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The State University of New York at FredoniaReed Library

Open Educational Resources (OER) Toolkit

Defining OER

Many materials are available free of cost online. However, being free of cost does not necessarily mean something is an OER. OER can be freely and legally redistributed.

An easy way to evaluate if something is an OER is to check for one of these copyright statuses:

  • Public domain
  • Creative Commons (CC) license
  • Free software license (e.g., GNU license, MIT license)

If the material does not fall into one of these categories, it probably is not an OER.

Note that qualification as an OER is not based on technical ability (e.g., editing a document), but rather on legal ability.

If you need assistance determining if material is considered OER, please contact a librarian, and we will be happy to help.

Copyright declarations and CC licenses are often specified at the bottom of a webpage, though some resources specify them at the top. You can see an example of a CC license declaration at the bottom of this page.


Articles from PLOS journals are OER because they are licensed under a CC license.

OpenStax textbooks are OER because they are licensed under CC licenses.

The Purdue OWL is not an OER because it is under copyright restrictions. An alternative would be the Excelsior OWL, which is licensed under CC and therefore is an OER.

Articles from NPR are not OER because they are under copyright restrictions.

Some poems on are OER because their copyright has expired and they are in the public domain. Others are not OER because they remain under copyright.

For more information on CC and copyright, see the page "Copyright v. Creative Commons."


All SUNY campuses abide by the following definition (emphasis added) to determine whether a course qualifies for OER designation:

Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits repurposing by others.

A SUNY OER course/section provides students a cost effective alternative to traditional textbooks. The majority of materials in this section reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits repurposing by others.

For the purposes of this policy, "majority" is understood to mean 51%.

Fredonia allows OER courses to have up to 49% non-OER materials, as long as the total cost of the course materials is under $50.

In addition to being free of charge, OER are free to use and expand upon, following the terms of their licenses. Most OER have these features, known as the 5 R's:

  • Redistribute: The ability to make copies of the OER for others
  • Retain: The ability to keep copies of the OER for yourself
  • Revise: The ability to make changes to the OER to suit your needs, or to keep it up to date
  • Reuse: The ability to use the OER content in a novel way
  • Remix: The ability to use pieces of the OER and, if desired, to combine it with other OER

As a result, OER are highly customizable for individual instructors and courses, allowing you to use a text that contains exactly what you need.

These definitions are based on original writing by David Wiley, which was published freely under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.


CC BY-NC-SAThis page is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 International License.

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