Thursday, August 9, 2012

Open Educational Resources and the Online Classroom

As copyright, Fair Use, and redistribution are currently being strongly debated in our society, it’s best for instructors to be well-versed in their rights as educators.  This is part two of two in a series of blog posts regarding copyright, fair use, and open educational resources in online and higher-ed classrooms.

The last blog post in this series detailed the intricacies of teaching with materials that have been copyrighted.   There are a number of educational resources available beyond traditionally copyrighted materials, but the terms are different from traditional copyright.  These resources are just as robust – and more easily available – than commercially-published items.  So what are they, and how can they be used?

Public Domain
As mentioned in the earlier post on copyright, items that never qualified for copyright, such as government documents and records, ideas and facts, and phrases, slogans, and symbols; copyright-expired items; and  items that are not copyrighted, including those created for public use are all part of the public domain.  For example, everything (except sound recordings) published in the US before 1923 are in the public domain.  The next admissions to the public domain will be in 2019 - this link from Cornell gives a very good overview of what qualifies to be in the public domain (  These items are free for use in class.

Creative Commons
Creative Commons protects an author’s content by supplementing and modifying a traditional copyright license, allowing the author to select how their work may be used by others.  It provides a number of designations, including requiring attribution, reuse for noncommercial reasons, sharing remixed versions under a similar license, or restricting derivative works, or any combination of those items.  So, if you create a classroom activity and wish to share it with other instructors, but want to retain some legal rights to the work, a CC license may be a good idea.  Creative Commons’ website has a license tool available ( to decide what type of license is best for your needs.

Creative Commons licensed works are available to instructors, provided you follow the terms of the license.  These terms are usually listed somewhere in the description and sometimes include a graphical representation.

Open Educational Resources
Other open educational resources contain materials that are free and open to distribution and creation of divergent works.  Some works may have restrictions on how you share the work, but are freely available to anyone who wishes to use them.  MIT’s OpenCourseWare project, the OER Commons, and a number of other sites contain higher-education modules, activities, and content that can be used to supplement an online class.  Instructors should credit as appropriate – a common courtesy.  A large body of resources is available and appropriate for inclusion in higher education courses – currently, nearly half of all resources available on the OER Commons site are designed for post-secondary education. 

The Internet age has truly increased access to knowledge across all levels of education – instructors should be aware of copyright and related licensing to understand what can and cannot be used in class.  With such robust resources at our fingertips, our jobs in education will involve searching out and utilizing the best resources possible in the classroom.

The following links are excellent resources for instructors to search for images, learning activities, videos, and other classroom materials that are open educational resources or creative-commons licensed.

Activities, Content, Books, Articles

Videos, Images, and Other Multimedia


This post was written by the Edison Online Course Design team.