Creative Commons for Educators and Librarians/Chapter 5

Creative Commons for Educators and Librarians


Creative Commons for
Librarians and Educators

As the role of libraries evolves and expands in our fast-changing information environment, expertise in open licensing has become a crucial asset for the modern librarian.

Creative Commons powers the open education movement with tools that help create better, more flexible, and more sustainable open educational resources (OER), practices, and policies. Creative Commons licenses are the most popular open licenses in open education and Open Access (OA) projects around the world; CC puts the “open” in OER and OA. This chapter will introduce you to the specifics of using CC licenses and CC-licensed content for educational and research purposes.

This chapter has seven sections:

  1. Open Access to Scholarship
  2. Open Pedagogy and Practices
  3. OER, Open Textbooks, Open Courses
  4. Finding, Evaluating, and Adapting Resources
  5. Creating and Sharing OER
  6. Opening Up Your Institution
  7. Additional Resources

Before you start this chapter, you should consider joining the Creative Commons Open Education Platform at Your input can help us identify, plan, and coordinate multinational open education content, practices, and policy projects in order to collaboratively solve education challenges around the world. Be sure to briefly tell us (1) why you’d like to join and (2) who you are—this helps CC avoid accepting “spammers.”

What is Open Access scholarly literature? Open Access literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. Open Access stands in contrast to the existing “closed” system for communicating scientific and scholarly research. This system is slow, expensive, and ill-suited for research collaboration and discovery. And even though scholarly research is largely produced as a result of public funding, the results are often hidden behind technical, legal, and financial barriers or paywalls. Open Access publishing is an alternative model—one that takes full advantage of digital technologies, the web, and open licensing to provide free access to scholarship.


  • Define Open Access
  • Explain the benefits of Open Access for your learners and for researchers at your institution
  • Understand how authors and researchers can make their own works Open Access

The purpose of scientific inquiry at a university is the fundamental search for knowledge. Teaching, the open exchange of ideas, and the process of publishing original research are all methods by which academic faculty, learners, staff, and others contribute to advancing scholarship.

How well do the current practices of accessing and sharing information within the university system reflect and support the stated goals of research and scholarship?

This chapter will explore how the practice of Open Access publishing aligns with the goals of improving access to knowledge, and how librarians can support colleges and universities in implementing Open Access practices and policies.


How does your institution support (or not support) the open publication of research? How do you interact with learners and faculty who are searching for academic research? Have you ever encountered a paywall while trying to access research articles?

Acquiring Essential Knowledge
To get an overview of the topic, you should first read the Wikipedia article on “Scholarly Communication” (licensed CC BY-SA 3.0 and available at This article defines scholarly communication as “the system through which research and other scholarly writings are created, evaluated for quality, disseminated to the scholarly community, and preserved for future use. The system includes both formal means of communication, such as publication in peer-reviewed journals, and informal channels, such as electronic listservs.”

The challenges with the existing approach to scholarly communications are laid out in the graphic in figure 5.1. This image explains—in generalized terms—the current process involved with developing and communicating scientific results. In the first step of the life cycle, scientists, academics, and research

FIGURE 5.1 Current funding cycle for research articles

Figure from Creative Commons Wiki:
Author: Billymeinke | CC BY 4.0 | Cropped and desaturated from original

institutions seek funds to conduct a variety of research. Most often this funding comes from government sources (e. g., the National Institutes of Health in the United States), although there are several philanthropic foundations (such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) that are now making major investments in particular types of research.

After the researchers have secured their grants, they conduct their experiments and collect their data. Most of the time these researchers prepare their results in the form of an academic article, which they then submit to a scholarly journal for publication. The journals then arrange for some of the submitted articles to undergo a process of peer review, in which experts within that particular topic or field will read, review, and usually provide comments on the submitted paper.

Some of the articles that pass the peer review stage are then offered for publication in the journal. The journal will notify the author that her paper has been accepted, and usually require that the author transfer copyright in the article to (or agree to an exclusive publishing contract with) the journal. By accepting these terms, the author has granted to the journal her exclusive rights under copyright. This means that the journal—and not the author—is now the copyright holder of the article, and so the journal may restrict the terms of access and reuse provided for by the bundle of rights granted to rights holders under the law.

Because journals have become the de facto rights holders to the articles in which new scientific research is published, they are also in a position to license access to these materials to university libraries, research institutions, and the public—typically for a significant fee. This leads to a cyclical situation in which for-profit publishers essentially sell back access to the scientific and scholarly record that academics originally produced through public grants.

Even after a publishing embargo (usually a time of six months to a year, during which the publishers retain exclusive publishing rights) expires, access to the mostly publicly funded scientific research remains limited, with users only permitted to read those articles if they are properly submitted to institutional repositories. In the end, the public is left with restricted access to the publicly funded scholarly record, and progress in the scientific enterprise doesn’t reach its maximum potential.

There are several critiques of the existing academic publishing system. SPARC has a summary of their key points on its “Open Access” page (licensed CC BY 4.0, available at, some highlights of which are given below:

  • Governments provide most of the funding for research—many billions of dollars annually—and public institutions employ a large portion of all researchers.
  • Researchers publish their findings without the expectation of compensation. Unlike other authors, they hand their work over to publishers without payment, in the interest of advancing human knowledge.
  • Through the process of peer review, researchers review each other’s work for free.
  • Once published, those that contributed to the research (from taxpayers to the institutions that supported the research itself) have to pay again to access the findings. Though research is produced as a public good, it isn’t available to the public who paid for it. (2007–2017 SPARC, CC BY)

As ever-increasing journal prices outpace library budgets, academic libraries are forced to make difficult decisions—often having to cancel subscriptions or shift money away from other budget items. According to the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), the average cost of a serial subscription for ARL member libraries increased by 315 percent from 1986 to 2003.[1] Since 2003, average journal prices have increased more slowly, but they’ve still continued to rise about nine percent each year.

The “closed access” publishing system limits the impact of the research produced by the scientific and scholarly community and progress is thereby slowed significantly. By contrast, Open Access literature is defined by the scholar Peter Suber as “digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.”[2] The graphic in figure 5.2 provides a quick overview of how an open-access publishing system works.

In contrast to figure 5.1, which explained the current costly and inefficient science publishing life cycle, figure 5.2 explores an alternate path—the open access route.

The process begins just as it did in the explanation of the incumbent system—with government requests for proposals (RFPs) for research. But instead of remaining silent on how the research results will be communicated, the RFPs

FIGURE 5.2 Optimized funding cycle for research articles

Figure from Creative Commons Wiki:
Author: Billymeinke | CC BY 4.0 | Cropped and desaturated from original

contain policy language which requires that the published research be made available on an open access basis.

Next, researchers conduct their scientific experiments and prepare their academic manuscripts. When they go to submit their articles to journals, they must think about the Open-Access policy requirements they agreed upon when they accepted their grant funding. This means that the researchers must retain their copyrights—and not sign them over to for-profit publishers. Or instead, authors must search out a “Gold” open access journal, which publishes research under liberal open-access licenses (like CC BY) at publication. In either case, authors retain some—or all—rights to their research articles, permitting them to publish under open access licenses, and ensuring that they may deposit their articles in a university or institutional repository for long-term access and preservation.

By publishing under open access licenses like CC BY, downstream users are granted the legal permissions to access and reuse the research. This type of

Watch the Open Access Explained! video. | CC BY 3.0

open access system is better aligned with the original purpose of conducting science and sharing results openly through the scholarly publishing process. In the long run, the open access approach is more efficient, equitable, affordable, and collaborative.

Open Access authors have the opportunity to publish in a few ways. The most common are known as “Green” and “Gold” Open Access.

Green OA involves making a version of the article or manuscript freely available in a repository. This is also known as self-archiving. An example of Green OA is a university research repository. OA repositories can be organized by discipline (e. g., arXiv for physics) or institution (e. g., Knowledge@UChicago for the University of Chicago).

Gold OA involves making the final version of the manuscript freely available immediately upon publication by the publisher, typically by publishing it in an Open Access journal and making the article available under an open license. Typically, Open Access journals charge an article processing charge (APC) when an author wishes to (1) publish an article online allowing for free public access and (2) retain the copyright to the article. APCs range from zero to several thousand dollars per article. You can read more about APCs on Wikipedia’s “Article Processing Charge” (licensed CC BY-SA 3.0 and available at An example of a Gold OA journal is PLOS Biology, one of several scientific journals put out by the nonprofit publisher PLOS (Public Library of Science).

The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ; is a site that indexes open access journals, and HowOpenIsIt? (licensed CC BY 4.0, available at is a handy tool for evaluating the relative “openness” of journals from fully open-access to closed-access.

Certain emerging models like preprints and hubs are rapidly emerging, and they can provide a new way of considering Open Access publishing outside of the constraints of publisher-mediated models.

Educating Authors about Their Publishing Rights
By understanding copyright and the various scholarly publishing options, librarians can help faculty members and graduate learners navigate the system as they publish research.

Often, scholarly publishers require authors to transfer their rights to publishing companies before their research will be published in an academic journal. Academic librarians and other library departments can support faculty and student authors by helping them understand what they give up when they transfer their copyrights to a publisher. For example, scholarly authors who transfer copyright could lose the ability to post their research on their own websites.

Several tools exist to help faculty and scholars understand their rights and publishing options, and to help them exercise those rights. The Termination of Transfer tool,[3] co-stewarded by the Authors Alliance and Creative Commons, gives authors who have previously entered into publishing agreements information about whether and how they can regain the publication rights that they previously assigned away so they can publish on new terms, including under a CC license if they choose. The Scholars Copyright Addendum Engine[4] can be used by faculty and other authors to amend publication agreements when they are submitting an article to a traditional publisher. The engine allows authors to choose among different options to reserve rights for themselves and generates an agreement that is then submitted with a traditional publication agreement to make that legally effective. Additionally, the Authors Alliance publishes myriad resources about these tools and open access, and PLOS offers resources and articles about the benefits of open access as well.

Academic librarians can also help scholars understand how different publishing options affect both the audience and the prestige of their work. The “impact factor” is a primary metric of the prominence of a journal or publication, measured by the number of times the average article in a particular journal has been cited (in other sources) in one year. Because impact factors are not necessarily a reliable metric of a journal’s importance, some publishers like Nature Research, the publisher of the prestigious scientific journal Nature, are reconsidering the importance of impact factors for journals. Many Open Access scholars encourage systems like altmetrics to provide another way of thinking about impact beyond the traditional metrics. In 2017, Science released a study finding that on average, open access papers had a fifty percent higher research impact than strictly “paywalled” papers.[5] For more information, read Jon Tennant’s 2016 article ( on the academic, societal, and economic advantages of open access.

Open Access Practices and Policies at the University and Beyond

An open access policy is a formal policy adopted by an institution to support researchers in making their work openly available. These policies can refer to published peer-reviewed articles, conference papers, and peer-reviewed drafts or pre-printed publications that are deposited in an institutional repository or published under open-access terms in a journal. Open access policies generally define the guidelines for how researchers can disseminate their research in order to maximize access to them. The Registry of Open Access Repository Mandates and Policies (ROARMAP; is a registry that charts the open access policies or mandates adopted by universities, research institutions, and research funders that require or request their researchers to provide open access to their peer-reviewed research article output by depositing it in an institutional repository, or publish their research under open-access terms in a journal.

According to Peter Suber, an open access advocate, mandate is not the best word “‘for open-access policies,’ … but neither is any other English word.”[6] Without a mandate, institutions can consider faculty opt-in policies, whereby libraries or copyright offices focus on shifting the default publishing practice to open access.

Many universities have adopted open access policies that require university-affiliated researchers to grant to their institution a non-exclusive license to a scholarly article at the time of the creation of the work. This process heads off problems with publishers downstream, since the university retains a legal right to the work before copyright is transferred to a publisher. These policies have proliferated under the assumption that universities themselves should be able to access and preserve the research outputs of their faculty. To view an example, review the University of California Open Access Policy at You can also view many other institutions’ open-access policies on the ROARMAP site (, which has collected several hundred of these policies, including those of universities, colleges, research organizations, and other academic institutions.

For academic librarians who are interested in developing an open access policy for their university or institution, the Harvard Open Access Project has developed a toolkit, licensed CC BY 3.0 and available at Open Access policies usually originate from an institution’s Office of Scholarly Communications, but librarians in a variety of roles (outreach, reference, etc.) can also help craft these policies.

In addition to encouraging the development of open access policies at the university level, public policies can ensure that publicly funded research be made available under Open Access terms. This typically is accomplished through the inclusion of sharing requirements that are tied to receiving government or philanthropic grant funds. When funding cycles for research include deposit or open license requirements for publications, the resulting increased access and opportunities for reuse extend the value of that research funding. As an example, the U. S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) Public Access Policy requires that “all investigators funded by the NIH submit or have submitted for them to the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central an electronic version of their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts upon acceptance for publication, to be made publicly available no later than twelve months after the official date of publication.”[7]

The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR) was introduced repeatedly in both houses of Congress in the period from 2012 to 2017, but it has yet to be approved. Should U. S. Congress approve FASTR, the bill would require federal agencies with annual extramural research budgets of $100 million or more to provide the public with online access to the research articles stemming from that funded research within six to twelve months after publication in a peer-reviewed journal. The passage of FASTR would ensure that articles based on publicly funded research are made freely available for all potential users to read, and it would ensure that those articles can be fully used in the digital environment, enabling the use of new computational analysis tools that promise to revolutionize the research process.

Open Access Myths Debunked
For faculty and learners alike, open access can seem like a scary new world, particularly since the pressure to publish has increased. There are many guides to debunking the myths of open access publishing, and reading these carefully to dispel any fear or misunderstanding is crucial in the current academic landscape.

Final Remarks
Universities play a major role in advancing scientific research, and academic publishing is a key mechanism for faculty to communicate their findings to colleagues and the public. As organizers of knowledge within institutions, librarians can work together with university researchers to promote access to information. They can do this by educating on the “how” and “why” of open access, answering questions about copyright, and providing guidance and recommendations to maximize the reach and impact of scholarly publishing in particular fields.

Openness in education brings the potential for co-creation and learning through active participation in how knowledge is produced. LEARNING OUTCOMES &Explain how copyright restricts pedagogy

  • Define open pedagogy, open educational practices, and OER-enabled pedagogy, and describe how open licensing enables each of these
  • List examples of open pedagogy in practice

Do you remember when smartphones were first released? They were full of infinite possibilities compared to earlier phones. Before smartphones, we could only call and text. But with smartphones, we can now take videos and pictures, play movies and music, surf the web and read e-mail, and call and text. It was difficult for long-time users of older phones to take advantage of all the capabilities offered by the new phones. They were too accustomed to the limitations of older phones. For months—and sometimes years—they used their smartphones only to call and text. (Maybe you know someone like this?)

Many educators have the same problem with open educational resources. They have spent so much time using education materials published under restrictive licenses that they struggle to take advantage of the new pedagogical capabilities offered by OER. These pedagogical capabilities are all about the teaching and learning practices and tools that empower learners and teachers to create and share knowledge openly and learn deeply.

Three Definitions
The Open Education movement is still discussing and debating what it means to think about teaching and learning practices in a more inclusive, diverse, and open manner. You can read a few examples of how various educators approach this topic on the Year of Open (licensed CC BY 4.0, available at At least three fun­damental terms have emerged from this discussion:

  • Open Educational Practices (from Cronin’s 2018 Open Edu Global presentation): the use, reuse, or creation of OER and collaborative, pedagogical practices employing social and participatory technologies for interaction, peer-learning, knowledge creation and sharing, and the empowerment of learners.
  • Open Pedagogy (from DeRosa and Jhangiani’s chapter in the 2017 book, A Guide to Making Open Textbooks with Students): an access-oriented commitment to learner-driven education and a process of designing architectures and using tools for learning that enable learners to shape the public knowledge commons of which they are a part. (There is more on this at Open Pedagogy Notebook, licensed CC BY 4.0 and available at
  • OER-Enabled Pedagogy (from Wiley and Hilton’s 2018 journal article “Defining OER-Enabled Pedagogy”): a set of teaching and learning practices that are only possible or practical when you have permission to engage in the 5R activities [i. e., retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute].

Personal Reflection: Why It Matters to You
When you’ve used open educational resources in the past, have you taken advantage of the permissions offered by their open licenses, or did you use OER just like you used your previous, traditionally copyrighted materials? In other words, did you do anything with the OER that was impossible to do with traditionally copyrighted materials? Why or why not?

Acquiring Essential Knowledge

It’s well-established that people learn through activities. And it’s equally well-established that copyright restricts people from engaging in a range of activities. When juxtaposed like this, it becomes clear that copyright restricts pedagogy by contracting the universe of things that learners and teachers can do with education materials. If there are things that learners are not allowed to do, this means there are ways that learners are not allowed to learn. If there are things that teachers aren’t allowed to do, this means there are ways that teachers aren’t allowed to teach.

You can learn about how these restrictions on what teachers and learners can do impacts teaching and learning by reading the metaphor/blog post about driving airplanes on roads at

Examples of Open Educational Practices, Open Pedagogy, and OER-Enabled Pedagogy
One of the foundational ideas of open teaching and learning practices is the distinction between disposable and renewable assignments.

Do you remember doing homework for school that felt utterly pointless? A “disposable assignment” is an assignment that supports an individual student’s learning but adds no other value to the world—the student spends hours working on it, the teacher spends time grading it, and the student gets it back and then throws it away. While disposable assignments may promote learning by an individual student, these assignments can be demoralizing for people who want to feel like their work matters beyond the immediate moment.

In contrast, “renewable assignments” are assignments that both support individual student learning and add value to the broader world. With renewable assignments, learners are asked to create and openly license valuable artifacts that, in addition to supporting their own learning, will be useful to other learners both inside and outside the classroom. Classic renewable assignments include, for example, collaborating with learners to write new case studies for textbooks, creating “explainer” videos, and modifying learning materials that will speak more directly to learners’ local cultures and needs.

To explore additional examples of this pedagogical approach in action, check out the examples given by David Wiley in Project Management for Instructional Designers (licensed CC BY-NC-SA 4.0, available at and Robin DeRosa’s Actualham website ( of learners adapting existing materials to create new textbooks. In both of these cases, teachers had learners create their own textbooks, which then had Creative Commons licenses applied to them. Other examples of OER-enabled pedagogy in action include assignments by JB Murray (licensed CC BY-SA 3.0 on and Amin Azzam (licensed CC BY-SA 3.0 on that had learners significantly improve articles that were in Wikipedia. When they completed these assignments, the learners had created open artifacts that were useful in both supporting their own learning and the learning of other learners and educators. In these examples, learners created assignments that allowed them to interact with the greater community and ensured that the assignments are renewable, not disposable, artifacts.

A couple of other interesting examples of renewable assignments are a remixed explainer video that a student made, entitled Blogs and Wikis: a fictitious debate ( and the DS106 assignment bank ( which is a hub for student-created, CC-licensed content. Additional examples are available on the Open Pedagogy Notebook website (licensed CC BY 4.0 and available at

Final Remarks
If you’re just going to use your new smartphone the same way you used your old flip phone, there wasn’t much point in getting a new phone. Likewise, when we use OER to support learning in exactly the same ways that we used the old “all rights reserved” materials, we may save learners money, but we miss out on the transformative power of open pedagogy. As you prepare to use OER in your teaching, think about the new things that are possible in the context of permission to engage in the 5R activities.

Open Education is an idea, as well as a set of content, practices, policies, and communities which, when properly leveraged, can help everyone in the world access free, effective, open learning materials at either zero or marginal cost. We live in an age of information abundance where everyone, for the first time in human history, can potentially attain all the education they desire. The key to this transformational shift in learning is Open Educational Resources (OER). OER are educational materials that are shared at no cost, with legal permissions for the public to freely use, share, and build upon their content.

OER are possible because:

  • they are (mostly) born digital,[8] and digital resources can be stored, copied, and distributed for near zero cost;
  • the Internet makes it simple for the public to share digital content; and
  • Creative Commons licenses make it simple and legal to retain copyright and legally share educational resources with the world.

Because we can share effective education materials with the world for near zero cost,[9] many people argue that educators and governments which support public education have a moral and ethical obligation to do so. After all, education is fundamentally about sharing knowledge and ideas. Creative Commons believes that OER will replace much of the expensive, proprietary content that is currently used in academic courses. Shifting to this open model will generate more equitable economic opportunities and social benefits globally without sacrificing the quality of educational content.

Does it seem reasonable that education in the age of the Internet should be more expensive and less flexible than it was in previous generations? Education is more important than ever before; nothing else can do as much to promote the happiness, prosperity, and security of individuals, families, and societies. While many interesting and useful experiments are occurring outside formal education, the degrees, certificates, and other credentials awarded by formal institutions are still critically important to the quality of life of many people around the world.

Formal education, even in the age of the Internet, can be more expensive and less flexible than ever. In many countries, the publishers of educational materials overcharge for textbooks and other resources. As part of their transition from print to digital, these same companies have largely moved away from a model where learners purchase and own books to a “streaming” model where they have access to those resources for only a limited time. Furthermore, publishers are constantly developing new restrictive technologies that limit what learners and faculty can do with the resources they have temporary access to, including novel ways to prohibit printing, prevent cutting and pasting, and restrict the sharing of materials between friends.

  • Define the word open in the context of open educational resources
  • Differentiate between OER, open textbooks, open courses, and MOOCs (massive open online courses)

What impacts have the rising costs and decreased flexibility of educational materials had on you and those you know? What role do you think that “all rights reserved” copyrights and related laws have played in driving up costs and driving down flexibility for learners and teachers?

Acquiring Essential Knowledge
Open Educational Resources are teaching, learning, and research materials in any medium that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation, and redistribution by others.[10] Or we could use this less technical definition to describe OER: OER are educational materials that can be freely downloaded, edited, and shared to better serve all students.[11]

OER and Open Textbooks
To begin, you should watch the video Why OER? | CC BY 3.0

In contrast to traditional educational materials, which are constantly becoming more expensive and less flexible, OER give everyone, everywhere, free permission to download, edit, and share them with others. David Wiley provides another popular definition, stating that only educational materials licensed in a manner that provides the public with permission to engage in the 5R activities can be considered OER.

The 5R permissions are:

  1. Retain—permission to make, own, and control copies of the content (e. g., download, duplicate, store, and manage it)
  2. Reuse—permission 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—permission to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e. g., translate the content into another language)
  4. Remix—permission to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new (e. g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
  5. Redistribute—permission to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e. g., give a copy to a friend)

The easiest way to confirm that an educational resource is an “open” one that provides you with the 5R permissions is to determine that the resource is either in the public domain or has been licensed under a Creative Commons license which permits the creation of derivative works; these licenses are CC BY, CC BY-SA, CC BY-NC, and CC BY-NC-SA.

Open educational resources come in all shapes and sizes. An OER can be as small as a single article, academic paper, video, or simulation, or it can be as large as an entire degree program. However, it can be difficult, or at least time-consuming for teachers to assemble OER into a collection that is comprehensive enough to replace an “all rights reserved” copyrighted textbook. When OER are collected and presented in ways that resemble a traditional textbook, it often makes it easier for teachers to use the resources. The term open textbook simply means a collection of OER that has been organized to look like a traditional textbook in order to ease the adoption process. To see examples of open textbooks in a number of disciplines, visit OpenStax (licensed CC BY 4.0, available at, the Open Textbook Library (licensed CC BY 4.0, available at, or the BC Open Textbook Project (licensed CC BY 4.0, available at Other times, OER are aggregated and presented as digital courseware. To see examples of open courseware, visit the Open Education Consortium (licensed CC BY 4.0, available at and MIT OpenCourseWare (licensed CC BY-NC-SA 4.0, available at

In addition to demonstrating that learners save money when their teachers adopt OER, research shows that learners can have better outcomes when their teachers choose OER instead of educational materials that are available under “all rights reserved” copyright.

The use of OER is strongly advocated by a broad range of individuals, organizations, and governments, as evidenced by documents like the Cape Town Open Education Declaration (2007), the UNESCO Paris OER Declaration (2012), and the recently adopted UNESCO Ljubljana OER Action Plan (2017).

Cost to
for Faculty
and Students
Expensive Restrictive
“The Web”
Library Resources
“Free” Restrictive
Open Educational
Free 5Rs

OER-Enabled Pedagogy,
slide 16

Figure available at

Author: David Wiley
CC BY 4.0
Desaturated from original

OER vs. Free Library Resources
Teachers and professors typically use a mix of “all rights reserved” commercial content, free library resources, and OER in their courses. While the library resources are “free” to the learners and faculty at that institution, they are (1) not really “free” because the institution’s library had to pay to purchase or subscribe to them, and (2) they are not available to the general public. The chart in figure 5.3 describes the cost to learners and the legal permissions available to teachers and learners for each of these types of educational resources.

OER in Primary and Secondary (K–12) Education vs. Tertiary (Higher) Education
Open educational resources are used in all sectors of education. How OER are produced and adopted, however, often differs depending on the level of education in which they are used.

In general, tertiary (higher education) faculty members are more likely to:

  • have the time, resources, and support to produce and revise educational resources;
  • own the copyright to the content they create (though this depends on their contract with the college or university); and
  • make unilateral decisions regarding what content is used in their courses.

As such, higher education faculty are often OER producers and can decide whether or not to adopt these OER in their courses. OER adoption in higher education tends to occur one faculty member at a time. Given this opportunity, it is critical that faculty members be given the time, resources, and support they need in order to create and adopt open education content and undertake a shift to open education practices and pedagogy. For an example of this sort of endeavor, see the open textbook Clinical Procedures for Safer Patient Care that was written by faculty from British Columbia (licensed CC BY 4.0 at

In general, primary and secondary (K–12) teachers are less likely to:

  • have the time, resources, and support to produce and revise educational resources;
  • own the copyright to the content they create (though this depends on their contract with the school or district); and
  • make unilateral decisions regarding what content is used in their curriculum.

As such, OER adoption in primary and secondary schools tends to occur at the district or school level, rather than at the level of individual teachers. For an example of this, see the blog post Creative Commons policies grow in New Zealand schools (

Open Educational Resources (a very brief timeline)
While there isn’t enough space in this section to give a comprehensive overview of the “History of Open Education,” here are several of the pivotal events that contributed to the growth of the Open Education movement.

  • 1969: UK Open University opens
  • 1983: Free software movement founded with launch of GNU
  • 1991: World Wide Web becomes publicly available
  • 1997: MERLOT project begins
  • 1998: U. S. Copyright Term Extension Act
  • 1998: The term open content is coined, and the Open Content License is released
  • 1999: Open Publication License is released
  • 1999: Connexions launches (renamed OpenStax in 2012)
  • 2001: Wikipedia is founded
  • 2001: Creative Commons is founded
  • 2001: MIT Open CourseWare is established
  • 2002: Budapest Open Access Initiative
  • 2002: Creative Commons licenses launched
  • 2002: UNESCO coins the term Open Educational Resources
  • 2004: First annual Open Education Conference
  • 2005: OpenCourseWare Consortium is formed (renamed the Open Education Consortium in 2014)
  • 2006: WikiEducator is launched
  • 2007: Cape Town OER Declaration
  • 2007: OER Commons is established
  • 2007: Wiley and Couros experiment with “open courses”
  • 2008: The book Opening Up Education is published
  • 2008: The online course “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge” is established; 2,000 learners participate, leading to the term massive open online course, or MOOC
  • 2012: OpenStax releases the first open textbook
  • 2012: UNESCO OER Paris Declaration
  • 2013: OERu (Open Educational Resources university) is launched
  • 2017: UNESCO 2nd World OER Congress
  • 2018: UNESCO drafts an OER Recommendation
  • 2019: UNESCO approves bringing 2019 UNESCO OER Recommendation to the next General Conference.

Final Remarks
OER, whether organized as open textbooks or open courseware, provide teachers, learners, and others with a broad range of permissions that make education more affordable and more flexible. These permissions also enable rapid, low-cost experimentation and innovation, as educators seek to maximize access to effective educational resources for all.

We live in a rich multimedia culture that requires educators to provide relevant learning resources in the classroom, although finding and reusing others’ great works is not always simple. This section will teach you how to find others’ OER and adapt them for use in your own classroom.

FIGURE 5.4 Cell phone

Photo from Unsplash:

Author: Tiago Aguiar
Public domain: CC0
Destaurated from original

Librarians play an important role in the discovery, development, description, licensing, curation, and sharing of Open Educational Resources. They also have an opportunity to advocate for and support the use of these resources. This section will also guide you through a practical approach to supporting the adoption of OER.

What skills and knowledge are needed to find just the right OER that you and your learners need? If you are going to join the global Open Education community, find the best open resources for your course, and share your good work as an OER, you need to know—and know how to teach others—how to find, evaluate, and adapt openly licensed resources. And what if we want to think bigger… what effect might Open Education have globally?

Why is the openness of content—the ability to revise, remix, and share it—so important? If the public had access to and could creatively remix the world’s knowledge, what new opportunities might we find to address global challenges (e. g., the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals)?


  • Find OER in open repositories, or by using Google, CC Search, or other platforms
  • Evaluate how to reuse, revise, and remix the OER you find
  • Demonstrate how different OER can be used together, while paying attention to license compatibility

Where do you currently find your learning resources? Do you seek open alternatives for the materials you currently use? How do you evaluate your existing learning resources, and how can you apply those measures to openly licensed content?

Once you identify the learning resources you currently use, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is this resource freely available to all of my learners?
  • Can my learners and I keep a copy of this resource forever?
  • Does my class have the legal rights to fix errors, update old or inaccurate content, improve the work, and share it with other educators around the world?
  • Can my learners contribute to and improve our learning resources as part of their course work?

If the answer to these questions is “No,” then you’re probably using learning resources that don’t provide the legal permissions you and your learners need to do what you want to do. Conversely, if you answered “Yes” to all of the questions, then you’re probably using OER.

Acquiring Essential Knowledge
Not everything on the Internet is an open educational resource, and some works labeled as “open” may not have the legal permissions to exercise the 5Rs. So how do you recognize OER, and how do you choose which OER will work best in your class?

First, for a short introduction on how to find OER, watch the video How Can I Find OER? | CC BY-NC 4.0

Finding the resources you want to use is the first step to bringing OER into your classroom. Discovery is one of the primary barriers for educators who want to use OER. Fortunately, there are many established ways to search for these resources.

You can do a quick review of OER projects and people on the OER World Map (licensed CC BY 4.0 at to get a sense of global OER activities.

There are many websites that host large collections of OER (e .g., Wikimedia Commons), but some universities also host their own OER repositories and services. A good first step is to do a general OER search using Google Advanced Search and filter your results by “Usage Rights” (on the pull-down menu at the bottom of the screen). See Google’s post on how to use the tool effectively at

In addition to sharing your OER on your website or blog, there are hundreds of online platforms on which you can share your openly licensed content. Creative Commons maintains a directory of some of the most popular platforms used by educators, organized by content type (photos, video, audio, textbooks, courses, etc.) at You can also find OER on these platforms.

When looking for OER, open educators often ask each other for help on Open Education discussion lists. Here is a non-exhaustive tally of discussion lists you might be interested in joining:

  • CC Open Education Platform (invitation)
  • OER Forum
  • International OER Advocacy
  • OER Discuss
  • Open Knowledge Open Edu
  • Open Edu SIG
  • Wikimedia Education
  • US OER Advocacy
  • SPARC: Library OER
  • Educause Openness

If you want to know more about the most popular general options for searching for OER, read the Open Washington course Module 6: Finding OER (licensed CC BY 4.0 at

Creative Commons redesigned its CC Search (figure 5.5).[12] You can explore the initial version of the new search engine (images only) at Soon, CC Search will be able to search the entire Commons—all of the public domain and CC-licensed works on the Internet… including OER.
FIGURE 5.5 CC Search

As with all education resources, OER need to be evaluated before use. Educators who are new to OER may have concerns about their quality because these resources are available for free and may have been remixed by other educators. But the process of using and evaluating OER is not that different from evaluating traditional “all rights reserved” copyright resources. Whether education materials are openly licensed or closed, you are the best judge of quality because you know what your learners need and what your curriculum demands.

Subject specialists (educators and librarians) assess the quality and suitability of learning resources. The membership organization JISC provides a list of criteria for the assessment of the quality of these resources.

  • Accuracy
  • Reputation of author/institution
  • Standard of technical production
  • Accessibility
  • Fitness for purpose[13]

You should be careful not to let anyone tell you that OER are “low quality” because they are free. As the SPARC OER Mythbusting Guide points out:

  • In this increasingly digital and Internet-connected world, the old adage that “you get what you pay for” is growing outdated. New models are developing across all aspects of society that dramatically reduce or eliminate costs to users, and this kind of innovation has spread to educational resources.
  • OER publishers have worked to ensure the quality of their resources. Many open textbooks are created within rigorous editorial and peer-review guidelines, and many OER repositories allow faculty to review (and see others’ reviews of) the material. There is also a growing body of evidence which demonstrates that OER can be both free of cost and high quality—and more importantly, they can support positive student learning outcomes.[14]

Also, be careful not to get pulled into a debate about high- or low-quality educational resources when what educators should really be concerned about is those resources’ effectiveness. Read these two posts from David Wiley: “Stop Say­ing ‘High Quality’” ( and “No, Really—Stop Saying ‘High Quality’” (

Remixing and Adapting Resources
Being open enables educators to use the resource more effectively, which can lead to better learning and student outcomes. OER can be remixed, adapted, updated, or tailored and improved locally to fit the needs of learners—for example, by translating the OER into a local language, adapting a biology open textbook to align it with local science standards, or modifying an OER simulation to make it accessible for a student who cannot hear.

The ideas of remixing and adaptation are fundamental to education. The creative reuse of materials created by other educators and authors is about more than just seeking inspiration; we copy, adapt, and combine different materials in order to craft appropriate and effective education resources for our learners.

Incorporating materials created by others and combining materials from different sources can be tricky, not only from a pedagogical perspective, but also from a copyright perspective.

Online digital education resources have different legal permissions that empower (or not) the public to use, remix, and share those resources. Here are a few of those legal categories:

  • Public domain works (which are not restricted by any copyright) can be remixed with any other work.
    • Example: Anyone can remix The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.
  • Some “all rights reserved” copyrighted works are available for free online, but you can only use them under the project terms of service, or by using an exception or limitation to copyright, such as fair use or fair dealing.
    • Example: Many MOOCs allow free reuse of their content, but do not allow copying, revise, remix, or redistribution.
  • “All rights reserved” copyrighted works in closed formats do not allow the public to remix or adapt the work.
    • Example: A blockbuster movie is usually available only on a streaming service that you cannot use or even link to.
  • Creative Commons-licensed works (and other free licenses) are open, but they may have various permissions and restrictions.
    • Example: The online encyclopedia Wikipedia (BY-SA) allows you to reuse its content for commercial purposes, while WikiHow (BY-NC-SA) does not. A Wikipedia article cannot be remixed with a WikiHow article.

If you want to know which CC-licensed works can be remixed with other CC-licensed works, see figure 5.6, which repeats the CC remix chart (figure 4.12) that we studied in chapter 4. In this chart, where there is a check mark at the intersection of two CC-licensed works, you can remix those two works. Where there is a black X, you cannot remix those two CC-licensed works.

MARC Records and Metadata
There are metadata standards for OER that allow searchability, organization, and integration into current content systems at your institution. Metadata can include information such as author, title, subject area, grade level, keywords, and other categorical information.

There are many sources whereby you can easily include open textbooks in your library collection. has a comprehensive database of Creative Commons ebooks. In 2014 they added 1,897 free ebooks, and of these, 1,076 of them have Creative Commons licenses. has also added librarian tools ( to allow users to download and upload customizable MARC (machine-readable cataloging) records. As free, openly licensed resources, OER often live outside of the catalog, and cataloging standards can differ between repositories. You can check out the WorldCat catalog record for OpenStax to see what an OER might look like in the catalog

FIGURE 5.6 CC License Compatibility Chart

( How do you catalog OER? If you’re participating in the CC Certificate course, use the class chat to discuss this question.

The Open Textbook Library and BC Campus also provide MARC bibliographic records for OER. The Open Textbook Library also uses CC0 for all of its MARC records. You can read more about how to use CC for MARC records at

Final Remarks
We live in an amazing world of information abundance, and an increasing percentage of our digital knowledge is openly licensed. But finding the right open resources that fit the needs of your learning spaces and your learners can be a challenge. One of the major motivations for using OER is the ability to revise, remix, and share these works in ways that will best suit the needs of your learners. Search engines, OER repositories, and platform services with built-in tools for using Creative Commons licenses help, but finding the right OER can still take time for your faculty and library patrons to accomplish.


Large parts of this book are about creation, both how it works from a legal perspective and, more practically, how we learn by making and creating something. In this section we will explore and practice how to create and share OER so they can have the biggest impact and be used without any legal or technical barriers.

A big part of any educator’s work is preparing, updating, and combining learning materials. Making those materials open requires just a few additional steps, and it’s easier than you think. What are those steps? What should you consider and expect when you want to create and publish your resources in the open?

When we share our education resources as OER, we share our best practices, our expertise, our challenges and solutions. Education is about sharing. And when we share our work with more people, we become better educators.


  • Imagine how your OER will work in practice
  • Understand how to select CC licenses for your resources
  • Examine your open license decision for compatibility (i. e., can it be remixed) with other OER
  • Identify the needs and challenges to improving OER accessibility for everyone

Personal Reflection: Why It Matters To You
What kind of learning resources do you create now? Do you publish or share these resources with other people for feedback? Which of your resources do you think could benefit fellow educators, learners, researchers, and libraries? If you choose to share, how much freedom do you want to give to others; in other words, what permissions will you allow for others to reuse your work?

For an introduction on why it is important to share your work as an OER, watch the video Open Education Matters: Why Is It Important to Share Content? | CC BY 3.0

Acquiring Essential Knowledge

Because educators and librarians can share OER with everyone for near zero cost,[15] we should do this. After all, education is fundamentally about sharing knowledge and ideas. Libraries are about archiving, sharing, and helping learners to find the knowledge they seek. When we CC-license our work, we are sharing that work with the public under simple, legal permissions. Sharing your work is a gift to the world.

As you may remember, not all educational materials that are available under a CC license are OER. Review the chart in figure 5.7 that details which CC licenses work well for education resources and which do not.

The two CC NoDerivatives (ND) licenses are not OER-compatible licenses because they don’t allow the public to revise or remix the educational resource. Because the ND licenses do not meet the 5Rs or any of the major OER definitions, the Open Education movement does not consider ND-licensed educational resources to be “OER.”

most freedom OER
least freedom
FIGURE 5.7 Which CC licenses work well for education resources and which do not
Choosing the right license for your OER requires you to think about which permissions you want to give to other users—and which permissions you want to retain for yourself. Read the statement “Open Textbook Community Advocates CC BY License for Open Textbooks” (licensed CC BY 4.0 at and think about why they recommend the Creative Commons Attribution license (CC BY) for education. You can find more arguments made about the utility of this same license for publishing scientific research in the article “Why CC BY?” from the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (licensed CC BY 4.0 at

For basic information about the licenses, and how to choose and apply one to your work or to combined works from other people and sources, revisit section 4.1 “Choosing and Applying a CC License.”

For a detailed analysis of Creative Commons case law, see section 3.4 “License Enforceability.” Creative Commons maintains a listing of court decisions and case law from jurisdictions around the world on its wiki, licensed CC BY 4.0 at

In 2017–18 there were two legal cases concerning Open Education: Great Minds vs. FedEx Office and Great Minds vs. Office Depot, as referenced in chapter 4. As a reminder, both cases involved OER used by schools for non-commercial purposes. In both cases, the district courts found that a commercial copy shop may reproduce educational materials at the request of a school district that is using them under a CC BY-NC-SA license; thus, no license copyright infringement or violation of the CC license had occurred.

Other than choosing the right CC license, what other aspects of openness and pedagogy are worth considering? You can read a list of best practices to include in your work when building OER at

Watch the video Simply Said: Understanding Accessibility in Digi­tal Learning Materials by the National Center on Accessible Educational Materials.

FIGURE 5.8 Print encyclopedia and e-book reader on green grass

Photo from Pixabay:
Author: papirontul | Public Domain: CC0 | Cropped and desaturated from original

The Open Washington network’s Module 8 on “Sharing OER” (licensed CC BY 4.0, available at will give you practical advice on how to share OER online and prepare them to be used offline as well.

At its core, OER are about making sure that everyone has access to learning and research materials. Not just rich people, not just people who can see or hear, not just people who can read English—everyone.

As authors and institutions build and share OER, best practices in accessibility need to be part of their instructional and technical design from the start. Educators have legal and ethical responsibilities to ensure that our learning resources are fully accessible to all learners, including those with disabilities.

The best practices to ensure that your OER are accessible to all include:

  • putting your work into the public domain (CC0) or adding a non-ND CC license to your work;
  • making it simple to download your work in editable file formats, so others can modify or translate it to meet local needs and make it accessible; and
  • most importantly, designing your work to be accessible from the start.

Librarians who find themselves in the role of content creators may wonder how to license their work. Over 5,000 institutions in the United States use LibGuides as their preferred subject guide content management system, with over 120,000 license holders around the world. Licensing your resources under Creative Commons can be as simple as using the license chooser to create a machine-readable icon for your site or LibGuide.

There are hundreds of LibGuides on library websites about Creative Commons alone. Use Google to search for LibGuides about Creative Commons and flip through the resources found by subject librarians on the issues of Creative Commons and copyright.

Final Remarks
Openness in education means more than just access or legal certainty over what you are able to use, modify, and share with your learners. Open Education means designing content and practices which will ensure that everyone can actively participate and contribute to the sum of all human knowledge. As educators and learners revise others’ OER and create and share new OER, accessibility should always be on your design checklist.

This section discusses how educational institutions can support open education content, practices, and community with policy.

Educational institutions around the world are trying to figure out how to support their educators, staff, and learners in using, revising, and sharing OER in the context of new Open Education practices. How can educational leaders use various policy tools to support and promote Open Education?


  • Consider if and why you need a policy to accomplish your Open Education goals
  • Understand the menu of Open Education policy options
  • Assess your existing institutional policies
  • Understand how to develop an institutional open policy

What if there were institutional policies that supported your Open Education and open access efforts? What effect might pro-Open Access and pro-Open Education policies have on you and your learners?

Acquiring Essential Knowledge
Educational institutions have a broad menu of Open Education policy options from which to choose. Your institution can:

  • Raise awareness of the existence of OER and their benefits for your learners and faculty.
    • Action: Host an annual “Open Education” day at your school or university.
  • Empower stakeholders to drive your institution’s Open Education strategy.
    • Action: Create an Open Education Task Force comprised of learners, faculty, accessibility experts, deans, bookstore, financial aid, and library staff, instructional designers, eLearning, and so on.
  • Ensure that all of the content you fund is OER.
  • Issue a call-to-action to solve an educational challenge.
    • Action: Create an OER grant program. You could appropriate funds for supporting faculty and staff to shift your fifty highest-enrolled courses from closed content to OER.
      Example: The Maricopa County Community College started an open textbook initiative to lower the costs of teaching materials. They provided grants to create open courses and train faculty on OER. You can learn more about their process at
  • Leverage existing strategic documents to support Open Education.
    • Action: Add Open Education goals to your institution’s key strategy documents.
    • Action: Identify and track key performance indicators that improve when courses and/or degrees adopt OER.
      Example: Increasing student outcomes, increasing the percentage of learners who can access 100 percent of the learning resources on day 1, reducing dropouts during add/drop periods, increasing credits taken per semester, decreasing student debt, decreasing time to degree.
  • Make it easy to share OER.
    • Action: Join a global OER repository and make it simple for your educators and learners to find others’ OER and share their own OER. Provide professional development.
  • Ensure that educators have the legal rights to share.
    • Action: Change the contract between the institution and the faculty or teachers so that these educators have the legal rights to CC-license their work.
      Example: A Creative Commons policy in New Zealand gives teachers advance permission to disseminate their resources online for sharing and reuse. The policy also ensures that both the school and the teacher—as well as teachers from around the country and around the world—can continue to use and adapt resources produced by New Zealand teachers in the course of their employment. Creative Commons NZ has developed an annotated policy template for schools to adapt (
  • Provide OER information to learners.
  • Reward sharing.
    • Action: Adjust promotion and tenure policies to reward the creation, adoption, and maintenance of OER and publishing in Open Access journals. The creation and adaptation of OER should be appropriately recognized as curricular innovation and service to the academic profession during promotion and tenure review.

The point of most Open Education and Open Access policies is to ensure that publicly (or foundation) funded education and research resources (1) can be read by everyone, (2) are openly licensed, and (3) are shared in editable file formats in public repositories, with a zero embargo period, which provides immediate public access upon publication. Creative Commons often uses the catchphrase “publicly funded resources should be openly licensed resources—the public should have access to what it funds.” When it comes to enforcing Open Education and Open Access policies, multiple people and institutions play important roles.

Government, foundation, and institutional funders and program officers responsible for managing grants and contracts need to (1) understand their Open Education/Access policies, (2) communicate the importance of these policies to grantees verbally and in writing, and (3) check to ensure that the public has full access to the openly licensed resources, research, and data under the terms of the Open Education and Open Access policy.

University or college administration should provide support (e. g., by hiring a full-time OA or OER librarian) to faculty who are publishing in Open Access journals or otherwise sharing their research openly and to faculty who are creating, remixing, sharing, and adopting OER. Institutions should also review and modify (as needed) promotion and tenure policies to ensure that faculty who are engaged in Open Education and Open Access publishing are rewarded during promotion and tenure review.[16]

Final Remarks
When educational institutions support their educators, staff, and learners in moving from closed to open content and practices, Open Education thrives. Educators want to design the best courses, adjust their practices and pedagogy to empower learners to co-create knowledge, and push the limits of knowledge by openly sharing their ideas and resources with a global audience. But educators can’t do it alone. They need political, financial, time, staff, and policy support to shift to, and fully realize, the benefits of Open Education.

More Background on Open Access

More Information about Open Access and OER Advocacy

  • ROARMAP: Registry of Open Access Repository Mandates and Policies, by the School of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton.
    This is a searchable international registry of existing Open Access policies, including their terms and details:
  • “OER and Advocacy: What Can Librarians Do?” by the University of Toronto Libraries.
    This contains resources and information on how librarians can support OER adoption, and it also provides some faculty perspectives on OER:
  • “Scholarly Communication Toolkit: Scholarly Communication Overview,” by the Association of College & Research Libraries.
    This is a toolkit to help librarians integrate a scholarly communication perspective into library operations and programs, as well as prepare presentations on scholarly communication issues for administrators, faculty, staff, students, and other librarians:

More Information about Emerging Models of Open Access Publishing


  1. Martha Kyrillidou and Mark Young, eds., ARL Statistics 2002–03 (Washington, D. C.: Association of Research Libraries, 2004), table 2,
  2. Peter Suber, “Open Access Overview: Focusing on Open Access to Peer-reviewed Research Articles and Their Preprints,” Earlham College, June 21, 2004, revised December 5, 2015,
  3. Currently, the Termination of Transfer tool covers U. S. copyright and contracts controlled by U. S. law only. Creative Commons is working to expand the tool to provide information and resources about provisions with similar effect around the world.
  4. The SCAE and the addenda are being updated by Creative Commons in 2018.
  5. Éric Archambault, Grégoire Côté, Brooke Struck and Matthieu Voorons, Research Impact of Paywalled Versus Open Access Papers, (Quebec, Canada: Science-Metrix and 1Science, 2016)
  6. “Open-access Mandate,” Wikipedia, last edited March 22, 2019,
  7. National Institutes of Health, “Public Access Policy,”
  8. Most OER are “born” digital, though they can be made available to learners in both digital and printed formats. Of course, digital OER are easier to share, modify, and redistribute, but being digital is not what makes something an OER or not.
  9. While in many countries (such as many EU member states) cost may not be a problem, restrictive copyright and narrow fair use and fair dealing rights can limit new teaching methods.
  10. This is a Creative Commons adaptation of the UNESCO OER definition:
  11. Drafted by OER Comms, which is a coalition of North American open education advocates working on OER communication: oer-comms at
  12. Creative Commons’ existing Search tool is at
  13. “Quality Considerations,” PBWorks,
  14. SPARC, OER Mythbusting, (Washington, D. C.: SPARC, 2017),
  15. While in many EU member states and some other countries cost may not be a problem, restrictive copyright and narrow fair use and fair dealing rights can limit new teaching methods.
  16. See Oklahoma State University’s Provost & Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs declaration of support in the promotion and tenure process for faculty working with OER: