Open Educational Resources in Higher Education

Contact Your Librarians

Susan Edwards

Susan Edwards

Office: 2600 Tolman Hall
Contact:  (510) 643-6224

Margaret Phillips

Margaret Phillips

Office: 218 Doe Library
Contact:  (510) 643-8766

Definition of OER

According to UNESCO, the term Open Educational Resources  was coined in July 2002 at the UNESCO-hosted Forum on the Impact of Open Courseware for Higher Education in Developing Countries and defined OER as:

The open provision of educational resources, enabled by information and communication technologies, for consultation, use and adaptation by a community of users for noncommercial purposes

There is some controversy over whether they must also be "free to use", but the US Dept of Education clarifies that "Open Educational Resources (OER) are an important element of an infrastructure for learning. OER come in forms ranging from podcasts to digital libraries to textbooks, games, and courses. They are freely available to anyone over the web."

Definition of Open

4R's of Open-ness

Re-use: Right to copy and use verbatim copies.

Revise: Right to adapt, rework and improve.

Remix: Right to combine into new OERs (open educational resources).

Redistribute: Right to share copies.

Berkeley Context

The skyrocketing cost of textbooks is a crucial issue for students nationally and locally. In response, UC Berkeley created the Joint Task Force on Textbook and Reader Affordability in Spring 2009 to look at ways to reduce the costs of course materials for Berkeley students. A final report was released by the Task Force in June 2010, and an implementation Task Force has recently been appointed to address the recommendations which include exploration of "an open access/ content model, which is predicated on open and cross-platform readers such as the forthcoming Blio reader and in models pursued by open textbook vendors such as FlatWorld Knowledge . Note: UC Berkeley will become one of the first higher education beta test sites for Blio which could be a game changer for the e-text market/experience."

UC Berkeley is a member of the OCW Consortium and the campus participates in Opencast Community Project, an open source platform for the development and distribution of video and audio content. Lecture content is also available via, iTunes University and YouTube.

Free ≠ Open!

Many resources (for example, books digitized by the Internet Archive) are free to use, but not necessarily open. They may still be under copyright, and don't meet the Four Rs of "openness". And to be an OER, while it must be "free" to the user, it isn't free to the producer or the site that hosts the resource. A variety of creative sustainable economic models to create both free and open resources are being/have been developed.

OER CA context

Open Educational Resources Center for California  established by the state legislature to collect open and free course materials for use by California’s community colleges.

Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources created to identify, create, and/or repurpose existing open educational resources as open textbooks.

California State University’s Digital Marketplace  designed to be one-stop-shopping platform for locating, selecting, and authoring digital resources.

MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching) "free and open online community of resources designed primarily for faculty, staff and students of higher education"

UCI Open Courseware Project Blog from UCI, a leader within the UC's (and beyond) for OER in higher education.


The Open Textbook Forum -- great overview of open texts and open courseware, a 60 minute (followed by questions) webcast for and by faculty (from UC Irvine).

Directory of Open Access Scholarly Journals in Education is maintained by ERGO (Education Research Global Observatory)  to  promote and disseminate open access  scholarship in education.

The Open Course: Through the Open Door Open Courses as Research, Learning, and Engagement by Dave Cormier and George Siemens.

The Open Future: Openness as a Catalyst for Educational Reformation, by David Wiley.

The Open Educational Resources Movement: Current Status and Prospects by Gary Matkin, UCI.

Open Educational Resources: Conversations in Cyberspace reports on a series of online forums on OER organised by UNESCO.

Seven Things You Should Know About Open Textbook Publishing (EDUCAUSE, March 2011)


MIT OpenCourseWare is a free publication of MIT course materials that reflects almost all the undergraduate and graduate subjects taught at MIT.

Indiana University's eTexts Initiative exploring new models to lower the cost of educational resources and take advantage of new opportunities to enhance student engagement and learning.

Flat World Knowlege Sustainable business model that provides free copies of textbooks online, lower costs print versions, pays authors and allows remixing and customization by educators.

Open Course Ware Consortium -- collaboration of higher education institutions from around the world creating a broad and deep body of open educational content using a shared model.

Student PIRGs Open Textbooks -- helps users find high-quality college texts offered online under a license that allows free digital access and low-cost print options.

Find OER

OER Commons Post Secondary:  Browsable, searchable database of open education resources. Each indicates one of four conditions of use ranging from no strings attached to share only.

Connexions allows users to view and share educational modules that can be organized as courses, books, reports, etc.

Open Textbooks Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources.




OA Definition

Short definition: Free availability and unrestricted use

More complete definition from the Budapest Open Access Intiative: By "open access" to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.

Open Access

"Open access holds the promise of moving knowledge from the closed cloisters of privileged, well-endowed university campuses to ... dedicated professionals and interested amateurs, to concerned journalists and policymakers."¹

Social Good:

Berkeley scholars want their publications to be read -- by other researchers in their field,  by academics, independent scholars, and policy makers. They freely contribute their time as authors, editors and peer reviewers; the university in turn buys back the content that they have given away.

There is a growing gap between what scholarly journals cost, and what libraries (including major research universities) can pay. As libraries are forced to cancel journals, researchers worldwide lose access to the articles with research that they need... and that the researcher/authors provided for free.

Open Access is a much needed alternative to the for-profit publishing model.

Good for you:

Open Access doesn't just help those without access, many studies have shown that it also increases citation to your article. More people read it, and more of them cite it.

¹Willinsky, J. (2006). The access principle : The case for open access to research and scholarship. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

OA and Social Justice

In a very interesting article¹ from 2008, Allan Scherlen and Matthew Robinson analyze open access through the theoretical lens of Rawls and Miller, and find that:

"The open access movement—online open access journals and author self-archiving—is more consistent with the conceptions of social justice by Rawls and Miller. Because open access does not interfere with any person's indefensible claims to equal basic liberties (the “equal liberties principle”), it is consistent with social justice. Further, open access does not violate the “equal opportunity principle” and in fact assures for greater equality of access to information. We also believe that open access is to the greatest benefit of the least-advantaged and thus is consistent with the “difference principle.” That is, open access publishing aims to benefit all equally, which over time, will assist the least advantaged in catching up to the most well-off in society (who have long benefitted from greater access to knowledge in all areas of life)."

¹ Scherlen, Allan and Robinson, Matthew (2008) 'Open Access to Criminal Justice Scholarship: A Matter of Social Justice', Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 19:1, 54 - 74


Follow the Money

Are academic journal publishers making a profit?

According to this article from the Guardian, Elsevier's profit in 2010 was 36%! Elsevier itself announced "Robust financial performance in unprecedented global recession" in its 2009 Report -- including a 14% increase.

According to Digital Koans in 2009 Wiley reported a full year contribution to profit +14% and fourth quarter contribution to profit +22% on a currency neutral basis.

Case study:

June 9, 2010: The Nature Publishing Group (NPG) proposes to tripe the price of a UC license for Nature and its 67 affiliated journals. The CDL's letter to UC faculty stated that:



Authors often want to submit their articles to the most prestigous and/or highest impact factor journals. Journal Impact Factor from ISI is a measure of the frequency with which the "average article" in a journal has been cited in a given period of time. ISI's Journal Citation Reports can create a list of the most highly cited journals from a highly selective group of journal titles.

This method is not without controversy as some research has found that there is no statistical correlation between the impact factor of a journal and the actual citation rate of its articles, and that journals that publish many reviews tend to have  higher impact factors (since reviews are frequently cited).

EigenFactor and its Article Influence score, is another way to measure impact. It also includes cost factors, and takes into account the different citation patterns in the social sciences vs. the sciences.

PLOS (Public Library of Science) is developing article level metrics, so that each article will be assessed on its own merits, not just on that of the journal as a whole. And research shows that open access to an article increases its citation.

Authors' Rights

We call on UC authors and scholars … to exercise control of their scholarship … to ensure the widest dissemination of works…. *

As the author of a work you are the copyright holder unless and until you transfer the copyright to someone else in a signed agreement.

Copyright is a bundle of rights, not just one right. You do not have to surrender all your copyrights when you publish, though some publishers may ask you to do so. Transfer of copyrights can lead to problems, for example, you may not be able to make copies of your own work to share with your students or colleagues without permission. Transfer of copyrights to the publisher also confers enormous market power on the publisher, as the exclusive owner of the rights to your work.

By retaining your copyright, or by transferring your copyright but retaining some rights, you can control the dissemination of your research. By removing access barriers (including cost) you allow more readers to access your scholarship. UC recommends that you can retain at least some of your rights:


* from The Case for Scholars' Management of Their Copyright (PDF) endorsed by the UC Academic Council, April 2006


Berkeley Research Impact Initiative (BRII) supports faculty members, post-docs, and graduate students who want to make their journal articles free to all readers immediately upon publication. BRII subsidizes, in various degrees, fees charged to authors who select open access or paid access publication.

Copyright in Teaching and Research

OER and Creative Commons

From Creative Commons and OER in the U.S. National Education Technology Plan: The federal government has proposed to invest $50 million per year for the next 10 years in creating an Online Skills Lab to develop exemplary next-generation instructional tools and resources for community colleges and workforce development programs. These materials will be available for use or adaptation with the least restrictive Creative Commons license. This work is expected to give further impetus to calls for open standards, system utilities, and competency-based assessments.

Alternatives to Copyright

Beginning with the groundbreaking free and open sotware GNU General Public License, a number of viable alternatives to traditional Copyright have emerged in the last decade that are broadly described under the broad heading of "Copyleft". A series of six Creative Commons licensing options have become the most popular alternative routes to intellectual property management and distribution, as described on the CC website:



This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered, in terms of what others can do with your works licensed under Attribution.

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Attribution Share Alike

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial reasons, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use.

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Attribution No Derivatives

This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.

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Attribution Non-Commercial

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.

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Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. Others can download and redistribute your work just like the by-nc-nd license, but they can also translate, make remixes, and produce new stories based on your work. All new work based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also be non-commercial in nature.

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Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives

This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, allowing redistribution. This license is often called the “free advertising” license because it allows others to download your works and share them with others as long as they mention you and link back to you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

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