Lesson 3.2 Finding OER

Learning how to find Public Domain and openly-licensed resources, whether created for educational purposes or not, is the first  thing anyone wanting to use  OER  would need to do. In addition, there is a growing pool of projects and sites specifically devoted to sharing and enabling the remix of OER, some of which will be reviewed later this section.


Search Engines and Aggregators

Some search engines offer the possibility of filtering results by usage rights, so it is possible to submit queries that only return content that can be modified and shared. For example, Google Advanced Search allows users to restrict results to just content that can be used, shared or modified, even for free. Another useful feature is that you can also filter by language, so you can specifically retrieve OER content in Arabic, or any other language particularly relevant to you or your students and colleagues.

Another way of finding relevant resources that you may use as OER is by means of search engines that submit queries to third party search engines or repositories:


Generic Collections of Public Domain and Openly Licensed Content

Below you can see some examples of websites offering different types of content and data available under Creative Commons licences or in the Public Domain, which you mind find of use in your teaching and learning.


Collections Photos Icons Audio Video Data
Flickr Commons x
New York Public Domain Collections
Pixabay.com x x
Thenounproject.com x
Unsplash.com x
Openimages.eu x
Prelinger Archives x
Freesound.org x
CC curated music collection on the Free Music Archive x
Musopen.org x
FigShare.com x


Wikimedia projects

Being one of the most visited websites worldwide every day and having most of its text and many of its images co-licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC BY-SA) and the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL), Wikipedia has been described as ‘the single greatest Open Education Resource the world has ever seen’ (by Jim Groom in his keynote at the OER16 Conference).

Despite widespread concerns at universities about using it as a formal academic reference, due to the fact that anyone can contribute to it, Wikipedia plays an important role in the Personal Learning Environment (PLE) of many students (and academics). Rather than banning its use, institutions are starting to recognise its value as a learning resource, not as a source of information to be cited, but by involving students in editing articles, enhancing the quality of content, and helping to improve areas of knowledge and topics that are underrepresented. Under the Wikipedia Education Programme many universities are already embedding the use of this encyclopedia, and other sister initiatives, into teaching and learning, following the Wikipedia’s guidelines for academic use.

For further ideas, examples and suggestions on creating learning activities and assignments around Wikipedia, you may wish to consult a series of brochures published by the Wikimedia Foundation as part of the Wikipedia Education Programme:


Whereas Wikipedia is the most popular project within the Wikimedia family, there are many other initiatives of the Wikimedia Foundation that can be extremely valuable as OER, such as Wikimedia Commons, Wikidata or Wikiversity.


OER collections and repositories

Over recent years many institutions, organisations and individuals have engaged in the provision of OER by developing repositories and collections specifically created with the aim of sharing and enabling the reuse of resources for teaching and learning purposes. In this sections we review a few well-known initiatives that might help you find useful resources.


Navigating OER repositories

link: https://youtu.be/FHLPuIogvZM


OER Directories

OER Commons is a directory of resources linking to content produced by a wide range of projects and initiatives, offering a single point of access to more than 50,000 high-quality OER. It aggregates content from a wealth of well-established OER providers, such as MIT OpenCourseWare or Rice University’s OpenStax College. The full list of providers can be consulted at https://www.oercommons.org/oer/providers.

Some of the curated collections include:



A subset with more than 4,000 resources in Arabic is available as part of the project at https://arabic.oercommons.org. For further details, consult the case study included in the OpenMed Compendium.


Another example is Teaching Commons, which gathers open-access textbooks, course materials, lesson plans, multimedia, lectures and other materials from colleges and universities.


OpenCourseWare (OCW)

OCW is a very specific model of OER provision that offers ‘high quality college and university‐level educational materials. These materials are organised as courses, and often include course planning materials and evaluation tools as well as thematic content’ (Open Education Consortium). Whereas the model was first developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2001, many other institutions have followed the same steps and launched their own MIT initiatives since then.

The Open Education Consortium (formerly known as OCW Consortium) has built a meta search engine that allows querying from one single point the OCW repositories of many institutions around the world, including MIT’s.

Another useful tool that can help you find OCW resources is the Semantic Course Search EngineSerendipity.


Open Textbooks

Several initiatives are specifically devoted to creating manuals released as OER.

OpenStax CNX, formerly known as Connexions, is an initiative launched as early as in 1999 by Rice University that currently offers ‘tens of thousands of learning objects, called pages, that are organised into thousands of textbook-style books in a host of disciplines’ (https://cnx.org/about).

OpenStax CNX is designed to encourage the sharing and reuse of educational content. The knowledge in OpenStax CNX can be shared and built upon by all because it is reusable:


The BC Open Textbooks project has released a considerable number of OER manuals adapted and created by faculty in the post-secondary system of British Columbia (Canada). The titles cover an extremely wide range of disciplines and topics. As an example relevant to anyone following this course, we recommend taking a look at the book Teaching in a Digital Age, by the leading expert in the field of education and technology, Tony Bates.

The Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources has identified a list of open textbooks in the following areas: Anthropology & Archaeology, Art, Biology & Genetics, Business, Chemistry, Computer Science, Economics, Education, Engineering & Electronics, English & Composition, Health & Nursing, History, Languages & Communications, Literature, Law, Math, Music, Philosophy, Physics, Political Science, Psychology, Science, Sociology, Statistics & Probability.

The Open Textbook Library (OTL) is an initiative aiming to address the issue of university students having to spend a substantial amount of money every year on textbooks in order to follow their courses. OTL offers a vast catalogue of peer-reviewed, free and openly-licensed books, in compliance with the 5R. OTL is supported by a network of more than 50 institutions working to foster the adoption of open textbooks by lecturers in their teaching (http://research.cehd.umn.edu/otn).


Open Podcasts and Video Content

Many universities and organisations have also created OER collections of video and audio recordings of talks by faculty or guest speakers. For instance, the University of Oxford has shared thousands of podcasts featuring public lectures and interviews with leading academics, as OER, by means of iTunes U and their own repository available at http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/open. Content is available under the CC BY-NC-SA licence.

VideoLectures.net] is a well-known repository of talks delivered by distinguished scholars at prominent academic events around all over the world. While this is no doubt an extremely valuable source of educational content, it is worth noting that VideoLectures.net does not fit with the notion of OER as defined by the 5R permissions, given that videos are released under the CC BY-NC-ND, so users are not allowed to ‘alter, transform, or build upon the work’ (http://videolectures.net/site/about/).

Khan Academy is another example of a comprehensive collection on OER videos, which has evolved to include exercises, articles and a range of personalised learning tools. Rather than being an institutional initiative, it started with a single person – Salman Khan – recording video tutorials to help his cousin learn mathematics, and now it has grown to be an 80-person non-profit organisation. While not all the content is available as OER, most of the content on Khan Academy has been released under a CC licence that allows users to repurpose resources, as long as it is for non-commercial purposes. Some content is available in Arabic at https://ar.khanacademy.org/


Disciplinary and subject OER repositories

Apart from searching for OER through generic directories or collections, teachers and learners may also find relevant resources by consulting special collections of content devoted to particular topics, subjects or disciplines. Here, we have selected just a handful of projects that will give you a flavour of what a valuable thematic OER project or collection looks like.

School of Data is a network of organisations and individuals concerned with data literacy that have produced dozens of articles, lessons and hands-on tutorials on how to work with data. All content is available under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License used by Open Knowledge International.

SmartHistory is a collection of videos and essays for the study of art history and cultural heritage with contributions from more than 200 experts (art historians, archaeologists, curators, etc.), which has been created in collaboration with leading museums and organisations in the field around the globe – including The British Museum, the Google Cultural Institute, The Museum of Modern Art, and Tate among others. The work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0.


Open Courses and Certification (more than content)

Beyond the opportunity for learners to have access to educational content for free (for example, textbooks, podcasts, courseware), some OER initiatives offer the possibility of assessing and certifying learning.

For instance, the UK Open University’s OpenLearn initiative offers around 1,000 courses that are free to study and include ways of demonstrating achievements through assessed learning, which may lead to the issuing of statements of participation and digital badges.

Another example is Saylor Academy, an initiative of the Constitution Foundation that offers self-paced courses for free, including the possibility of earning certificates of achievement and in some cases even credit recognition. Before the final exam, learners can check their progress by means of activities and assignments while completing a course. While both formative and summative assessment in Saylor Academy may help students in their learning, it is worth noting that the exams sat rely on automatic- or self-grading. While Saylor Academy is not an accredited institution and cannot grant credits, some of their courses might be recognised for credits by third parties, provided that students pass a proctored exam (https://www.saylor.org/credit/).


Quality Considerations

The issue of quality in OER provision – as well as in Open Access scholarship – has been part of discussions since the early days of the movement, and it has implications from the perspective of providers as well as re-users.

Depending on the nature of practices, initiatives might involve more or less systematic approaches to quality assurance. For instance, an individual scholar might release content on her own personal website without going through any formal quality assurance process, the same way s/he can create resources for their teaching without any formal approval. In the case of institutional initiatives, there is usually some form of review process, though this is not always the case.

After reviewing a number of OER initiatives, the Open Educational Quality Initiative – OPAL Project (2009-11) identified ‘lightweight’ as opposed to ‘top-down’ controlled approaches to quality assurance, as well as models in between the two ends of the spectrum.

Teachers wishing to re-use OER in their teaching should get familiar with the quality assurance mechanism in place and assess the credibility of authors and institutions behind them, just the same way as should be the case when dealing with proprietary resources.

The ExplOERer Course offers a set of questions, based on Achieve’s Rubrics for Evaluating Open Education Resource (OER) Objects, that aim to help teachers consider key aspects when evaluating the quality of OER.

‘Quality of explanation of the subject matter

Utility of materials designed to support teaching

Quality of technological interactivity

Opportunities for deeper learning

Assurance of accessibility


In any case, it is ultimately up to educators to decide whether a given OER (or any teaching materials at large) is suitable and meaningful to their students, based on aspects and features that are relevant to their particular needs.