Open Educational Resources: Access for All

OER – Not Just a Treasure Hunt for Freebies

I love free stuff, especially digital tools and curriculum.  One of my favorite things to do at conferences is to wander through the maze of tables in the exhibition hall. I don’t plot a course, or aim for certain vendors; I like to meander and browse with my suitably large freebie-bag and a latte. Treasure-hunting. Over the years I’ve collected and used or shared a plethora of free books, subscriptions, classroom knick-knacks, and digital swag from conference vendors. Getting free stuff is one reason why I am drawn to exploring OERs – Open Education Resources, it’s like a digital treasure hunt.

However, as I have been investigating OER, I am realizing that what for me is a fun scavenge for freebies to complement or enhance the adequate resources I already have, for others it is a more serious hunt for the basics. OER fulfills a serious need for many educators who struggle to teach with little to no resources.

History of OER

OER was initiated in 1999 by the move of The University of Tubingen in Germany when they published a video series of lectures online in 1999, the first official instance of an open educational resource. This was followed by MIT in 2002 when it made 32 courses freely available online in its OpenCourseWare program. In 2006, Salman Khan launched The Khan Academy which made K-12 educational materials in most subjects available for free to any student in the world. After that organizations such as Apple (iTunes U 2007,) YouTube (YouTube EDU 2009,) and Code Academy (2011) launched programs which were freely accessible globally. Since then there has been a snowball effect and there is now a plethora of Open Education Resources available.

OER is a Movement

OER is a movement in education that has a noble aspiration – equity on a global scale. OER Commons claims that the worldwide OER movement is rooted in the human right to access high-quality education. This shift in educational practice is not just about cost savings and easy access to openly licensed content; it’s about participation and co-creation. 

According to the introduction of the Hewlett Foundation Open Education Strategy:

Hewlett Open Ed Strategy 2020

Two Definitions of OER

From UNESCO and The Cape Town Open Education Declaration

Just a quick caveat.
All Open Education Resources are free, however, not all free resources are OER.

OER vs Free

An open resource provided by SUNY EDU titled Understanding OER states that the key distinguishing factor is the copyright status of the material. If the course content is copyrighted under traditional, all-rights-reserved copyright, then it’s not OER. If it resides in the public domain, or carries Creative Commons or similar open copyright status, then it is OER.

The 5 Rs of OER

A useful way to appreciate the value of OER is to understand what you, the user of openly licensed content, are allowed to do with it. These permissions are granted in advance, and are legally established through Public Domain or Creative Commons copyrights:

  • Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)
  • 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)
  • Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
  • 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)
  • 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)

OER and ISTE Coaching Standard 3: Collaborator.

This week I’m investigating ISTE Coaching Standard 3 which states: Coaches establish productive relationships with educators in order to improve instructional practice and learning outcomes. I am particularly interested in standard 3c: Coaches partner with educators to identify digital learning content that is culturally relevant, developmentally appropriate and aligned to content standards.

As I am learning about OERs, I see that the benchmarks of great education created by ISTE align with the benchmarks of the Open Education Resource Movement. Open Education as a movement seems to take all the C’s that teachers are aspiring to use in their classrooms and make them available to all. According to OER Commons, teachers who practice Open Education are curators, curriculum designers, and content creators [who] in sharing teaching tools and strategies, network their strengths [collaborate] and improve the quality of education for their students. With an open practice, educators are able to adjust their content, pedagogies, and approach based on their learners, without the limitations of “all rights reserved.”

Now that I know that there are thousands of Open Education Resources available, my question is:
How can coaches encourage educators to explore OERs without feeling overwhelmed and help them find relevant, appropriate and standard-aligned curriculum?


Finding OER without being Over-whelmed

There is a lot out there. To give you an idea of the vastness of OER available at our finger tips, visit this massive list from Open Culture. Although I find a list like this exciting, for many teachers it can be overwhelming. Coaches need to be discerning, listen to the needs of the teacher and help them narrow their search. But first, coaches need to know how to find and evaluate OER. Here are some that I have found:
I have used some information for this post from OER Commons. It is a website that can help teachers find and evaluate OERs quickly. The website provides lists which include full university courses, Interactive mini-lessons and simulations, adaptations of existing open work, open textbooks and K-12 lesson plans, worksheets and activities. Educators can filter their search by Standards, Subject, Grade, Activity, and Language to quickly access material. OER Commons also invites educators to contribute their own work using a tool called Open Author.
CK-12 is an Open Education Resource sponsored by the non-profit CK-12 Foundation. It’s focus is on Math, Science, Engineering and Social Studies. CK-12 offers what they call ‘flexbooks’ – interactive textbooks which can be customized by teachers to suit their students’ needs. Information is provided in a number of modalities including videos, quizzes, flashcards, and “simulations,” or interactive content that brings visualization to abstract concepts. Other interactive platforms by CK-12 are PLIX and Braingenie.

Play. Learn. Interact. eXplore
An Interactive modality that allows learners to play with the ideas in a concept. This modality is all about learning by doing. There are over 1,100 Math, Science, Chemistry, and Physics simulations that can be filtered by subject, keyword, concept, or standard.

Braingenie is the Web’s largest and most comprehensive repository of math and science practice materials. Braingenie provides practice problems and video lessons relating to more than 4,000 skills. The system’s adaptive learning system, which features games and awards, is intended to inspire students to achieve.


Symbaloo Webmix of OER initially created by Michelle Eaton
This is an interactive webmix or choice board of OER. The webmix itself is an example of OER and if you sign in to you can use this webmix, add to the webmix, and share it with others.

Evaluating OER

As with all resources, evaluating the resource is important. Educators should be discerning. Just because a resource is free does not mean that it can effectively strengthen a student’s learning experience. Here is SPU’s faculty guide for evaluating OER:


I have learnt the most from The modules are intended to help teachers integrate OER into their curriculum.  As you can see from the titles of the modules it is comprehensive.


Since I’m always scavenging for free resources, including images, videos, and songs, Modules 5 & 7 were important to help me understand attribution – even of free materials. Module 8, Sharing OER is also interesting, especially now that our teachers have been creating courses for remote learning, they will have a plethora of wonderful resources to share with the world.  This module also includes a great template for a letter requesting the use of someone’s blog post.

I feel like I have just skimmed the surface of OER in this post. If you have created some great worksheets or lesson plans or units, or maybe even some interactive games, please consider finding a suitable OER platform and sharing your work with the world.


200 Free Kids Educational Resources: Video Lessons, Apps, Books, Websites & More. (n.d.). Retrieved July 27, 2020, from

Cape Town Open Education Declaration 10th Anniversary. (2018). Retrieved July 27, 2020, from (n.d.). Retrieved July 27, 2020, from

DeBarger April 9, A. (2020, April 09). The next phase for Open Education. Retrieved July 27, 2020, from

Explore. Create. Collaborate. (n.d.). Retrieved July 27, 2020, from

The History of Open Educational Resources Infographic – e-Learning Infographics. (2015, February 26). Retrieved July 27, 2020, from

ISTE Standards for Coaches. (n.d.). Retrieved July 27, 2020, from

Module 1: Introduction. (n.d.). Retrieved July 27, 2020, from

Open Education Policy Forum 2019 – summary. (2019). Retrieved July 27, 2020, from

Open Educational Resources (OER). (2020, May 13). Retrieved July 27, 2020, from

Understanding OER. Retrieved July 27, 2020, from