resources to suit their needs. Contact Karlyn Schumacher ([email protected]) with questions about this process and to request assistance.

OER and AER at Ripon College

OER and AER Impact at Ripon College, Spring 2021

Estimated maximum student savings $23,605.54
Total unique instructors using OER & AER 12
Total unique courses using OER & AER 17
Total students served 359

See the full Ripon College OER & AER Impact Tracking sheet for more details.

Lane Library began tracking the use of OER and AER at Ripon College in the spring of 2021 to estimate student savings from switching to OER and AER. There are several methods for estimating savings, and the library used recommendations and templates from Open Oregon and the University of Alaska Southeast in crafting its approach.

Schumacher, Karlyn

Access Services Librarian Lane Library Departments: Circulation, Interlibrary Loan, Course, Reserves

[email protected]