Open Educational Resources

The TRAILS OER initiative supports improving textbook affordability in the state of Montana by providing resources, training, and grant funds to institutions of higher education.

Wondering what OER is, what’s the big deal, where do I find it, how do I do it, or other such ponderings? 

This is the place to get those answers.  The bigger conversation overlaying academics is not just Open Education, but addressing the issue of textbook affordability.  Everyone in academia acknowledges the rising cost of education.  Students are floundering between federal and state funding model changes, tuition hikes, and unprecedented mountains of educational debt.  The skyrocketing costs of textbooks is just another element in that debt.  What faculty are seeing in their classrooms is poor performance or inability to successfully complete courses when students make financial decisions to not purchase the required text, to share it, or purchase it late in the quarter.  
Open Education is a movement of academic faculty and librarians to find a solution to this challenge.
While there is much to say about this topic, this resource page will give you highlights and definitions to the what/where/how questions you have about open. 
The key to understanding open is to know who owns the copyright.  Here are some terms you will hear or see as you learn more about and join in the conversation.

Textbook Affordability – efforts and initiatives by institutions, libraries, state legislative bodies, Department of Education, and other organizations to reduce the total cost of textbooks to students.  These initiatives include but are not limited to OERs.  A lot of the really great affordable textbook work comes directly from campus libraries.

Open Source initially coined around software designers, platform programmers, and similar tech that allows the world at large to share products, improve them, and redistribute without cost to users.  Internet browsers like Firefox or web-design platforms such as Drupal are examples of Open Source.  While open sourcing was a front-runner in the world of open, don’t confuse these with OER.  While they fabulously open their source code to be used and modified by the public, the creators of open source systems still own the copyright to their work.

Open Access – This is a tricky term.  The common misconception is that if material is freely accessible online, that it is open.  This is not true.  In fact, the majority of free materials found online are indeed copyrighted.  Thus, they cannot be taken, shared, modified, or redistributed openly without violating copyright law.  Open Access is a platform, like an online journal, where users have free access to academic materials which can be utilized in any manner in any digital platform.

OER – Open Educational Resources are textbooks and other course materials created by faculty, ie. subject experts, and licensed with a Creative Commons copyright that allows others to freely access and use.  To truly be an OER, material should adhere to the 5R’s of open.  

Learn More about OER

Interested so far but want to know more? We have got you covered.

Find OER

Your ultimate guide to Open Education texts, courses, images, and so much more.

Faculty Resources

Ready to join in the OER movement but need some ideas to get started. All you need and more can be found here.

Student Resources

Coming Soon.

The key to open is understanding who owns the copyright and what you can/cannot do with the material. Here are the basics.

Phrases like open, traditional, license, copyright, the commons, all exist through any Open Educational Resources materials or discussion.  

Traditional and Copyrighted materials commonly refer to the same thing, materials that hold a standard copyright.  Creative Commons (CC) is another form of copyrighting work that is not the standard.  Creative Commons has a set of copyright licenses that can be applied to any work which allow the author to grant permissions that expand the public’s ability access and use the work.

U.S. Copyright law says that as soon as you create something, you own the “All Rights Reserved” copyright to that.  Creative Commons allows you to put your own license on it and change those rights.

Traditional Copyright


Creator owns all rights to work.

It’s automatic.

To use work that’s copyrighted, users must ask permission for every use from the owner of the copyright.
Once a work is published, the publisher owns rights to the work and how it’s accessed.  Even the creator now has limited rights.
Educators sidestep traditional copyright permissions when sharing materials in a classroom.  Sharing digitally, even with students, gets complicated and sticky for the end user.

Creative Commons Licenses


Creator may add a license to grant uses and rights to the work.
Creator can license work so the user can see the permissions without the extra step.  No contact needed.
Creator is publisher and the license displays where/how access is granted.  Creator always owns rights to work.
Creator can openly share work without consequences to end users.

Open licenses are Creative Commons licenses.  The type of license determines just how open it is.  Open Educational Resources are works that have a CC license.  OER works have the 5R capability: for users to revise, remix, reuse, redistribute, and retain a copy of the work.

Open licenses are Creative Commons licenses.  The type of license determines just how open it is.  Open Educational Resources are works that have a CC license.  OER works have the 5R capability: for users to revise, remix, reuse, redistribute, and retain a copy of the work.

The Licenses


CC-BY: 5 R’s compliant as long as attribution is given to the creator.

CC BY Share-Alike: Creator is attributed.  Requires any changes to material be republished with a CC-BY-SA license.

CC BY Non-Commercial: Creator is attributed BUT use of the work for any commercial purpose is not allowed.

CC BY No Derivatives: Creator is attributed BUT no changes can be made to the work.  No 5R compatible. Not a true open educational resource!


Creative Commons allows for mixing these four licenses into one that suits the Creator’s specifications.  You can create a license with their attribution builder.

The last copyright license to understand is the Public Domain. Materials can be licensed by a creator and placed in the public domain.  This means that the creator does not need attribution.  It truly is the most open license available. 

When finding material online to use, if it does not contain an    or a  , it is a copyrighted work and is not openly usable or shareable.

Creative Commons License Unless otherwise noted, all content on TrailsMT OER is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.  Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education: Montana University System, TRAILS
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