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Open Educational Resources and Degrees

What are Open Educational Resources (OER)?

OER, CC BY-SA, Wikimedia Deutschland, Educational Resources (OER) are teaching and learning resources that are available for free and that grant users specific legal permissions beyond those provided by traditional copyright. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, one of the main funders in the OER space, defines OER as follows:

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, 2016)

The specific legal permissions that must be provided to users of resources for those resources to qualify as OER are summarized in the 5R Permissions:

  1. Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)
  2. 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)
  3. Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., change an example or translate the content into another language)
  4. Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
  5. 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)

Pragmatically, OER are teaching and learning resources that have been released under a Creative Commons BY, BY-SA, BY-NC, or BY-NC-SA license (or another license that irrevocably grants these same permissions to users).


What is an OER-based Degree?

An OER-based Degree is a degree program in which both:

  1. At least one section of all required courses have replaced the commercial textbooks and other resources with OER as the only required materials listed in the syllabus, and
  2. At least one section of a sufficient number of elective and general education courses have replaced the commercial textbooks and other resources with OER as the only required materials listed in the syllabus.

By meeting these two criteria, OER-based Degrees create powerful impacts on campus:

  1. They provide students with a pathway through their degree program in which they are never asked to purchase a textbook or other commercial resource, dramatically reducing their cost to graduate.
  2. Research indicates that students whose faculty assign OER in place of commercial materials perform as well or better on key student success metrics (like completion and C or better) as their peers whose faculty assign commercial materials. When OER adoption is accompanied by course redesign efforts, impacts on student success metrics can be dramatic.
  3. The broad permissions provided by OER increase faculty freedom by opening a range of new pedagogical possibilities.
  4. Finally, decreases in drops (and their accompanying tuition refunds) and increases in enrollment intensity can positively impact institutional finances. OER-based Degrees truly benefit all education stakeholders.