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Open Educational Resources

This page is part of the Libraries' Open Education Portal.

What Are Open Educational Resources (OER)?

OER are "high-quality teaching, learning, and research materials that are free for people everywhere to use and repurpose"(Hewlett Foundation). They include full courses, course materials, textbooks, streaming videos, software, and other tools used in teaching.

What makes these resources unique from their more traditional counterparts is their open licensing. Open, or Creative Commons licenses allow for teaching and learning materials, including textbooks, to be shared, altered, translated, or even compiled into completely new resources (Wiley).  Having that freedom can open up new opportunities to use a variety of free, quality materials in your teaching that might otherwise be difficult to access or alter legally.


Why Are OER Significant?

  • Almost 30% of UTK students receive Pell Grants, which are federally funded income based awards (IPEDS).
  • "Students learn more when they have access to quality materials. The rapidly rising cost of textbooks in higher education has left many students without access to the materials they need to succeed. Studies show that s93% of students who use OER do as well or better than those using traditional materials, since they have easy access to the content starting day one of the course" (SPARC).
  • Students are saving money.  Switching from traditional textbooks to open source textbooks saves students an average of $128 per course every semester (Senack).


What Does "Open" Mean?

The "5Rs," a framework of rights identified by David Wiley, explains how open educational resource licensing works:

  • Retain the right to make, own, and control copies of the content
  • Reuse content in a wide range of ways
  • Revise the content itself, e.g. translating the context into another language
  • Remix the original or revised content with other content to create something new
  • Redistribute copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others

Major OER Repositories

Below is a short list of OER repositories available for finding resources for use in your courses.

Tip: You may be surprised what you can find using Google, or Creative Commons Search.


Openly Available Sources Integrated Search (OASIS) is a search tool that searches open content from 57 different sources and is being developed at SUNY Geneseo's Milne Library.


Mason OER Metafinder

Simultaneously search OER repositories using a search tool from George Mason University Libraries. (You may want to un-check the HathiTrust collection for easier use.)

Additional Repositories:

For additional help finding OER, contact your subject librarian, or the scholarly communication librarian, Rachel Caldwell

Adapting OER

Open Educational Resources are often useful in their original state, but there are reasons why they might need to be altered for use in your course. For example, you might want to add information you've used in past courses you've taught on the subject, or the materials you are accessing might need updating to include the latest findings in your field. For images or PDF files, you may want to make the resource more accessible for the visually impaired, or to translate the resource into another language (Green-Hughes).

Remixing resources in this way can be useful, but may not always be necessary. Skimming reviews or evaluating the resource yourself may show if there is any need for modification or if the resources are useful for your courses as is.

Adapting Open Textbooks

Like other open educational resources, open textbooks may benefit from alteration before being shared in your courses. Removing chapters which are irrelevant in your course or adding more information in areas of the text which may be out of date are some things to consider when weighing the convenience of open textbooks against traditional textbooks. 

By having the ability to remix or downsize an open textbook, you can ensure that the text being used in your course is exactly what your students need.  Further information (step-by-step directions) can be found here. 

OER Initiatives at UTK

OER are emerging as a strategy for lowering barriers to student academic success, specifically by ensuring that all students have access to course materials regardless of their financial situation. OER can reduce costs for students while increasing faculty control over course content.

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville is encouraging use of OER through a variety of initiatives, including:

Additionally, a list of current faculty using OER can be found here.

UTK Resources

Further help on using open educational resources can be gained at these locations at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville:


Green-Hughes, Liam. 2009. "Why remix an open educational resource?." Open Learning Network (blog), February 10,

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

The Open Education Group. "The Review Project." Accessed October 8, 2017,

Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC). Accessed October 11, 2017.

Senack, Ethan.  2015. "Open Textbooks: The Billion-Dollar Solution." Accessed October 8, 2017.

Wiley, David. 2014. “The Access Compromise and the 5th R. Open Content (blog), March 5,

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. "Open Educational Resources.” Accessed October 9, 2017,

Note: This guide is a work in progress and links will be made available as new content is added.  For more information, contact your Scholarly Communication librarian, Rachel Caldwell

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Creative Commons License

You are free to reuse original material on this guide if you credit the University of Tennessee Libraries; however, much of the information on this page comes from other sources.  Check the permissions you need to reuse any material that comes from other sources.