Open Educational Resources and the Creative Commons (part 1)

This is a guest post by Graham R Gibbs, University of Huddersfield

This is the first of three blog posts on Open Educational Resources. Today I will look at the definition of open educational resources, their rationale and how to licence them. Tomorrow I will look at how to find open materials which you can use in your teaching materials and how to share your OERs once you have created them. In the last installment I will look at video OERs and how to ensure your OERs are good quality.


The idea of openly sharing educational resources, courses and assessments has been around since the early years of this century and with support from bodies like the OECD and the Hewlett Foundation it has now become a worldwide and significant movement in education.

What are open educational resources (OERs)? Perhaps the most complete definition is that given by the Hewlett Foundation:

“OER are 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.” (Hewlett Foundation, ND)

The creation, modification and, of course, the dissemination of OERs has been made much easier by the Internet and the digitisation of materials, as the definition from the OECD recognises. OERs are:

“digitised materials offered freely and openly for educators, students and self-learners to use and reuse for teaching, learning and research” (OECD, 2007)

Why make resources open?

I have been creating open educational resources, in several formats, for over twenty years now. An important motivation has been my desire, as a National Teaching Fellow and with a long career in teaching to put something back into the community of learners. Creating openly available websites, documents and videos has been an important way in which I can put to use my teaching skills, address a larger audience and engage with the public.

Of course, making OERs available means that a very wide range of teachers and students from all parts of the world can get to see and use your resources. This has proved especially important in places where good education is not free or is underfunded and where students find it hard to buy all the resources they need for study.

So if you have written a good course and have produced some good materials and some good activities to go with them then why not share the resources with others – students and teachers. A common response here is, doesn’t this mean that we will be giving away our courses for free? Well, yes, naturally if it’s open that means anyone can use the resource without paying. But all we are doing is sharing the resources. We are not allowing students to take our degrees for free or to get our accreditation without assessment. My experience is that students do not use OERs instead of taking a course, but as well as taking a course. Besides, what students really want is contact with us, the teachers, and OERs do not replace that contact.

In fact OERs can act as adverts for our teaching. Potential students can get a much better idea about what our courses are like and what the teachers are like and that can help reduce the anxiety students have when applying to universities and give them a good impression of what study will be like.

We already share our teaching through writing textbooks and we get paid for that. So could we also get paid for creating other kinds of teaching resources? I think this is possible but at the moment it is happening only in a very limited way. There are some companies selling videos for educational use and some textbooks have linked websites with additional learning and teaching materials – although these are usually free once you have bought the textbook. At the moment there appears to be no market for selling most kinds of educational resources. I think one of the reasons for this is that it is very hard to design resources in a way that makes them usable on other teachers’ courses. At the moment in UK universities we do not have a single, detailed curriculum for each degree. The variation in teaching from place to place means that any resources we use have to be specially created or at least modified to fit our teaching needs. The best OERs enable this. They are small or short so they can be used as atoms in larger units or they are capable of being modified, edited and reformed to meet the specific requirements of a course. I think if we are honest, we have to admit that we all do that kind of modification a lot of the time. I’m sure I’m not alone in having taken curricula, lesson plans, PowerPoints, data sets and videos that others have created and with modification and rewriting, used them in my own teaching. I don’t see why we shouldn’t be open about that and, moreover, give credit to those who created the original resources that we have modified.

Copyright issues

OERs may be put into the public domain, which means anyone can use them or modify them in any way they like without attribution. But most OERs are now released under a Creative Commons (CC) licence.

Creative commons license symbols

Example of Creative commons license

The idea behind the Creative Commons approach is that we have a licence that allows others to use our creations freely without the sometimes severe restrictions of the standard intellectual property rights that are applied under copyright legislation to books, music, films, designs, inventions etc. But at the same time it makes clear under what conditions the resources may be used by others and ensures that the creators are given appropriate credit.

There are several different versions of the CC licence. They all require the recognition of who is the original author of the work if someone else uses it (BY – who is the work by). In this sense the work is not in the public domain. In addition, the CC licence version that I use restricts reuse to non-commercial users (NC) and requires anything produced using my OERs to be released under the same licence, called share-alike (SA). So the version of the creative commons licence that I use is often referred to as: NC-BY-SA. None of this removes my rights as creator of the resource. For example, if a commercial organisation wants to use my resources then I am able to refuse this or to give them permission and, if I want, to charge for this. I have actually done this for some of my website content.

Creative Commons Licence
“Open Educational Resources and the Creative Commons” by Graham R Gibbs is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License


The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (ND) Open Educational Resources. (, accessed 23 Feb 2016)

OECD (2007) Giving Knowledge for Free. The Emergence of Open Educational Resources. MA. USA: Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development. ( accessed 23 Feb 2016)


About talintuoh

Supporting and connecting colleagues to develop inspiring and innovative teaching and learning
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