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Open Educational Resources (OER)

OER Quick Start

Brief Introductory OER video

An Introduction to Open Educational Resources by Abbey Alder from YouTube is available under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.


How to Search for OERs 

There are recommended sources and practical steps to follow when searching for OERs. The resources must be "openly licensed" and free of any copyright restrictions in order to include in your courses. 

Using Google Advanced Search 

Your search strategies can vary depending on the subject matter and the specificity of the desired material. As a general rule, results may decrease as your searches become more specialized. One of the ways to refine your searches for openly licensed resources is to use Google Advanced Search

Recommended OER Repositories 

Since Google may not find everything you need, here are some recommended sites to explore different types of OERs. 

To search and retrieve content from the leading OER repositories, you can use keyword searching; however, it is recommended to use the site's browse feature. The resources in these repositories may not have tagged the assets by your specific keyword search, but the collection will most likely be organized by subject. 

Open-licensed eBooks 

Open-licensed lectures 

Open-licensed images 

Public domain (federal) 

Locate possible leads from this list: or search  


Key Points  


  • When searching for OERs, the recommended strategies include Google Advanced Search and selected OER repositories


Best Practices for Pre-Vetting OERs 

After completing your initial research, you may have a number of OERs that are relevant to your course and align with the learning outcomes. The next step is to pre-vet these resources to make sure that they meet your institution’s requirements with respect to open licensing, ADA compliance, and OER quality objectives. 

This section is designed to provide you with practical steps to follow when executing this pre-vetting process. While there are additional accessibility compliance requirements, the focus here is on reviewing your OERs to ensure the following: 

  • The OERs are openly licensed (i.e., are published under a Creative Commons license) or are in the public domain. 

  • All of the third-party content in the resource is openly licensed. 

Let's look at these factors one at a time. 

Are Your OERs Available Under a Creative Commons (CC) License? 

There are six types of CC licenses that are important to know when identifying usable OERs, and all the licenses require attribution. Most OERs clearly display the CC license symbol or license text (with a link to the specific license deed) on the first page of the resource. However, it is not unusual to have to search for the license in the document or web page if the license is not prominently displayed. 

Before reviewing some examples of how to find the CC license within a resource, take a moment to review the six types of CC licenses. The order of the licenses starts with the most open, progressing to less open and the last two with ND (no derivatives) considered as not open. 

Types of CC licenses 

CC BY (Attribution) 

Creative Commons CC BY license (Attribution) logo 

A license to use the content without any restrictions. As with all CC licenses, attribution is required. 



Creative Commons license CC BY-SA (Attribution-ShareAlike) logo 

A license that requires that all subsequent versions of the original work be published under the same CC BY-SA license. Attribution is also required. 



Creative Commons CC BY-NC (Attribution-NonCommercial) license logo 

A license to use the work for noncommercial purposes only. Attribution is also required. 


(Attribution-NonCommercial- ShareAlike) 

Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license logo 

A license to use the work for noncommercial purposes and that all subsequent versions of the original work must be published under the same CC BY-NC-SA license. Attribution is also required. 


(Attribution-No Derivatives) 

Creative Commons CC BY-ND Attribution-No Derivatives license logo 

A "no derivatives" license. The "no derivatives" restriction means that the original work must be published "as is," in its entirety, with no modifications. Attribution is also required. UMGC does not allow the use of content with this license (see reference below). 


(Attribution-NonCommercial- ShareAlike-No Derivatives) 

Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike-NoDerivatives license logo 

A license to use the work for noncommercial purposes and with no modifications. Attribution is also required. This is the most restrictive of the six CC license types. Again, UMGC does not allow the use of content with this license (see reference below). 



Attribution logo with human figureAttribution 

ShareAlike logo with inverted circular arrowShareAlike 

NonCommercial logo with dollar signNonCommercial 

No Derivatives logo with equals signNo Derivative


Take Note  


Page with magnifying glass on it for Take Note section.There is also a CC0 symbol known as Creative Commons Zero or "No Rights Reserved." This enables the resource to be placed in the public domain. The work is freely available without copyright restrictions. 

Creative Commons CC0 Public Domain license logo 


You can view this video clip for a summary of the range of Creative Commons licensing from most open to most restrictive. 

link to video

Creative Commons Kiwi by Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand is available under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 New Zealand license. UMGC has modified this work and it is available under the original license. 

Policy on No Derivatives 

The "ND" (or no derivatives) restriction in a CC license simply means that the resource must be used "as is" with no modifications and must be redistributed in its entirety, as originally published. 

This restriction may not be viable for some since modifications may be needed to the OER to fully comply with ADA accessibility requirements. Also, you will need to remove third-party content that is not openly licensed. These types of changes are not permitted with OERs published under an ND CC license. 

What About Public Domain Resources? 

Typically, public domain, or PD, resources are materials published by the US government and/or one of its departments or agencies (such as the US Department of Justice or the Environmental Protection Agency). Other PD resources include works that were once under copyright but whose copyright protection has lapsed and are now in the public domain. 

An example of a public domain resource is a report from the Department of Education, Reimagining the Role of Technology in Higher Education. You can find the licensing and permissions information on page 3 of the report. 

OERs and Third-Party Content 

Perhaps one of the trickiest issues when vetting OERs deals with third-party content included in a resource that has a viable CC license. Many OERs include third-party content--images, videos, tables, and other graphic elements--that is copyrighted/closed and used with the permission of the rights holder. 

When you are pre-vetting an OER for DR compliance, you will need to evaluate the resource carefully to identify if any content such as an image includes a copyright symbol or notice, or the words "used with permission" or "courtesy of." Some may include a date and name of the copyright owner. Any materials that are copyrighted with all rights reserved cannot be shared without the copyright holder's permission. 

Pre-Vetting to Full DR Review 

At this stage, you are pre-vetting the OERs to make sure that they meet the baseline criteria discussed above. You can then perform a more extensive vetting of the resources to ensure that each one is licensed under Creative Commons, that all closed/copyrighted third-party content has been removed from the resource, and that each OER fully complies with ADA accessibility standards. 

Key Points  


  • The process of pre-vetting OERs compliance includes checking if content is openly licensed or in the public domain and all third-party content within the resource is openly licensed. 

  • Creative Commons (CC) licenses provide a way to share content without creators having to give up their copyright or license their work. 

  • There are six types of CC licenses and each requires an attribution that identifies the author/creator, indicates the CC license under which the work is published, and provides the copyright notice (when available). 

  • OERs with a "no derivatives" restriction must be used “as is” with no modifications. 



Quiz: Multiple Choice 

To assess your learning, complete the following quiz questions. 

Question 1 

If you created educational content and wanted to publish it under an open license, which CC license would you choose that requires that the work is attributed to you but would not have any other restrictions? 

  1. CC BY 

  1. CC BY-NC 

  1. CC BY-NC-SA 

  1. CC BY-SA 

Answer: Option 1: CC BY: A license to use the content without any restrictions. As with all CC licenses, attribution is required. 

Question 2 

Select the best explanation of an open license that you might share with your colleagues and students. 

  1. Open licenses enable creators to share their work freely with others who may then reuse, revise, improve upon, or create new work based on the original work. Creative Commons (CC) licenses are the legal tools that make the 5Rs possible. 

  1. Open licenses are the same as public domain, allowing free access to the materials and do not require attribution. 

  1. Open licenses are reserved for educational materials that can be shared and used for teaching and learning purposes only. 

Answer: Option 1. Open licenses enable creators to share their work freely with others who may then reuse, revise, improve upon, or create new work based on the original work. Creative Commons (CC) licenses are the legal tools that make the 5Rs possible. 


US Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology. (2017). Reimagining the role of technology in higher education: A supplement to the National Education Technology Plan. 


Definitions of Accessibility in Education

In an educational setting, ensuring accessibility means removing barriers from physical spaces and instructional materials to enable all students equal access, including individuals with hearing and vision impairments, as well as physical and cognitive disabilities. When you explore these accessibility requirements in more detail, there are two definitions to keep in mind. 

Accessibility, as defined by the US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, means providing students the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as students without disabilities with substantially equivalent ease of use. 

With advances in technology and the global reliance on the internet, the concept of accessibility has expanded to include digital content, which requires specific technology-based solutions to address what is known as digital accessibility. 

Digital accessibility refers to the ability of all users to easily navigate digital content including websites, online classrooms, and mobile apps, and also have an equal opportunity to the educational benefits and opportunities afforded by these technologies.

Individuals with disabilities may use assistive technologies such as screen readers and modified keyboards to help them access and navigate digital content. Some examples of digital accessibility features and tools include: 

  • videos with captions and transcripts for users with hearing impairments 

  • images with alternative text (alt text) for users with visual impairments 

  • screen readers to convert on-screen information into speech for users with visual impairments 

  • keyboard navigation on websites for users with physical impairments 

Accessibility Laws and Standards 

As higher education increasingly expands its digital content and tools for students and faculty, it is critical to adhere to federal and state laws and industry standards to ensure all learners can benefit from these opportunities. Digital accessibility also enhances the overall user experience and contributes to a universal design that benefits all students and staff members. 

The primary laws and standards that apply to digital accessibility, and are especially important for educational institutions, include the following: 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, revised 2008 

A civil rights law that requires state and local governments to give people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from all of their programs, services, and activities. 

These areas include, but are not limited to: 

  • public education 

  • employment 

  • transportation 

  • recreation 

  • social services 

  • town meetings 

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973: 1998 Amendment 

Section 508 is a 1998 amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and requires that all digital/electronic content created, developed, purchased, maintained, or used freely by a federal agency or institution must be made accessible to all users regardless of their disability. 

Digital content includes, but is not limited to: 

  • documents 

  • websites and web pages 

  • applications 

  • multimedia 

  • presentations 

  • university-wide communications (emails, newsletters, etc.) 

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 

As part of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the Web Accessibility Initiative has developed standards to help people understand and implement accessibility more easily. 
These international standards incorporate Section 508 requirements and are called Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1. The WCAG guidelines are widely used by educational institutions to identify what constitutes accessible web content and best practices for compliance. The guidelines use three levels of compliance (A, AA and AAA), with most entities striving to meet Level AA

Why Is Accessibility Important? 

There are many reasons why accessibility is important to all individuals, not only to protect their civil rights but also to enhance their quality of life. Designing for accessibility using universal design principles benefits all students regardless of their ability. For example, providing closed captions for videos support students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, and also supports diverse learning styles and nonnative language speakers. Here is a video on accessibility. 

link to video

Portland Community College/UMGC is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license. UMGC has modified this work and it is available under the original license. 

Accessibility in Higher Education 

In this section, we will focus on accessibility in the higher education sector and highlight essential aspects of an institution’s mission and overall approach to supporting student success. 

With the rapid pace of technology advancements and the expanding global economy, the number of students seeking higher education, including students with disabilities, has increased in recent years. To serve this diverse student population, higher education institutions must provide inclusive learning environments with comprehensive accessibility policies and procedures, as well as the technology infrastructure to continually enhance their digital accessibility. 

legal requirements, equitable learning community, inclusive education, mission and core values

Accessibility for all students is supported in the following ways: 

  • Inclusive education: As an inclusive education provider, it is important to provide all content in a format that is accessible for everyone who attends, works in, or is interested in getting information about their institution. 

  • Mission and core values: Ensuring accessibility is an integral part of an educational institution’s mission as well as its teaching and learning philosophy. 

  • Equitable learning community: Accessibility ensures that everyone is treated fairly and creates an environment suitable for learning. It also enriches the student population, providing different backgrounds, perspectives, and talents. 

  • Legal requirements: Accessibility is the law. Public colleges and universities that fail to resolve issues of equal access face penalties and fines, as well as loss of federal funding and accreditation. 

Key Points  


  • Accessibility means removing barriers to enable all students equal access, including individuals with hearing, vision, physical, and cognitive disabilities. 

  • Digital accessibility focuses on designing digital content and systems to be equitable and easy to use for all, including students with disabilities. 

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that provides individuals with disabilities equal opportunity to engage in programs, services, and activities. 

  • Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (1998 Amendment) requires electronic content to be accessible to all users regardless of their disability. 

  • The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 (WCAG 2.1) identify what constitutes accessible web content and best practices for compliance. 

  • While accessibility is required by law, educational institutions are committed to providing an inclusive environment for all. 



To reinforce your learning, answer the following reflective questions. 

Question 1 

The terms "accessibility" and "digital accessibility" address different aspects of describing equitable access to educational opportunities. How would you describe these terms and highlight the differences? 

Answer: The concept of accessibility has its roots in the earliest efforts to protect individuals' civil rights by providing accommodations for physical accessibility to public places. To address evolving technology advancement, digital accessibility focuses on the standards to ensure equitable access to web-based content. 

Question 2 

While the increase in online learning in higher education has expanded opportunities for diverse learners, it also brings challenges to ensuring the digital content is accessible by all learners. To address accessibility, two US laws were passed that prohibit discrimination of individuals with disabilities and govern how universities provide their educational programs. 

Identify the two specific laws and reflect on how they are different, especially with regards to digital accessibility. 

Answer: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is broader in scope, protecting an individual's civil rights in all areas of public life, while Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act is more specific to technology accessibility to ensure it can be used effectively by those with disabilities. 


Center on Technology and Disability. (2016, October). Digital accessibility toolkit: What education leaders need to know. AccessibilityToolkit-508_FINAL_100616.pdf 

National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, National Survey of College Graduates, 2017. 

US Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights. (n.d.). Resolution agreement: CR Compliance Review No. 11-11-6002. investigations/11116002-b.html 

US Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2016). Postsecondary education. In Digest of Education Statistics, 2015 (2016-014). programs/digest/d15/ch_3.asp 

Web Accessibility Initiative. (2016, May). Accessibility, usability, and inclusion: Related aspects of a web for all. 


Terms of use:

The OER libguide by PGCC Library is licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. It is attributed to UMGC, Butler County Community College, D'Arcy Hutchings and the original versions can be found at UMGC, BCCC, and Hutchings