question mark icon Questions about Open Education




What are Open Educational Resources (OER)?

Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching and learning materials that are either in the public domain or have been released under a license that allows them to be freely used, edited, or shared without restriction.

What services does IU Libraries provide for course material selection and evaluation?

The IU Libraries Scholarly Communication Department consults with instructors on finding, evaluating, and integrating OER into their courses. We can also help instructors create (or have their students create!) open course materials using book creation tools like IU Pressbooks and web annotation tools like Hypothesis. Contact iusw@indiana.edu to set up a one-on-one consultation!

What is the difference between "free" and "open" resources?

Open educational resources are and always will be free, but not all free resources are OER. Free resources may be only free or accessible for limited amounts of time, and they don’t come with the permissions inherent in OER which allow instructors to modify and add to them. Non-open free resources often cannot be modified, adapted or redistributed without obtaining special permission from the copyright holder. OER are shared under a Creative Commons license which allows the author to maintain their copyright while telling others upfront how they can use/ modify the material.

How can you tell if an educational resource is an OER?

To distinguish between free and open resources, be sure to check the copyright and intellectual property licenses attached to any materials you would like to use. Works in the public domain automatically fall into the category of OER and any object shared under a Creative Commons license is an OER.

How do OER help educators and students?

OER help students immediately by providing significant cost savings. Studies have shown that the rising cost of textbooks prohibit students from buying class materials, potentially limiting their participation in class and impacting their course loads and degree progression. Because OER are free to all students, they are available on the first day of class and long after the class ends.


Because OER can be legally adapted and modified, educators have more freedom and control when selecting and incorporating materials into their courses. Since all OER allow for users to edit or modify the material, instructors can adapt these resources to fit the specific needs and previous knowledge of their class.

Can free resources like OER be high quality?

Many OER go through formal peer review, much like traditional learning materials. Being open or closed does not inherently affect the quality of a resource. Similarly, evaluating OER for quality, rigor, and content coverage is very similar to evaluating traditional course materials. We consult with instructors on evaluating OER. In addition to peer review, several OER repositories have “ratings” which provide transparent information about what other experts thought about the resource.

Additionally, because OER are shared under a Creative Commons license, they can be updated and tailored to fit the needs of your students!

Are all OER digital?

Most OER are shared online in digital formats like PDF, Word, ePub, and others. Like other resources, however, OER can be printed. Many OER providers--for example, OpenStax--offer a low-cost printing option.

Will using OER alienate publishers?

Publishers are approaching OER as an opportunity rather than a threat, often developing ancillary and supplementary materials (test banks, activities, presentations, etc.) to be used with OER. However, instructors should interrogate what “open” means in publisher contexts. Many commercial publishers have begun to publish projects with “open” branding without using a Creative Commons license.