Getting Started with Open Educational Resources

Teacher Editorial  |  By Lisa Hailes

For Beginners by a Beginner

Photo Credit: Ben White (2016)
Photo Credit: Ben White (2016)

I am a fairly seasoned educator; I have completed graduate courses in technology and am considered a go-to person for technology integration in our school. Yet the pace at which new technologies emerge means that there are many areas where I am definitely still a beginner.  Open Educational Resources (OER) has been one of those areas.  Until recently I would hear terms in conversations such as Open Universities, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), Open Education, Open Resources, licencing, etc. and be able to follow what was being talked about but was very fuzzy in my actual understanding of what it all meant. Not long before that, my thoughts were that OER was something awesome that was happening in higher education but didn’t really know that it would become relevant in K-12 education.  It is relevant. OER are here, they are the future and they matter.

Why Are Teachers Hesitant about OER?

I think that when teachers first start to think about OER, they are often intrigued but overwhelmed.  Teachers are working so hard to be able to balance the many demands of the classroom.  With a range of learners in the classroom, teachers already spend so much time creating resources and personalizing them to meet each learner where they are at and customize the delivery of their content to create individual learning experiences that are content rich yet engaging.

When teachers first hear about OER, the first barrier that they often talk about is understanding the licensing. Teachers are worried about copyright and feel that they may as well just do it themselves because they don’t have time to navigate through the permissions.  As for sharing the things they have created, many teachers do this naturally with their peers but are too modest to put it out there to the entire world or feel that to share something out it needs to be their best and most polished work, and that of course takes lots of time.

Is it Worth the Learning Curve to Use OER?

Photo Credit: Tran M. T. Tam (2016)
Photo Credit: Tran M. T. Tam (2016)

In my opinion, OER will be integral to the future of education and it is critical to start learning about them now.  Learning about OER is best done with a good reflection on the future of education and teaching as a whole.  Teachers have always needed to truly understand the Program of Studies but in the past it was also very important that they created learning materials to make the content come alive for their students, which took up a significant portion of a teacher’s available time.  With the amount of material already available online and the rate at which more material is shared, a teachers job is evolving to become less of a creator and more of a curator; one who remixes materials to suit their particular students.  I don’t know if the amount of time required necessarily changes, but there is a different focus.  It also means that students can be exposed to so many incredible materials that help them to synthesize information and make personal connections in ways that might not have been possible before with traditional textbooks. “Restricted content supports the ’one-size-fits-all’ approach to teaching, whereas OER can be adapted, reused and most importantly personalised to address the needs of each individual student. Online personalised OER can also occupy students in relevant tasks and thus release teachers’ time, who can then spend more interactive quality time one-on-one with students having difficulties. OER are also inclusive; they can be personally adapted to the special needs of students with disabilities, for example creating audio lessons for the visually challenged”(McGreal, 2015, p.3).

What Exactly Are Open Educational Resources?

There are many definitions of Open Educational Resources but I find the definition by McGreal (2015) to be quite accessible.  McGreal draws upon The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation(n.d.) to help explain that “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”(p.3).

What About Copyright and Licensing?

While it does require some understanding because it is important to credit where work comes from, in actuality the whole idea behind OER is to make it easier to share content, rather than harder. OER helps to promote broader networks for teachers to be able to share and collaborate. “Creative Commons and other forms of alternative licensing encourage not only the sharing of information, but the sharing of pedagogies and experiences as well. The goal is that OER materials are freely copiable, freely remixable, and free of barriers to access, cultural sensitivities, sharing, and educational use”(Horizon Report, 2014, p.10).

In their article, “Teaching, Learning, and Sharing Openly Online”(2014), the O’Byrnne, Roberts, Labonte and Graham look to the work for Wiley (2010) to explain the 4Rs of Creative Commons licencing.  They explain that “four areas of practice are covered by CC licenses: 1. Reuse—the right to reuse content in its unaltered, verbatim form; 2. Revise—the right to adapt, adjust, modify or alter the content itself; 3. Remix—the right to combine the original or revised content with other content to create something new; and 4. Redistribute—the right to make and share copies of the original content, revisions, or remixes with others”(p.278). When I took a little bit of time to understand these 4Rs it really helped me to feel more confident with OER because I wasn’t overwhelmed by the different types of licences and could find what I needed with more ease.  For more information in a clear and concise format about Canadian Copyright facts and OER, this blog by Professor Rory McGreal is informative and easy to follow.

How do I get started easily?

There are many ways to start looking for Educational Resources but it can be overwhelming at first.  The following infographic gives an overview of the process

Photo Credit: Raw Pixel (2017)
Photo Credit: Raw Pixel (2017)

Of the different places to find OER I have the OER Commons to be the most user friendly and to yield the most robust amount of quality material. “ The OER Commons provides teacher education on the use and creation of learning materials with Open Author, a three-step online publisher that licenses and shares the content with the OER Commons community”(Horizon Report, 2014, p.46). I have found it to be user friendly and to offer ways to enhance my learning in addition to just finding content. “OER Commons is a model for teacher education that transcends national boundaries and provides a variety of training options to teachers everywhere”(Horizon Repot, 2014,p.47).

Having said that, I do also like to try to find Canadian content and more specifically Alberta content when possible.  At this time the search options for OER that aligns with Alberta curriculum are not very prevalent, however the Campus Alberta Open Educational Resources Initiative is making huge strides in bringing OER to the mainstream in Alberta and has a variety of exciting projects and a wealth of information worth spending the time to read.

How do I stay organized?

As I started to go further with my seeking out of OER, I found that I could easily lose track of the different sites and resources that I had found.  Curation is a skill that will be increasingly necessary for teachers and there are many tools that help to do that.  I have found that symbaloo is a great place to start as it is very user friendly and visual which works well for me but there are many options to explore. I think it is important to find a system that works well for you.

Should I Share Back?

Teachers are often hesitant to share what they have created online for many reasons; they fear being judged, that what they’ve created isn’t anything big enough to share, or that nobody would want it.  However many of these same teachers have been sharing with colleagues down the hall and with student teachers for years.  What has helped me to get over my hesitation is to think about the things that I am finding from other teachers. I am not judging them. I see them as a starting point and it gives me ideas, and then I adjust things and add things to make it more relevant to my students.  I don’t do these things because the original “wasn’t good” but simply because I needed to make it work for me.  If I share that work back though, then another teacher has the potential to have a starting point for their students.  Sharing of content does not need to be courses or textbooks, it could be a graphic or a suggestion of a read-aloud to compliment a lesson.  This act of sharing back contributes to a larger pedagogy of openness that allows education to move forward in an exciting way and to ultimately invite our students to be creating and sharing alongside us.

Why it is worth it?

There are so many benefits to OER, but one of the biggest is “it can create a customized experience for each learner, while saving time for the teacher; instead of delivering the same lecture to various classes, educators can repurpose their efforts to personalizing content for their learners and give them individualized attention when they need it”(Horizon Repot, 2014,p.11)

OER is the way education is moving.  It is important as educators to start to explore this and to integrate it into our practice even one small step at a time.  Similarly, “Educators, and students for that matter, need to be empowered to act as networked, connected learners as they read, write, and remix online content”(O’Byrne et. al, 2014, p.279). “Many of the complexities and challenges that exist when bringing the Internet into the classroom are exacerbated as learners read and write openly. Paradoxically it is this type of learning environment that may provide the most valuable, authentic learning context” (p.279). OER are exciting and can truly enhance your teaching! Try starting small.  I challenge you to find one new OER that you can use in the next month and reflect on the experience.  How did you find the process of searching for and using OER?



Campus Alberta OER Initiative| (n.d.). Retrieved February 16, 2017, from

[Digital image]. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., & Freeman, A. (2014). NMC Horizon Report: 2014 K-12 Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

O’Byrne, W. I., Roberts, V., Labonte, R., & Graham, L. (2014). Teaching, learning, and sharing openly onlineJournal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy58(4), 277-280.

OER Commons. (n.d.). Retrieved February 16, 2017, from

McGreal, R. (2016, December 05). OER and Canadian Copyright: Essential Facts. Retrieved February 15, 2017, from

Symbaloo. (n.d.). Retrieved February 16, 2017, from


About the Contributor

Lisa Hailes is an elementary teacher who holds a MED in literacy and is currently taking graduate courses in the area of Blended and Online Learning and Teaching.  Lisa has become more interested in the area of Open Educational Resources over the last year and has enjoyed the steep learning curve as she begins to use, create and share resources with other teachers.  Lisa is excited about the possibilities that OER hold for education and loves to share experiences with other educators.

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